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Team Lead Voices

Q&A: How to Keep Virtual Teams Cohesive

Q&A with Matt Rush, Team Lead – Temp 

Today we’re virtually sitting down with Matt Rush, the Team Lead of our Temporary Placement Division. As an experienced Team member who has been working remotely for years, he was able to reflect on what he needed to feel and stay connected. He then made sure his Team had the necessary tools to feel connected with one another during what has turned into a long-term work-from-home period. It wasn’t always easy, but with support from the top and a bit of creativity, the Temp Team has jumped more than a few hurdles and is coming out on top. The conversation below breaks it down, and we hope you and your Team can learn from Matt’s insights.

Communications Team: Thanks for taking the time to impart your wisdom, Matt! How are you doing today?

Matt Rush: I’m doing well, all things considered!  Thanks for virtually sitting down with me!

Communications Team: Keeping Teams cohesive, even when everyone is sitting in one open office together, can be extremely challenging! Now that we’re more than 7 months into a majority-virtual and work-from-home arrangement at Clarity, what have been some of the biggest challenges you have had to navigate as a leader managing a fully remote Team?

Matt Rush: I’ll be honest ー there have been many challenges in keeping the Team cohesive during the pandemic, and building and maintaining solutions has been an ongoing process. We all have had to learn and grow through these changes together. We still are. Business owners, managers, and all Team leaders everywhere are going through the same emotional challenges as everybody else. I will say I am very pleased with how our team coped with the sudden changes and adapted. We continue to overcome new obstacles daily. The following three challenges: working from home, or “living at work” as I view it, isolation + loneliness, and coping with the general state of business at large stand out to me most. I’ll dive into each and then I’ll tell you about how we worked to manage them.

  1. “Living at Work”. If you would have asked me 10 months ago how to manage an entire remote workforce – I know my answers would have been different, especially after 3 years of working fully remote myself. A killer virus wreaked havoc on our company’s home base of NYC causing millions of layoffs that spread nation-wide and thousands of business closures that are still occurring ー not to mention national protests, killer bees, forest fires, and, of course, it’s an election year. Nothing about 2020 is normal. Being stuck at home, whether you want to be or not, adds a new layer of difficulty. Not everyone was ready to immediately dive into this lifestyle or cope with the space challenges, family + child care challenges, roommate challenges and overall emotional challenges that come along with it amidst the chaos of the outside world. Being forced into living at work was hard at first and for many, it still is. In these times, working remotely is home. It’s not a cool co-working space, a coffee shop, or a friend’s house. It’s home.
  2. Isolation. Being online and using tools like Slack to communicate all day can serve as a lifeline during the pandemic, but it hasn’t alleviated the related challenges we’re facing: isolation and loneliness. This does not apply only to people who live alone. Even if you love your roommate(s) or live with a supportive family during this time, not showing up to a physical office makes people realize there’s a huge social component of office life that can bring joy to the actual work, and not having this has challenged our normal sense of cohesion. 
  3. Business…or lack thereof.  I’d be remiss to not include a glaringly obvious challenge. Business slowed at the onset of the pandemic. With NYC shutting down, so did the majority of our clients, ipso facto – many of the jobs we had been actively recruiting for did too. This was hard to accept as we are typically humming on all cylinders with job orders coming in multiple times a day for each recruiter. We work on the temp team in particular because we thrive in fast-paced settings. Not having that momentum was a real difficult thing to manage at the onset. 

Communications Team: Thanks for sharing these challenges. Can you fill us in on how have you overcome these challenges, and as a result kept your Team cohesive during this time?

Matt Rush: It started from the top down – our CEO, Moira, has been incredibly transparent and helpful every step of the way. With so many unknowns circling about, it was her leadership and constant communication that made one thing clear – Clarity was not going anywhere, and she would do everything she could to ensure each of us a seat at the table. Hearing this early and often helped me feel inspired to find ways to keep our Team connected and power through. Fast forward 7 months: our NYC team is still intact, and we’re staying in close touch. Thanks to her, I knew that communication, empathy, and vulnerability were the keys to everyday success both for business and each of our personal mental health. And more specifically:

  • On living at work… Fortunately, Clarity was already well-equipped for remote work. Our technology systems and software had already been installed on everyone’s computers to facilitate flexible scheduling for over a year now. This allowed us to transition out of the office  quickly, but we still needed more than Zoom, Slack, email and cell phones. In addition, working from home can have its perks, but it’s no replacement for a genuine break from work. Clarity encouraged time off from early on, and made it clear we should still take vacation in a meaningful way. Everyone on my team did something somewhere at some point and came back refreshed and recharged! I think it is very important in “normal” times to get away, and it is doubly important to do so now, even if getaways require creativity or shifting your normal travel method.
  • On easing the stresses of isolation… Early on, I felt the difficulties of isolation beginning to take its toll on myself and my Team, so I arranged for us to have 2 video calls a day for the first month or so. We would speak until Zoom cut us off.  That’s 40 minutes, twice a day. The morning call was ideally focused on building new goals, setting expectations, and managing the day ahead. The afternoon call was focused more on unwinding and casual chit chat. On several occasions, we played games and had our own version of Quarantine Clarity Cribs (I think that needs no further explanation). These calls were put on the calendar, treated with the same importance as client meetings, and everyone would hop on. In between Zooms, we’d utilize Slack and phone calls to keep in constant communication with each person and leaned heavily on comedy and gifs to keep it light. As many client companies settled into their new routines and resumed hiring, things picked back up. We ended up cutting our more casual daily check in since we became busier again, but I still make the effort to not let half of a day go by without checking in with everyone. In some ways, we feel more connected than usual, which has been really nice.
  • On business… To stay busy, in the beginning, we had to pivot. We began working on new opportunities outside of our normal core areas and found successes in the tech space. We also worked with clients to create “back-to-the office” work strategies and placed candidates in newly created roles like temperature takers and workplace safety administrators. We found great success in the customer service space as well, filling numerous remote CXR openings. With so much of business leaning online, virtual customer service roles became vital in many areas. Recently, with businesses reopening, we have seen an uptick in our core areas while still working outside the box. This ability to say, “yes, and” has helped us identify even more strengths as a unit than ever before. 

Communications Team: Thanks, Matt, hearing how your Team got through is very inspiring! One last question for you… are virtual teams here to stay?

Matt Rush: Yes. Sadly, I don’t see this pandemic going away anytime soon, and long-term WFH arrangements have helped many streamline remote workflows.  I think this has opened the door for even more WFH flexibility in the future as well, not only for us, but for many businesses we partner with. With the right modifications, this is actually revolutionary for the modern workforce. However, I also don’t see offices going out of fashion permanently either. While we’ve had some success maintaining morale, keeping up with work, and integrating levity and fun ー I definitely need the latter to stay engaged ー I know we all look forward to the day we all can safely return to our desks and gather for events. Until then, “I’ll send you the zoom link”!

Could your inbox use some Clarity?

Could your inbox use some Clarity?

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