Virtual Contact, Actual Connections

The impact of COVID-19 on our lives has been wide-ranging and profound. The crucial precautionary measures and social restrictions being implemented across the country – and the world – have forced us to make significant lifestyle adjustments to safeguard ourselves, our loved ones and, critically, the most vulnerable among us in our communities.

Business has been impacted too, and companies are working urgently to optimize their use of the various virtual platforms that make remote communication possible in order to meet the needs of clients. These technologies are a lifeline enabling industries, in our case an industry directly involved in resolving the current crisis, to function and make it possible for businesses, frankly, to stay in business while immobilized due to the necessity of social distancing.

The instinct to intensify focus on client needs under all manner of adverse conditions is a positive and necessary one. The capability to reset and adapt is essential for any company to be successful. But it’s equally important for companies to take care of themselves, not just the business itself but also the well-being of the individuals that make up the whole, as they go through change and adapt to adversity.

Be Aware
As companies, we must be cognizant that current circumstances related to COVID-19 have put a strain not only on industries and businesses but also on people. Of course, we all understand this intellectually; we know that people are sick, suffering and dying of this disease, and that those who are fortunate enough to be healthy are anxious and under stress. But we must also act upon this understanding.

Now, as much as ever, it is important that we practice empathy toward our colleagues and take care of each other, even remotely, especially remotely. Why? Mainly because it’s the right thing to do. But also, it happens to have the positive effect of making the company better. How we behave toward each other and show support under difficult circumstances is a prime indicator of the health of a company’s culture. It is our view, now and always, that a strong and supportive culture is fundamental to a strong company.

At Curtis Learning, an approach we’ve taken in recent weeks has been to implement daily half-hour virtual company meetings we’ve dubbed the “Daily Huddle.” Our company is decentralized by design, so we are accustomed to working remotely. We also meet at our offices in teams as needed and quarterly as a company, so an in-person dynamic is an important part of our culture and how we operate as well. But, regular communication and collaboration through virtual platforms is a norm. Do we have virtual full-company meetings every day? Not usually. But lately we have.

These daily virtual meetings have benefited us from both a business standpoint and an interpersonal one. Regarding the business, the meetings have been an important touchpoint for team members across the company to share scenarios arising as client needs and requirements undergo rapid change. It’s become an effective daily forum for exchanging ideas and solutions and has enhanced awareness across the company of what individual project teams and team members are facing and working to resolve every day.

A Welcomed Irony
There is an element of welcomed irony to all of this: The fact of our being collectively grounded, unable to gather in person or travel to meetings with clients, conduct live training or interact in the typical manner has necessitated a virtual solution that, in significant ways, has enhanced our level of engagement with each other. The communication may be restricted to virtual means, but in a very real sense we are in even closer contact.

In an equally real sense, we feel closer too. Even individuals who are acclimated to working remotely are typically not used to being isolated — not to this extent. Let’s face it. There are significant differences between working from home and being quarantined. Only one of these conditions is mandated. Not to mention that kids are now schooling from home; necessities are in short supply and difficult to obtain; foreboding news about the pandemic, the markets, the economy and political strife is relentless; and anxiety is pervasive.

Each of us is dealing with unique personal circumstances relative to the larger situation, and some are struggling more than others. In this atmosphere, even if one can work from home, the home environment is radically different, potentially making it difficult to work. Stress can make it hard to focus and perform. And isolation can take a toll on the spirit.

Having the opportunity to connect every day with colleagues, to see their faces on the screen, to talk about work and life, to share stories, struggles and successes, to pass on pieces of advice and to have a few laughs—all of this, for us, has been essential to raising and sustaining morale. One colleague jokingly suggested changing “Daily Huddle” to “Daily Cuddle.” This naturally elicited some laughter around our virtual meeting, the actual therapeutic value of which is no joke. And let’s risk being a bit cute here: It is a sort of daily cuddle, if by “cuddle” we mean reaching out, being connected and showing support to people you care about — it is absolutely that.

Enhancing Connections
Here are a few things we have been doing to enhance a feeling of actual connection during our virtual meetings:

1. Turn on those cameras
Seeing your colleagues’ faces on the screen really helps to transform a “call” into a “meeting,” and goes a long way to enhancing the sense of connection and ability to show empathy.

2. Check in with each other first
Before launching into the business of the day, invite colleagues to share how they are doing, personally. We’re all dealing with similar conditions, and the opportunity for people to identify with each other’s circumstances and struggles is invaluable in any difficult situation.

3. Have some fun!
We can’t focus only on work and coping with the ominous state of the world. It’s important to have some levity. Try introducing your colleagues to your pets. Have a “Funny Hat Friday.” Do team-building activities. Celebrate the end of the week together with a virtual happy hour. These are all actions we’ve taken that have helped to lighten the tone and bring us closer together.

4. Stay positive
Rally the team, show some esprit de corps, and call upon your collective resilience and ingenuity to solve problems. If you’re doing a virtual meeting with cameras on, checking in with each other, and having a bit of fun, you likely have the kind of company culture that will enable you to adapt and succeed. So, there’s no reason not to stay positive.

Share success stories
Here is where you can drill down a bit on the positivity with examples. It’s likely that your collective ingenuity is garnering some results. Perhaps a team member had success sharing your new ideas with a client. Maybe an innovative concept gained traction with a collaborative partner. Let everyone know what’s going on that is good.

Now is not just a time to endure: Now is a time to learn. Adversity necessitates change, and the need for change inspires innovation. There is no doubt that innovations created and implemented to address the needs of clients during the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be used when we return to relative normalcy. The same goes for internal processes and communications.

For us, adapting to the current state of the world has introduced solutions and efficiencies that will inform how we work with clients, as well as how we collaborate and communicate internally moving forward — and we will be a better (and more connected) company for having persevered together.

Matthew McGrath is director of communications and senior editor at Curtis Learning. Email Matthew at

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