By Mike Robbins
Motivational Speaker and Author
Mike Robbins, LLC

The coronavirus has had a significant impact on the world, the economy, and just about every aspect of our day-to-day lives. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have a job that allows us to work from home, we’re now operating in a completely virtual environment, which poses a whole new set of challenges for people, leaders, and teams.

How can we communicate, connect, and collaborate effectively?  How will we brainstorm and solve problems? What’s the best way for us to give and receive feedback? How can we make sure people feel included and have a sense of belonging when we’re isolated from one another (and from just about everyone else in our lives)?

These and other important questions have become front and center for many of us — and most of the leaders and teams I work with. And while working from home and connecting virtually has been a normal part of our working lives for many years now (and often seen as a perk), being forced to work remotely because of a global pandemic, plus not knowing how long it will last, isn’t something any of us planned for — or even thought was possible. And yet, here we are.

Through my work and research on team performance over the past 20 years, I’ve learned that there are key ways teams can thrive in the midst of challenging experiences, and that there are two things that separate good teams (those that just get by) from great ones (those that prioritize getting through times like these together): authenticity and appreciation.

In the environment that we find ourselves in now, it’s essential for teams to double down on authenticity and appreciation, so that the team can stay connected, communicate openly with one another, support each other, and still do great work amid everything that is going on.

Here are five specific things you and your team can do right now to be more authentic and appreciative:

1. Be open and honest about your feelings

How can we show up more authentically and enhance the culture of authenticity on our team?

The metaphor I use when talking about authenticity is the iceberg, and in this case it means “lowering the waterline” on our iceberg — sharing honestly how we really feel and what’s truly going on for us — is crucial.

There’s a powerful exercise that I’ve facilitated for many years with teams that I explain in my TED talk on authenticity called “If you really knew me …”.  Each member of the team takes a minute or two to answer this question and shares how they’re feeling in the moment, vulnerably, with the team. This is a great exercise to do regularly, especially right now.

2. Reach out for support

Most of us are more than happy to help others, but we have a harder time asking for help. One of the best ways to be authentic in a practical way and to create more connection with our team — particularly when we’re separated from one another — is to reach out for support. And, when we do this, not only might we get the help and connection we’re looking for, we give other people the opportunity to do something that most people love to do: help others.

As the saying goes, “The answer is always ‘no’ if you don’t ask.”

3. Check in with each other

Now more than ever it’s important to check in with the people on your team. People are understandably feeling stressed and scared. Everyone is dealing with a lot right now — children at home, people in their lives they may be worried about, uncertainty about the future, isolation, loneliness, and more.

Check in with one another about more than just work, projects, and deadlines; talk about life and how people are actually doing and feeling. This can go a long way in both staying connected to each other and supporting everyone’s well-being.

4. Ask for feedback

Feedback is hard to both give and receive, although it’s necessary for our growth and development, individually and collectively. And, given the circumstances we find ourselves in right now, it’s even more challenging to make sure we’re getting and giving essential feedback.

One specific way to make this easier to give and get is to proactively ask for it. When we do this, we not only make sure we’re getting important feedback ourselves, but we make it more conducive for others to give it.

We all have to make lots of adjustments right now, so we’re going to need even more feedback than usual. A great way to do this is to ask, “What can I start, stop, and continue doing right now to ensure that I’m as effective as possible?” This “start, stop, continue” technique is simple, specific, and direct.

5. Appreciate each other

There’s a really important distinction I’ve learned over the years working with people, leaders, and teams: the difference between recognition and appreciation. Recognition is about what we do. Appreciation is about who we are.

Both of these things are important and motivating. Appreciation runs deeper and cuts to the core of who we are and our relationships with one another. Teams that appreciate each other authentically have a huge advantage, especially in difficult times of change, adversity, and uncertainty — like right now.

Take time when you connect one-on-one with each other on video or the phone, and especially when you meet virtually as a team, for everyone to get some genuine appreciation from others. People are starving for appreciation, especially right now, and if we can make sure that everyone on the team knows that we value and care about them — and that we’re all in this together — it can make a huge difference in their lives personally, and bolster the success of the team.

Mike Robbins is the author of five books, including his latest, “We’re All in This Together: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging.” He is an expert in teamwork, leadership, and emotional intelligence; he delivers keynotes and seminars around the world that empower people, leaders, and teams to engage in their work, collaborate, and perform at their best. His clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay, Genentech, the Oakland A’s, and many others.