The coronavirus has forced global businesses to adapt quickly, first to the disrupted demand and supply chains, then to an entire workforce being confined to their homes. For most organizations, deploying the technology and processes required to enable remote work was a significant accomplishment. Now what? With the proper infrastructure in place, the question has pivoted to how companies can ensure their remote collaboration efforts thrive.
It can be a challenge to replicate innovative whiteboard sessions online and maintain productivity. Wipro Digital’s Talent and Change team recommends four steps to deliver a successful remote collaboration environment.
1. Engage the Team
Humans are social creatures. We need social connections, we want to be part of a team, and we work best when we feel appreciated. It takes practice, but this can still be done remotely.
To begin, employees should refresh themselves on their “social style.” (Driver, Expressive, Amiable or Analytical) and identify whether they switch between two. Knowing their style and sharing it with others will help teams read emotions and react better on now-pervasive video calls. For example, Expressives like to laugh a lot and appreciate banter, often craving longer conversations and being more confident on video. At the other end, Analyticals are usually introverted, may take longer to get comfortable with the camera on, and will frequently pause and think before speaking.
The manager’s role becomes even more important when engaging a remote team. Increasing the number of video meetings gives managers a better grasp of how someone is coping, as it’s easier to observe a person’s tone of voice and body language. Regular video contact will also help to clarify expectations and pre-empt risks. To help build connections that might not otherwise have been possible, managers might even consider asking team members to introduce their families or pets, if the employee is comfortable doing so.
Team members who’ve recently joined the organization, especially those in a management position, will need more opportunities to build relationships virtually. The same applies for those working in different geographies or time zones. We’ve found regular messaging in Microsoft Teams chat and Slack to be key to keeping connected with the wider team. Virtual onboarding programs that are adapted quickly to cater for remote inductions are more successful. Leaders also have a big role to play here, ensuring the right introductions are made and regular check-ins occur. The extra video-conference time will go a long way to making new employees feel engaged and empowered to collaborate.
2. Chunk-up the Work
Everyone works better by taking on bite-sized chunks of activity. Breaking down work into smaller pieces will allow for a more manageable plan that’s easier to prioritize and collaborate on, especially when everyone’s working from home. Chunking-up work by MVP (Minimal Viable Product) can be particularly helpful. Simply, this means identifying the minimum needed to complete the job. Approaching work in this way is also a great opportunity to eliminate unnecessary tools and processes, thus making collaboration easier.
Once the work’s broken up, talking about flexible work hours can help each team member feel included and manage his or her workload. Everyone’s situation is different. Those with families may need to block out a few hours each day to focus on their children, and then return to work later. In this instance, a good planning app can be the manager’s best friend, like the one offered in Microsoft Teams. Commenting on and reviewing tasks in real-time can build efficiency and virtual “walk-in” slots, helping to mirror the passing conversations we all are accustomed to from the office environment.
3. Continue to Innovate … Remotely
What will we do without those big whiteboards?! Trying to collaborate remotely might seem challenging, but there are ways we can change how we’re wired to imagine, develop and experiment.
For instance, teams can make the most of whiteboard apps and drawing tools to help run creative workshops online. Managers may also explore investing in real miniature whiteboards that can be shown on camera, or even turn their windows into whiteboards. The colored post-its and drawings that teams are familiar with can easily be photographed and shared with clients and teams. And live polling apps like Mentimeter allow teams to crowdsource (and down-select) ideas regardless of location.
Team leaders should consider creating an Innovation Backlog or improving one that’s already in place. Spending time to upskill employees about how to contribute to and manage backlog items properly will also pay off, as will prioritizing tasks in an agile way so the team focuses on the ideas most likely to succeed in this climate.
Giving people opportunities to share and develop ideas they’re passionate about will be key to thriving in the current climate and retaining top talent. Holding regular “innovation labs” will get the team pumped and creative energies flowing. We’ve found this key to nurturing millennials new to the organization, though only with ideas developed in small chunks on a regular basis. Creating an environment where they can get access to internal experts and funding to launch their ideas will become more attractive than the risk and investment required for startups.
4. Keep Up the Team Spirit
We’ve found that “remote, social” collaboration is just as important to productivity as “work” collaboration. Balancing social and work engagement can help companies succeed in a remote team environment. Managers can start to build social activity by introducing new ways to interact.
For example, simple virtual games are a great way to keep people engaged. Try online charades or quizzes on “Kahoot,” or during otherwise dry team meetings, issue a challenges like “you have 10 seconds to find something and balance it on your head.” This spontaneity will help teams to adapt and build new comfort zones, and it will certainly lighten the mood.
Identifying Social Leads in each geography who can setup and manage regular events will go a long way toward boosting team happiness. These leads can use Doodle to vote on times and preferred activities, though flexibility is key to accommodate different personalities and family commitments. Online movie nights, playlist sharing, brainteasers over WhatsApp and photo-sharing sessions have all worked with varying levels of success. Why not try a bakeoff? People can volunteer and share/ post/ comment on their culinary achievements.
Brief “coffee and chat” meetings – fully optional – can help replicate those water-cooler moments we all love, while virtual weekly Happy Hours can break down walls and give teams a chance to take a load off. These conversations can all be kept going through a ‘random’ channel on Slack or Microsoft teams, and social media platforms like Workplace or Yammer can be powerful as well.
It’s really important to regularly assess what is working well and be prepared to adapt. Observe the body language, ask for feedback, drop the sessions that aren’t working and focus on the sessions that do work.
Some Final Thoughts
While the current pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty, businesses (and employees) can still thrive through remote collaboration. With those new remote-working tools in place, it’s in managers’ best interest to take the time to setup the systems well, find ways for the team to engage on both a work and social level, and continue to innovate with – not in spite of – collaboration technology.