AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) –The workflow for many workplaces changed last year with the onset of COVID-19. For many it meant working from home – separated from coworkers. It was an adjustment, but it seems to be becoming the new normal for many companies. Stacy Roberts from the Hull College of Business at Augusta University explains the keys to communication in this new hybrid workforce and how to be successful while being apart.
Brad Means: Stacy Roberts is with the James M. Hull College of Business at Augusta University. She is an expert in management, marketing, organizational behavior. So we figured that Stacy would be a perfect person to talk to about the hybrid workplace. And I do thank you for being with us today, ma’am.
Stacy Roberts: Oh, thank you, Brad, for having me, it’s an honor.
Brad Means: You know, my first question is just sort of a general one, do you think we’ll ever go back to a normal everybody goes to the office type of a workplace because I know a lot of people would probably tell you some of their coworkers ain’t coming back.
Stacy Roberts: So I agree with that. So I think, I really believe, that we will never be back to how we were before. I think that some people went to this hybrid workforce and actually liked it. They found it to be more effective. It helped with profits, excuse me, saving on profits and revenue and different things like that. So I think just to balance corporate culture, employee engagement, and just how we are in 2021, I can see this thing like this for a while. Some companies, I always say things are situational. Some companies most definitely will come back. Some companies, they won’t ever be the same.
Brad Means: All right, so we’ve had the better part of a year to study this and to see whether it works or whether it doesn’t work. Let’s kind of look at the negatives first of all, if there are any. Do we lose some of the valuable day-to-day communication that we used to have with our coworkers because we’re communicating differently?
Stacy Roberts: Most definitely, most definitely. So we’re humans. We touch, we feel. I can honestly say just from a professor’s point of view and from my coworkers, not being in the office as much, my students we do distance teaching. So I don’t see them every day. And I can most definitely tell it is different than seeing them face to face. I can tell that it takes some of the, you have to change how you do things, but it takes some of the engagement, that touch, that personal factor out of it, that all of us, I won’t say necessarily need, but there’s something in us that desires that in the workforce.
Brad Means: Yeah. So I think you made the ultimate distinction there. Communication does not necessarily equal conversation.
Stacy Roberts: No, not at all.
Brad Means: So, no, nothing beats face-to-face. Even here, you know, it’s great to be with you, but I can’t wait, already I’m thinking about having you back when we’re sitting at the same set here in the studio, it does make a difference. So what about these Zoom type things that we find ourselves doing? Or these Skype conversations that we find ourselves having? Is that the key to staying connected with your coworkers, is just to Zoom all day or to Skype all day so you never lose sight of one another?
Stacy Roberts: Absolutely not. Now while I am very thankful for the technology, because if we didn’t have it, we’d be in a mess. So I am thankful for it. However, there’s nothing like face-to-face, that engagement. I can honestly say, prime example, when I teach the subject of effective communication, when we address it in my classes, we play, I’m just a different teacher, we play Taboo because it’s one of these strangest, but most fun ways to teach how communication is felt, heard by different people. I can’t do that on Zoom. I can’t do that on Microsoft Teams. So it takes some of that away. However, I am thankful for those tools. Like I said, you have to get creative and I can say the Hull College of Business, we’ve done things different, like introduce things like gamification. Our professors have transitioned wonderfully. So I’m just thankful for them. My coworkers, we just, when it happened, we just had to get on the ball. We just had to make sure that our students were getting what they needed. So it’s about being creative. And like you said, conversation is just a form of communication. So you have to find the other ways to talk to your students, talk to your coworkers, and just engage with your employees.
Brad Means: What can you say to the people who have to work from home, who either because of their own health issues or perhaps a parent or loved ones whose health could be compromised by exposure to this virus, they’re doing what they have to do and what they feel in their heart they need to do. But maybe at the end of the day, they feel less a part of the team. Is there any way to keep them in the loop from that perspective?
