If you have ever worked on a team, you have most likely used the phrase “teamwork makes the dream work.” This phrase rings true for anyone who has ever been part of a brainstorming session. In a competitive world, it is through an organization’s people and their collaboration that they succeed. How do teams work and how will effective collaboration occur in a remote world was the question on every leader’s mind when COVID-19 first sent employees home last year. Managers and employees had to adjust their day-to-day lives and find a way to mimic the office environment.
According to Leslie Perlow and Ashley Whillans (2021), COVID-19 has changed collaboration forever. During the early days of the pandemic, managers tried to replicate the office environment through online check-ins, drop-ins, and updates but this was ineffective and left teams feeling burnt-out and uninspired. The key component that is hard to replicate in a virtual world is the spontaneous interactions that occur throughout the day, small moments that may have previously been overlooked. Researchers refer to these moments as “bounce time,” a term that they use to describe impromptu brainstorming sessions. Bounce times happen organically and sporadically throughout a working day; the change to a virtual office environment led to a disappearance of bounce times. Another phrase that will ring true, “it is the little things that end up mattering the most.”
Leaders were faced with the task of creating a collaborative online environment. Luckily, there is research on collaboration that we can draw from. In this research, it was found that three categories of essential interpersonal interactions are essential for effective collaboration. These include:
Task Interactions: when team members collaborate on activities that directly contribute to the output.
Process Interactions: such as the agenda-setting that structures a team’s work by laying out responsibilities and timelines.
Relationship Interactions: in which colleagues support each other and share skills.
In the office, teams usually set aside a time or have space where they can sit together and discuss content or projects, this is where bounce times as referenced by Perlow, Whillans, and Turek (2021) would often occur. This interaction can be mimicked online through asynchronous communication tools, like Slack, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams. This was found to be the most effective method since individual members had time to think through their responses. Wondering how to create a culture of engagement with your remote team? Start by hearing what your employees have to say by using The PI Diagnose Solution.
When working in an office, it is easier to get an update on a project from a manager or colleague throughout the day. When organizations transitioned to a remote work environment, it was difficult to recreate spontaneous check-ins. With so many meetings made to touch base, burnout was a growing concern. Perlow, Whillians, and Turek (2021) found that using minimally disruptive technologies for process questions, like an asynchronous communication tool allowed them to achieve balance.
This is the most difficult interaction to mimic in the virtual world since it requires a human connection. One of the most effective ways to foster this type of interaction in an online world is through “short, scheduled debriefs” after meetings. Perlow, Whillians, and Turek (2021) found that this helped team members process what transpired and understand the next steps needed. This type of interaction is similar to a “huddle” that would often occur in the office or the “hallway conversations” that occurred after meetings.
It is also helpful to encourage being present when video conferencing, this would mean having all individuals turn their cameras on, doing so helps build trust and rapport and develops a sense of identification with others in their team (Castelli, 2021). Miller (1988) suggests that nonverbal cues make up half of what is being communicated, having video cameras on will allow nonverbal cues such as head nods, looks of confusion, and boredom to be visible to everyone. This will allow the individuals to adjust and act accordingly and will improve interpersonal communication.
These various types of team interactions are crucial to have an effective and collaborative work environment. With the pandemic nearing its end, the working world we once knew has been impacted forever. Hybrid, fully remote, or back in the office – innovation and change management will be required for organizations to succeed moving forward.
It is important to take into consideration how your employee’s work styles differ from one another. Use The Predictive Index Behavioural Assessment to hire candidates who are hard-wired to be a great fit and measure motivating drives and needs for your candidates and employees.
What approaches has your team used to encourage collaboration in the remote working world?
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Senz, K. (2021, May) How Teams Work: Lessons from the Pandemic. Harvard Business School. Retrieved from
Castelli, Frank R. (2021, May) Why students do not turn on their video cameras during online classes and an equitable and inclusive plan to encourage them to do so. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ece3.7123