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Covid-19: Icebreaker questions to build a better connect with your remote team

You have many opportunities to connect with your team, even if you’re all working remotely. This means that you can use icebreakers in a number of ways to make it easier to deal with this sudden crisis.

Remote work during COVID-19 outbreak

 

Are you reading this from your “home office?” No doubt, your organization has mandated work from home for all employees due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Chances are that your team, now fully remote, is having a tough time adjusting to this sudden crisis.

They are understandably facing challenges with this new way of working and probably lack proper infrastructure to work effectively.

Saikat Chatterjee, Senior Director, Advisory at Gartner was recently quoted saying, “we’re being forced into the world’s largest work-from-home experiment and, so far, it hasn’t been easy for a lot of organizations to implement.”

Why is a human connection important?

Did you know that face-to-face interactions are 34 times more effective than emails

When you’re speaking to someone face-to-face, you can pick up on his body language and various subtle, non-verbal cues, which provide more context to what he is saying.

There is less chance of misinterpretation because gestures can soften one’s language and tone.

You can also promptly clarify any miscommunication.

 

Face-to-face one on one interaction

 

But now there is no physical interaction at all. And it appears that this way of working isn’t going to change anytime soon.

How, then, can you be more human when connecting with your direct reports? 

The answer is: icebreakers.

What are icebreakers?

Icebreakers are questions or conversations designed to help initiate a discussion or conversation, which could be difficult to start due to factors like unfamiliarity or being exposed to an unexpected situation, like the one we face today.

They are a great way to break down barriers between team members and create a more open and interactive environment.

They are also a fantastic tool to drive engagement, create a sense of belongingness in your team, and make remote meetings, one on ones and others, more effective overall.

 

Your direct reports will not be accustomed to the isolation and distractions of remote work. With the right icebreakers, you can ease into a conversation comfortably, reducing the climate of fear and quelling anxieties about falling sick and being hospitalized. 

 

Direct reports also become more receptive to what you have to say, especially if you have to communicate difficult decisions.

How can ice breaker questions help?

If you create a pleasant environment by starting with the right questions to break the ice, you can have a more productive meeting.

Icebreakers have an important role to play, both in one on one meetings and group/team meetings.

They encourage people to lower their guard, communicate with candor, and enable strong relationships to be built.

 

Icebreakers facilitate team bonding

 

In an unusual remote setup like the one the world is experiencing today, every interaction with your team, be it a casual conversation or a meeting, is an opportunity to:  

  • Allow your team to share about themselves and bond with you
  • Actively listen to them and understand their challenges
  • Empathize and let them know that you care
  • Together, work out satisfactory solutions to ongoing  problems
  • Restore focus on productivity and efficiency, and
  • Ensure business continuity despite unpredictable hiccups

Why are icebreakers important in the current scenario?

Cracking tone-deaf jokes or asking the usual humorous icebreaker questions is meaningless now, and may even be counter-productive.

Your team needs you to step up and lead them with confidence. Now more than ever, they need you to be compassionate and offer them a sense of stability.

Helps reduce anxiety and worry:
Your direct reports are struggling with work-life balance during an infectious disease outbreak.

Children are at home all the time, household chores are piling up, and refrigerators may not  be stocked with enough food.

  • You would do well to ease into conversations with sensitivity and empathy in the present situation. You can attempt to lighten the mood, but keep in mind that direct reports may be overcome with anxiety and worry about health, safety, food security.

Makes frequent conversations easier:
In the usual remote working setup, you’d talk with your direct report every 2-3 days. You’d start with an icebreaker to warm up the discussion.

Then you’d proceed with the items on your agenda. 

  • However, working remotely during this COVID-19 outbreak is a totally different ball game. Even though you’re probably connecting with your direct report every other day, things can drastically change over the span of a day. So, you’d want to start with an icebreaker or two EACH time you have a conversation with your direct report.

Helps initiate one on one meetings:
Most probably, you’re also having your scheduled, weekly one on one meetings to keep a finger on the pulse of your team.