Stacy Roberts: Most definitely. So it’s just like learning. Every student learns differently. Every employee works differently. So you have to find the way to just connect with each person. Now it is a disconnect when they’re at home and can’t come in and things like that. Some of my coworkers I haven’t seen in months, for reasons like that, however, there are things that the school or that companies can do to engage. You have to remember that everyone’s different. And while you can’t be all things to all people all the time, you can find genuine ways to connect with your employees. The number one thing is letting people know, no matter what the circumstances, they are appreciated. Many people just want to feel like they’re appreciated. So you’re appreciated, we thank you, we’re thankful for you, you’re still part of the team, we need you, you still contribute. And it’s not just that. It’s also finding different ways to keep employees engaged. Sometimes it’s just, instead of having a call about work, have a call where everyone just kind of relax and talk and different things like that. I can say here, we’re very good. Dean Franza, Dr. Franza, sends out an email every day, every Tuesday, but we have a faculty meeting every Wednesday. It’s optional. You don’t have to be there. But that’s a way he can go over some university issues, but he always asks us, “Is anything else going on?” And that’s just a way to keep people engaged and we hear things about people’s families, things going on in their communities. So you just have to be creative, and like I said, genuinely concerned about your employees and your coworkers.
Brad Means: Well, this next question, I feel like I’m asking a question from the old days and by the old days, I mean more than a year ago. What about those of us who just kind of fall back into the habit of what you call one way conversations or communications, that is texting or email. It almost seems like that’s super, super impersonal these days. Is there any use for the text or for the email now?
Stacy Roberts: I will say that, email and text, it is good. Like I said, you have to diversify communication right now. You really do. I think email, I have an HR background. Email is great for documentation, it’s good for having to communicate with a vast amount of people at one time. If you have a hundred employees, making phone calls is going to be very hard to, sometimes you’re gonna need an email. But you have to understand, when do you need to email something? When do you need to text something? When does it need to be a phone call? When does it need to be a Zoom meeting? You have to diversify your communication and make sure that you are hitting those points where you’re still taking care of your workforce. So it’s about, like I said, being creative and finding new and different ways to engage and realizing that everyone doesn’t take the same way and being very strategic and using wisdom about which form of communication that you use
Brad Means: I love what you mentioned a moment ago about just having Zoom get togethers or other remote get togethers that aren’t necessarily work related where you can just kind of take a collective breath together as teammates and just talk. Is that maybe a substitute for what typically occurs around the water cooler or in the hallway when you just have those casual chats?
Stacy Roberts: It can be, it really can be, because at the end of the day, yes we work 40 plus hours a week, but we do have lives. We have children, some people have different things going on. You don’t know what’s going on personally in their life. And that’s a way, too. I think it’s a good way just to realize and help your employees understand, we understand that you’re just not an employee. So that water cooler talk, that’s how people gain camaraderie. People used to go to lunch together, ride in the car together. Just kind of hang out. When I worked at one company, we’d sit outside on the bench and just chat in the sun, and you know, that’s gone now. So finding creative ways to use this technology to still connect people is good because we’re just not workers. We do have families and concerns and other things outside of work. So it’s good to just be creative in how you use that.
Brad Means: Can good communication skills, Stacy, be learned? Do people just have to be born good communicators?
Stacy Roberts: No, they can be learned, but I’ll put this in there, if you want to learn them. So good communication skills, most definitely. There’s countless classes you can take. There are different exercises you can do. If you want to expand on your communication skills, I think it’s something that everyone, no matter who you are can constantly grow and I can grow in communication skills. All of us can work on listening. All of us can work on genuinely active listening and not waiting to reply when someone’s finished, but generally listen to what they have to say. All of us can work on our written communication and our text messages or just being very genuine in what we say. So I most definitely think it can be learned. However, you have to be willing to try new things and learn different ways.
Brad Means: Well, that’s incredible advice. Well, Stacy, as I mentioned off the top, I do look forward to having you here in person. I think your advice for people at work, whether they’re at home or in an office, is outstanding and we need more of it. And just thank you for what you’re doing.
Stacy Roberts: Thank you for having me, Brad. I appreciate you.
Brad Means: Absolutely, appreciate you too, my friend. Stacy Roberts from the Hull College of Business at Augusta University.