Yet Another Pandemic Lesson: Collaboration Is Key

Collaboration requires many elements of a healthy culture, including effective leadership, conscious team building, robust processes, and reliable collaboration tools.
December 14, 2021
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In early 2020, many companies sent employees home to work in an effort to keep everyone healthy during the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this move was necessary, no one knew just how well it would work. Could teams continue to be productive when working remotely? As the months passed, many organizations discovered that the answer was yes, with one caveat: Those teams had to continue to collaborate well. 

“In fact,” states a recent TechRepublic article, due to collaboration, “many companies report that corporate culture is better now than before the pandemic hit.” That’s because collaboration requires many elements of a healthy culture, including effective leadership, conscious team building, robust processes, and reliable collaboration tools. 

Here we examine these aspects and discuss how they contribute to effective collaboration for remote teams.

Intentional Teamwork

A recent Gartner article explains that, without physical colocation and the opportunities for spontaneous collaboration it provides, team members must be more intentional about interacting. The article states, “Employees don’t experience the happenstance, serendipitous interactions that might occur in an office. Even a simple social conversation with a co-worker can take effort.” 

The article also recommends that teams not limit their thinking to where each member is working. They should also consider when. This factor allows for people in various time zones to work together, perhaps more easily than when everyone was expected to be in the same place at the same time. Teams with members in widely varied time zones can even take advantage of the situation by essentially being able to work 24 hours per day. 

Effective Leadership

In remote or hybrid work teams, leaders must take on different tasks and roles than those they might be used to. Here are a few important things for team leaders to focus on:

  • Goal setting. In a remote or hybrid work team, the goals may be the same as those employees were striving toward pre-pandemic. But, without a shared physical presence, it may be harder for people to stay on track. Team leaders must set clear and achievable goals and milestones and have this information posted somewhere accessible to everyone, such as a project management application.
  • Clear expectations. In addition to knowing the goals they’re working toward, team members need to know the expectations about how to get there. For example, some teams have a cameras-always-on rule so members can get to know each other by sight as well as sound. Others may prefer a cameras-off rule to cut down on video conference fatigue.
  • Communication. To productively move toward those goals, team leaders must strive for effective communication. That means setting up regular check-in meetings and using technology to enable spontaneous conversations as well.
  • Meeting team member needs. Team leaders must advocate for team members no matter where they work for things like needed equipment, benefit support such as mental health care, and scheduling flexibility.
  • Role modeling. In remote or hybrid working conditions, team leaders should model the characteristics that contribute to high levels of success. They include staying flexible in the face of quickly changing conditions, being creative with problem solving, and maintaining their cool when things become complicated or difficult.

The following Forbes video describes some of these suggestions and others:

Consistent Teambuilding

Just like with in-person teams, remote and hybrid team members can work together without being friends. But, even if friendship isn’t the goal, workers appreciate the opportunity to know a little about the people they are working with. 

New team configurations require new ways of getting acquainted and maintaining good relations. Here are a few ideas:

  • Plan opportunities for team members to get to know each other. This approach may seem more forced than the natural opportunities that occur when people are working together, but that doesn’t make it any less effective or important. Spend 5 minutes or so at the beginning or end of meetings having each person respond to a simple question like, “What is your favorite food to eat at this time of year?”
  • Simulate in-person situations such as arriving late to meetings if you’re the leader to allow team members to chat among themselves. Or use breakout rooms after a meeting for people who want to follow up on topics that came up during the meeting.
  • Create a “just for fun” channel on your collaboration application where team members can share non-work-related stories or memes. 
  • Get together in person sometimes. If team members live in close proximity, plan an outing at least once per quarter. If some team members are further away, consider flying them in a couple of times per year for these get-togethers. 

Additionally, team leaders must bake in a sense of community and equal footing no matter where team members are located. For example, if some workers are in the office with the leader and others are teleconferencing in for a meeting, the leader should make sure that those not physically present are well heard. 

Reliable Tools

In remote and hybrid work situations, the online collaboration software is the “place of business” where everyone on the team can engage. The functionality may include videoconferencing, email, discussion board, messaging, document storage, and document sharing features. 

Teams must choose a platform that supports the greatest efficiency and the team’s unique workflows. Teams must use these tools in conjunction with robust processes, so employees know what to do when to move toward milestones and longer-term goals. 

The New Collaboration 

While collaboration won’t look exactly the way it did when teams exclusively worked together physically, it should serve the same purpose. That is, the success of each team and each project should rely on the strengths of each team member and their ability to bring those strengths together for the common good. 

But collaboration doesn’t just happen. Leaders must take a step back and discover new ways to bring out the best in each person and team. Leaders should also remember that the world of remote and hybrid work is still new and subject to experimentation. If something doesn’t work, step back again and try a new approach.

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