How our Attitudes Toward Collaboration and Communication have been Impacted by Remote Work
A recent survey conducted by Citrix found that 78 percent of office workers believe full-time remote working will become more common after the COVID crisis has resolved. For the Marketing Communications team at Konica Minolta, we’re in month five of remote work, and as a group built on creativity, collaboration – and of course, communication – it was a jarring change to have this as our foreseeable future.
To no longer see each other every day in the office or meet up with further-away colleagues on regular trips definitely took some adjusting to, but (perhaps unsurprisingly for a self-decreed team of over-achievers) ultimately we’ve not suffered from this. In fact, it’s helped us understand our behaviours and attitudes both individually and collectively, to be able to work together more effectively. Here’s what we’ve learnt so far:
The importance of profiling personalities
Whether it’s by using tests like the Myers Briggs, or simply by intuition, it’s wise to take the time to understand your team and work out which team members are likely to require stimulation by others, and conversely, those who prefer solitude to recharge. According to research conducted by Wharton’s Dr. Grant, roughly two-thirds of people are ambiverts, while one-third is strong introverts or extroverts. So you don’t need to go to extremes – but it helps to start thinking about the different mix of personalities and how to resonate with them.
My team is extremely social and tends to thrive on collaboration, but I noticed that by switching to virtual catch-ups the dynamics changed and it wasn’t as easy for everyone to share stories. After all, the nature of a conference call puts one person on the spot at a time, and so it was easier for the more introverted members to get sidelined. So instead of having lots of large group calls, we switched to smaller, personal ones where it was easier to take turns and also to simply interrupt! And to help the larger calls still facilitate collaboration, we’ve placed much more of an emphasis on having agendas and clear responsibilities up front, to ensure everyone has a turn to speak and share their thoughts.
Amping up the digital communication
In the same manner, I also realised how important it is for leaders to have regular individual check-ins with their team members. In the office you can get away with only impromptu chats without either member feeling like they are missing out, but when you take away all the other social variables, consistency really helps with resilience.
At first, this can feel overwhelming from both sides. For the leader of a larger team it can feel like all you do is have meetings, and for the employee it can bring worries of being micromanaged and whether you have done something wrong to warrant so much personal attention. But one of the highlights of the move to remote work is that it has built up trust across teams, and at least for me and my team, our 1-2-1s consist of as much gossiping about the latest TV shows and weekend plans as they do discussing workload and any challenges. Plus, this focused type of communication means we can quickly collaborate and brainstorm ideas without the worry of other distractions.
Activity based working practises
At Konica Minolta, we’ve always considered individual and team mobility, openness, autonomy and inclusivity as important values, and COVID-19 has given us a great opportunity to further evaluate how we can enhance these values whilst creating a flexible corporate culture.
One of the outcomes of this has been the turn to activity based working, where the basic principle is that employees should be trusted and empowered to work independently of fixed hours and locations, supported by the right technology tools, working environment and cultural support. Team members then come together to focus on activities to drive the output they need, rather than having a meeting simply because it was left in the schedule, for example.
Within the Marketing Communications team, we have a host of team members with different backgrounds and living set-ups, and so letting them know they have the freedom to deliver what they need to in a way that works for them has helped us create a sustainable workflow without anyone feeling burdened or overworked. And yes, this includes sometimes having a 3-year-old join a conference call – which frankly I think adds to better working together and should be encouraged more often! But it has changed the way we work together too; now it’s much more common to be working in the same documents and sharing screens to achieve an outcome, instead of just sitting around a table to discuss what everyone will go and do individually at their desks.
Break down that ‘professional’ boundary
Ironically, in the ongoing throes of social distancing, many of us are getting closer. We’re building more adaptive teams, are more consistently in touch with each other, and maintaining connection has become a priority. I think some of this can be attributed to our innate need for social contact being heightened at the moment, but I also believe that technology has made us value our humanity more.
For example, when I see my calendar for the day is full of back-to-back meetings, my initial thought (sorry colleagues!) is dread at having to have my headphones in solidly for eight hours and that I’ll get Zoom fatigue. But actually, seeing my team in their natural habitat means that I get insight into their real life, and now I look forward to each call bringing a different perspective. It also helps take away any nervousness or hesitancy to collaborate, as the virtual ice has already been broken.
Whilst I definitely am looking forward to being back in the office at some point and seeing all my team’s faces in real life, when you look at it objectively the Coronavirus pandemic has really pushed us to see what we can achieve when we’re isolated – and they are habits I hope we continue to keep wherever we end up working from.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in some of the results of our collaborative programmes, check out rethinkfutureofwork.com.