Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic threw us all a curveball.
Business structures, systems, and processes had to shift completely starting last March to accommodate new routines and keep employees safe. Our team at Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US (METUS) had just returned from our annual Diamond Leadership Conference in San Diego. The very next day, we got the sudden and very succinct instruction to “stay home.”
This transition from the office to work-from-home life was especially challenging for me because I had recently begun managing a 15-person cross-functional team. So, instead of leading through traditional means, I had to use a video conference tool to head meetings and manage staff across multiple departments. Previously, using a video conference tool had been a novelty for our staff here in Suwanee GA, reserved for international meetings only. At METUS, though, we prioritize the safety and well-being of our employees. So, instantly, video conferencing became our only option.
Fortunately, we were able to pivot relatively quickly.
Our IT department soon had virtual conference tools set up for our entire staff and we all committed to quickly learning our new communication systems and adopting them full-tilt. As we adjusted to these new processes, it became quickly apparent that having the camera was very valuable. Our team soon recognized how face-to-face interactions enrich communication and keep important directives from getting lost in translation, especially across larger teams.
Although this transition presented unexpected challenges for us, there were also a few positives.
In addition to becoming more digitally savvy and picking up a few new skills, we’ve all become less self-conscious on camera and more accustomed to seeing ourselves on video. We’re more at ease with one another and have let some of our formalities slide. After all, it's hard not to smile, pause the presentation, and inject family updates when your colleague's pet or child comes into view.
We also got a taste for how the sales force and other field personnel feel working remotely and have learned to respect even more the importance of timely communication as office workers. There’s also an added level of attention and consideration in how we communicate and, with more opportunities for collaboration, we’ve had multiple chances to reinforce that level of diligence.
Among the challenges, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the classic woes of virtual management. Choruses of “we can’t hear you,” squelches, echoes, and a variety of other technical challenges have all become routine. Of course, dropped signals during presentations are the worst. We’ve all been at the mercy of someone’s internet connection at least once this past year.
Greater use of video conferencing has also given us the chance to reevaluate which meetings and events are truly worthy of a flight or long drive. If not, some travel funds can potentially be reallocated elsewhere and put to new use. As social distancing restrictions begin to lessen, we now expect to carry our tele-working best practices, helpful software, and fresh management tactics with us, post-pandemic.
During this past year, our chief executive officer Mark Kuntz continued to remind us, “We’re stronger when we’re together.” And I’d have to agree. Our teams have been back in the office for several months now, but we continue to maintain safety protocols.
Video conferencing has become a valuable business tool but can’t replace personal face-to-face relationship building. And the home environment is no replacement for the office where we can “huddle around the watercooler.”
Since being back in the office, we’ve been able to merge our digital and physical worlds, bringing with us all the benefits of our digitized processes while collaborating and bouncing ideas off one another in person. This formula has worked wonders for the METUS team, and we’ll continue to refine our hybrid working model well into the future.
Based in Suwanee, GA, the author is senior manager of marketing communications at METUS. Smith has more than 25 years of industry experience and now manages the strategic marketing communications and promotional activities for both residential and commercial businesses. Responsibilities include internal and external communications, agency management and strategy execution.