We’ve all witnessed it.
Children having a meltdown while their parents are in a Zoom meeting. Dogs pawing at their owners during a presentation, vying for some attention.
Despite these distractions, most employees have not only sustained their workload while working remotely. Some have even been more productive than if they’d been at work.
This all sounds great, but the time spent focused on getting things done meant that collaboration among employees fell off.
As restrictions lift and we return to normal operations, remnants of the pandemic remain. Boardrooms remain closed. Team meetings continue online rather than in person. Our daily calendar is a wall of back-to-back Zoom meetings.
Herein lies the problem.
While we may be pumping out more work, there’s a cost associated with this head-down approach to getting things done.
Every team, whether it has two employees or two hundred, requires the ability to interact on multiple levels to collaborate, share, and learn. The longer we avoid person-to-person interactions, the further we stray from realizing the value of these experiences. You simply can’t get the same level of creativity and communication when everyone is sequestered at their computer.
Additionally, our ability to retain employees when there are fewer personal interactions with their coworkers and leaders drops off dramatically.
A recent study by WeWork concluded that working from home has resulted in a decline in the ability of employees to meet and brainstorm by as much as 15%. That might not seem like a big decrease, but if we are getting more done while collaborating less, there are only two possible outcomes. One is that our work isn’t as accurate as it once was. The other is that it lacks the creativity needed to ensure an effective and sustainable outcome.
It’s akin to the CEO drawing up a strategy without ever discussing or sharing it with the board, employees, or other stakeholders. It’s literally not as good as the paper it’s written on.
Over time, some of these personalized experiences will naturally re-emerge. But for employees who will continue to work from home, or for hybrid work teams, it will be important to create an environment ripe with collaboration and interaction. We need to create hybrid collaboration.
This isn’t a new method to communicate. It’s taken from remote work teams that have used these approaches successfully since long before the pandemic began. From sales teams spread across the country to organizations with employees working at multiple facilities, hybrid collaboration has been in practice for decades.
There are six steps to building and maintaining collaboration when your employees are not all situated under one roof.
Informal team interactions are the foundation of creative dialogue and collaboration. A simple method to encourage informal discussions amongst hybrid teams includes setting aside 10 minutes at the beginning or end of online meetings, encouraging informal discussion about the topic at hand or other challenges.
One-to-one interactions within the team
Encouraging employees to have one-to-one interactions on a regular basis is a key component of hybrid collaboration. Have employees set aside time each week for a 30-minute discussion with a coworker, stakeholder, or a peer. No agenda is necessary although it’s best to share ideas of what might be discussed.
Scheduled face-to-face meetings
As we’re once again allowed to gather in a face-to-face environment, schedule quarterly or bi-annual meetings that require remote employees to join in person. There is still no better way to build comradery and trust (the foundation for collaborative discussions) than in a face-to-face environment.
Leaders’ one-to-one check-ins
Not all employees will share openly and willingly during larger group discussions. Leaders, therefore, need to set aside time weekly to check in with employees on a one-to-one basis. These informal discussions ensure leaders remain aware of individual challenges and opportunities while allowing them the ability to identify collaboration opportunities.
Periodic offsite in-person meetings
Team building and strategy meetings are often held offsite for a reason—to avoid distractions. As conditions warrant, returning to bi-annual or even annual offsite meetings is important. It allows for a closer connection amongst employees with fewer distractions.
Encourage remote employees to work from the office periodically
Even remote employees should spend some time in the office. Depending on distance, this might be one day each week, each month, or each year. Regardless of the frequency, employees who don’t typically work in the office need to spend some time onsite to build relationships and gain an understanding of internal culture.
No doubt the increased popularity of working from home and hybrid work teams are here to stay. The goal for leaders, then, is to purposefully place employees in situations where they will share both their challenges and opportunities while building comradery and trust. Encourage dialogue, unsolicited feedback, and open idea-sharing. No filters and no formality. This is the key to collaboration for the hybrid workforce in a post-COVID world.
Shawn Casemore is a speaker and facilitator who works with entrepreneurs and business leaders to align their teams, “wow” their customers, and grow their businesses.