There’s a question that has been on all our minds [well some at least] since….well, since the start of 2020. ‘How to improve remote collaboration?’ The short answer is ‘who knows’. Ok, technically that’s more of a question than an answer, but let me elaborate. Around 12 months ago, most of us were going to our place of work. There we conformed to the culture of our office/organisation and we were able to collaborate easily with those around us. Even when we weren’t able to physically be with others. We jumped onto the appropriate communication medium and got the job done, right? Those media range from Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, instant messaging, telephone, and even the humble Post-it note.
Collaboration without the office
So what is changing? Apart from not being able to stick a note on someone’s desk, not a great deal when it comes to those media. There have been some nice features added to the video conferencing tools, such as the raised hand, breakout rooms, polls, etc. These make for a better collaborative experience. The main change has actually been with the physical environment, which we’re no longer able to access. The office doesn’t make for better collaboration in itself. It does provide the right [when designed well] environment for interaction, face-to-face, real-life, physical, human connection. No office has a water cooler these days [we really need a new term, I think], but you know what I’m talking about.
Unplanned interactions that take place are just as, if not more important than, the planned ones. These allow us to connect with each other on a personal level. And it’s these personal connections that enable better collaboration….apart from with Ruben. No one gets on well with Ruben! Anyway, what has this got to do with remote collaboration, and how we can improve it? Well, this comes back to my previous answer, or should I say question, ‘who knows’. The answer to that is, ‘we all do’.
The soul of collaboration
What I mean is that we are all individuals, and our personal preferences contribute to how we do our best collaborative work. The aim of the collaboration is to share information and opinions in pursuit of a common goal. We all have the same tools at our disposal, but it should be up to us as individuals and teams as to what works best and how. It’s taken us years to work this out in the office. Why are we expected to work it out now in a matter of months?
The Post-it note was invented in the 70s, more than 50 years later, and we’re just getting to grips with instant messaging and how best to use that… Don’t get me started on memes from my 80-year-old mum! 2020 has been a massive learning curve for many, and in 2021 we’re still learning how to make remote collaboration better. And better is good, right?
Diversity in the workplace
We all know there are different personalities in an organisation. And we should celebrate the diversity and the contribution it makes to our lives. Extroverts may be happy to sit in a 2-hour meeting and talk till the cows come home. Introverts, on the other hand, may sit quietly listening, while sending messages in the meeting chat. They’re both valid in their opinions and need to be able to voice them and have them accepted by the rest of the team. Having the right media for each is possible, and depending on the team it may need more than one for collaboration to be effective.
Introverts and Extroverts aren’t the only personalities in an organisation and research has shown that some may not even be coping well working remotely at all. People with a slightly nervous disposition or who struggle with the order may find it more difficult than others to adjust. Data from Measuremen Habital research has shown that dominant personality employees score the lowest [7.4/10] on performance when working from home. The window into our colleagues’ worlds has the blinds open and we start to get a much clearer picture of their lives as we’ve never had before. Choose the right media for the people in your team, but if you feel some are not able to join in, be sympathetic. Talk to them in private to see how you can get the best from them in the future.
Setting is key
Situations for people are also different and what used to work for them in the usual 9 to 5 situation might not work for them now. Think about when you have meetings and whether the meeting is even necessary. You don’t need to dictate a presentation or report that can be easily shared and consumed by someone at their own pace. Distractions during meetings mean people aren’t able to concentrate and do their best work. Research by The Economist showed that distractions could be costing up to $62bn per year in lost revenue…there’s another meme from my mum….
What is important is to give people time to find out what works for them. Don’t try to cram all the meetings back to back into one day or expect an answer to your instant message instantly. Be reasonable, supportive, open and honest with people about what you expect from them. If you can concentrate on outputs rather than process your teammates know what is expected of them and by when, especially if the target is realistic.
Better relationships – easier collaboration
As I said earlier, what makes collaboration easier is the personal relationships we have with our team. A report by Gartner suggests that personal relationships in the future will put a strain on working relationships and company culture. Think about how you can foster personal relationships remotely now. It won’t be easy and may seem unnatural to begin with. However, coffee breaks and virtual games nights can help more than you think. And before you say ‘not another £@&%ing quiz…’ under your breath, there are lots of other things you can try virtually. One of Measuremen’s favourite company activities is virtual Pictionary via Jamboards. Give it a go, you’ll be surprised with what you might find out about your team and how people think…and draw. It’s so much fun I’d even invite Ruben to join.
So if we’ve learned anything from this, it would be that remote collaboration needs to be tailored to the individuals involved. And there are lots of tools out there that can help to answer how to improve remote collaboration. The Measuremen Habital app provides employees with an easy way to share their needs. It gives leaders the right information to know where to focus their attention. We all have our own opinion and preference for what we think works. It’s just a matter of taking some time to find out what works best for you and when. Personal relationships can help make it easier and if we can all be sympathetic to each other’s needs it will help with boundaries and expectations.
[All names and ages have been changed to protect the innocent]