Guest opinion: When the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to allow employees to work from home, the biggest initial challenge to overcome was to organize ways to communicate effectively. Many have turned to services like Zoom and Teams to allow for group chats while mobile phones have become the channel of choice between two people. Over the course of a few months, most employees have become comfortable with these ways of staying connected while working remotely. But now, with mixed working practices likely to be a feature of business life for some time to come, many organizations realize there is another challenge to solve. In addition to enabling hybrid communication, there is also a need for hybrid collaboration capabilities.
Resolving this challenge may be more difficult for leaders to navigate, even compared to the rapid shift to remote work in early 2020. But despite the challenge, this new, mixed approach to working could also be a significant growth opportunity, as well as an opportunity to foster more Participation and innovation.
Same old (old) cooperation methods
This challenge is why Facebook is introducing a virtual reality workspace, Horizon work rooms, very interesting. Maybe we don’t all need Oculus headphones and avatars of virtual reality to restore a sense of teamwork. But Facebook is on the right track: It’s looking for ways to help people connect and collaborate, not just communicate, in virtual workspaces.
To ensure that this shift to the next normal has a positive impact, leaders and companies will need to embrace an entirely new mindset when it comes to collaboration. Search Commissioned by Lucid last year showed that while managers have concerns about how remote work affects productivity, employees are more concerned about how it affects their ability to collaborate.
This is not surprising. Collaborative tools have been outdated for a long time. While the rise of Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams has shifted businesses away from working on email only, they remain communication platforms at their core, not collaboration solutions.
The office suites we use today are very similar to the ones we used 30 years ago; We still collaborate around virtual 8.5×11 documents, virtual spreadsheets, and virtual slide shows. Even inside Facebook workrooms, the whiteboard is a 4-foot by 6-foot rectangle that floats in front of you. But the truth is, we no longer go to work to pass the diary. Why limit our collaborative work to what fits on a virtual paper or in a mock conference room?
Collaboration must be visible
We go to work building things, whether it’s a company, a product, or a market. As mentioned above, good communication tools are only part of what is required to do this type of creative work in a remote or mixed environment. Microsoft’s 2021 paper suggests employees may be “Collaboratively isolated“During periods of working from home, with mixed results for creative work. This is because building things requires focused work time, along with both effective communication tools and effective collaboration.
In order to empower employees to be more collaborative, leaders need to think differently. In short, hybrid environments need Visible Solutions that facilitate working side by side, not just face to face.
Creativity and collaboration are possible with a mixed workforce, as long as managers are able to build a culture that supports and prioritizes these values, not just productivity. Work practices and visual technologies can give people a voice and spark creativity, no matter where they are – away or in the office.
For example, BambooHR went into a three-year strategic update process right after the pandemic in 2020. Typically, this is the kind of process that could take days or even weeks of intense collaborative work in the conference room, with a lot of scribbling on whiteboards and boards. paper, and sticky notes full of ideas. While that, BambooHR has done just about everything using a virtual whiteboard.
Employees reported that they found the ability to add sticky notes and ideas on the virtual whiteboard as they continued to engage much more than sitting in a PowerPoint presentation. The infinity board of the whiteboard meant that when a section was filled, people would move to a new, empty area. There was no need to stop, take a picture, and start over. The virtual board also allows everyone to see all the ideas on their screens, discuss them in real time and then quickly prioritize and next steps.
It’s time to reimagine working together
By putting everyone in a shared virtual space, you can remove old barriers and restrictions. By collaborating on an unlimited board instead of a 4 x 6 whiteboard, people’s ideas can literally “expand” beyond the frameworks that normally restrict their thinking.
Besides brainstorming and planning, other areas where visual and collaborative techniques can use a more hybrid-friendly approach include process mapping, system diagrams, and product development.
As employees become comfortable with these tools and processes, virtual workplaces will quickly become spaces where the most effective collaboration can occur. They will end up being the workspaces that foster and enable innovation, creative thinking, and new ideas to move business forward.