I told myself that I wasn't going to start this editorial by saying how different the world is today than it was just 7 short months ago. Then I thought, “How can I not say that?”
In the last 7 months, we've learned to video conference, attend webinars, work remotely, homeschool our children, and order necessities online, and we've recently experienced our first virtual Nursing Management Congress. No doubt, in this world of limited contact, we miss seeing our in-person friends and colleagues and building the relationships necessary for strong collaboration in the healthcare setting.
Many of you are in positions requiring you to be on site throughout this pandemic but to accomplish your work, you've had to connect with colleagues who are working remotely. Building and maintaining relationships is a new challenge in the virtual format. How do we manage this new normal effectively? The answer is by strengthening the skills we already have and focusing on what really matters.
For years we thought that shaking hands, making eye contact, and showing an engaging smile were the keys to the beginning of a valued relationship. The virtual world is reminding us that strong and valued relationships aren't built on handshakes, eye contact, or smiles but rather on fundamentals such as being relevant, real, relatable, and reliable (https://blog.symmetricsgroup.com/the-4-rs-of-building-trust-and-customer-relationships).
Keeping up with changing information needs, especially during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, was a challenge like no other we've experienced in healthcare. Information was changing quickly, and it was vital to patient and workforce safety. Being remote means not only keeping up with the changes, but also constantly checking in and reaching out to make sure that the information you have and the information you're giving is up-to-date and relevant. In a virtual world, this means asking more questions, clarifying what's being said, and allowing time for others to ask questions. Nonverbal communication is more difficult to read, even if you're using a video format. Being intentional to ensure that all information is understood takes on added importance in the virtual world.
Authentic leadership has never been more valuable than now. Leaders need to empathize with the feelings of isolation, fear, ambiguity, and financial loss that many are experiencing. Being present, listening, hearing, and responding meaningfully are critical. Turn on your video camera and connect with your team. If you took time to have lunch with a group of friends or colleagues before work went virtual, plan a time to do so now via video. When attending a meeting from home, it's good to let the group know you're at home. Say something like, “I'm working from home today so if my dog barks when the mail arrives, I'll mute my connection.” Be real, be authentic.
Even if you're usually a bottom-line communicator, during this time of virtual connection you may want to spend some time to improve your understanding and be interested in everyone's personal well-being. Begin meetings with a short bit of personal conversation, perhaps as open as, “How's everyone doing?” Allow the group time (within limits of course) to share their personal experiences, frustrations, and successes. If you're leading a long meeting, make sure you assess the group for break needs so everyone stays engaged.
In this case, reliability has two sides: being a reliable source of information and doing what you say you're going to do. Healthcare has always been data-driven. Giving accurate information based on the data is important, but it's sometimes difficult due to the data and expert opinions changing so frequently. Prefacing information with “this is what we know at this point” may be useful to create trust that you're sharing what you know to be true right now.
The second part of reliability is what you as the leader have total control over—follow-through. In a virtual world where we don't just run into each other in the hallway or hospital cafeteria, the importance of following up and following through is crucial. Make a list of promised follow-ups as the day goes on and ensure that you're completing each commitment. Trust is created by doing what you say you're going to do, not just once, but time and time again.
Creating and maintaining value-based relationships in a virtual world is possible and vital to leadership and organizational success. Don't allow virtual learning and connections to be a barrier to your success. Embrace this time of change and cultivate the resilience to continue to learn, communicate, and improve healthcare.
Many of you are aware that Nursing Management Congress2020 was transitioned to a virtual format this year. We didn't allow ourselves to focus on what we were losing but instead created an environment for learning despite the distance. Participants were still able to hear from nurse leaders across the country who've experienced similar challenges and found ways to solve them. Those who attended were able to receive as many as 33+ credit hours of education, have access to all presentations for 90 days after the live conference, and view poster presentations that are full of valuable information at their own leisure. A vendor showcase was even available! It was innovation to get to the outcome of providing quality education at its finest.