You don’t want to jump right into work-related topics. You don’t want to start with a “so how’s work?,” displaying a brusque insensitivity to the plight of your team.

  • You remember that your direct report is a vulnerable person who will be happy to know that you care for her beyond the workplace. So you initiate the discussion with appropriate topics and use suitable icebreakers.

TIP: To kick-start remote work collaboration, you can choose from among our list of 21 remote work tools to manage remote teams effectively.

Where can you use icebreaker questions?

You have many opportunities to connect with your team, even if you’re all working remotely.

This means that you can use icebreakers in a number of ways to make it easier to deal with this sudden crisis.

1Virtual “Water-cooler” Conversations:

Your team may miss the physical proximity they had taken for granted until now.

A close approximation of this informal banter can be virtual conversations held on private channels set up specifically for the purpose on platforms like Slack or Tandem.

You and your team members can discuss personal challenges during this outbreak and exchange tips and tricks to stay safe.

Simply commiserating with another person can boost all-round mental health. Icebreakers can kick-start candid conversations on these channels.

2One on one meetings:

You want to get the most out of your one on one meetings because it is a private and safe space for your direct reports to speak their minds without fear of causing injury or offence.

Use icebreakers to set the right tone for the meeting. Your direct report is probably overwhelmed by numerous concerns–family, home, food, safety.

An empathetic, reassuring response from you will help lighten his burdens.

Add to it the experience of using a one on one meeting software, and you are all set for an effective one on one meeting.

 

COVID-19 work from home one on one meeting

3Regular team meetings:

Regular meetings with the team via videoconferencing is a given.

The Corona-virus outbreak did not give organizations time to adequately prepare for large-scale remote work, so it is vital that hurdles are ironed out by connecting frequently.

You’ll consider that it is an anxious time now, and ease into discussions with icebreakers.

4Happy hours/Friday meets:

We know you can’t actually meet in person on Friday evenings to unwind with your co-workers.

But why let it stop you from having a virtual meeting?

Remote work is by nature isolating, and it is easy to feel lonely and disconnected from the team and company.

Use icebreakers to turn these “Virtual Fridays” into the comfortable space that your team needs to let their hair down.

TIP: Virtual games are good icebreaker activities in ordinary circumstances. But in stressful times, they may not have the effect you want. You don’t want to drag people into meaningless games for fun when they’re already stretched thin between managing their homes and getting office work done.

Bonus: Questions that can be asked as icebreakers

We’ve compiled a few icebreaker questions to help you keep the momentum going during the Covid-19 crisis. Take a look:

  • How are you doing? How is your family coping up?
  • Hope all is well in your vicinity as well. How are your friends doing?
  • How are you coping with the situation? Do you need any kind of support from me?
  • Do you have all the essentials (water & groceries) in place?
  • Are you able to spend time with your family?
  • How are you managing household chores and working together?
  • Do you have a dedicated place to work from home? 
  • Is there anything you need to build a better work setup at home?
  • Do you follow an exercise routine at home?
  • How do you unwind or take a break in between or after work hours?
  • Do you feel relaxed or stressed while working from home?
  • Now that you save on your commute time, how do you spend that time?
  • Any suggestions about how we can improve work processes in the current scenario?
  • Do you think too much information from media reports is benefiting you or harming you?
  • Is it unusual to have no fear in the current situation?
  • What do you do when you find yourself caught in a fix?
  • Do you feel anxious because of the current situation? How do you deal with anxieties?
  • Should we express all our feelings, or just the good ones at this point?
  • Did you or your close ones get affected by this travel ban?
  • What do you feel about the government’s preparedness to deal with the crisis?
  • What do you think is the future of work after this crisis is over?

TIP: Don’t forget to take a cue  from our exhaustive list of icebreaker questions, among 500+ questions you can ask during one on one meetings. 

Conclusion

As a leader, you want to confidently navigate the COVID-19 crisis and not lose sight of your human side.

The physical and emotional well-being of your direct reports is your first priority. 

Crisis situations provide many opportunities to strengthen your relationship with your team.

This boosts the company’s future business prospects and also improves employee morale. 

So, hang in there and stay safe!

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