Remote collaboration is possible. But your employees need the right tools to get it done.
Despite all the gloom-and-doom talk about how we must return to the office to collaborate effectively and connect with our colleagues, many organizations have found ways to get collaborative work done in an all-remote environment. For example, one in-depth study of a growing tech company found that employees connected with colleagues slightly more when working remotely than they had pre-pandemic, sending more messages to more individuals and also following up more after virtual meetings. Interestingly, this company found that leaders deliberately worked to create more connections among employees during the pandemic, and it seems they succeeded.
There are plenty of barriers to collaborative work in a remote or hybrid environment. In organizations where remote work is still fairly new, people have to get used to using new tech tools. In all organizations, people have to adopt a one-company mindset and prioritize connection and collaboration—it doesn’t happen automatically. And leaders have to be mindful of the toll that overwork can take. People who can’t get through their to-do lists or are booked solid with meetings all week don’t have the energy to reach out to colleagues and do creative work.
Leaders can make a huge difference in promoting and enabling a collaborative culture by removing those barriers and ensuring that their employees have the tools they need to work effectively with their colleagues.
WHY IT MATTERS:
Hybrid work isn’t going away any time soon.
The pandemic looms so large in all of our minds that it’s easy to forget that remote collaboration was already becoming more and more common before this crisis began. More and more organizations are global or multi-location today than ever before. Organizational structures are increasingly complex, requiring people to work on multiple teams. Teams today often include people spread between headquarters and several regional offices, as well as freelancers and contractors who may never have worked in the office.
According to a report by Accenture, 83% of employees prefer a hybrid work model. More tellingly, 63% of high-growth organizations have already adopted a work-anywhere approach,
while 69% of companies that aren’t growing have dictated an all-in-person or all-remote approach. It seems clear that employees strongly prefer having the option to work remotely or go into the office sometimes; that top talent will flow towards companies that offer this kind of flexibility; and that the best companies are already moving in this direction.
For leaders, it’s clearly essential to learn how to enable great teamwork in a hybrid world.
Trying to force collaboration for its own sake can create burnout.
Researchers have found that there are typically a few key ‘connectors’ within an organization who contribute to more than their fair share of collaborative projects: typically, just 3 to 5% of employees provide about 20 to 35% of “value-added collaborations.” These connectors are incredibly valuable employees, but they’re often not recognized as star performers, and they can quickly get burned out if they don’t have the support they need.
Meanwhile, at many organizations, people spend as much as 80% of their time communicating with colleagues—in meetings, on email or Slack, or over the phone. And in weaker organizational cultures, where people are reluctant to take risks, it’s easy for bottlenecks to develop, where every single step of a process has to be signed off on by one of a few key people. The problem of having too many cooks in the kitchen is a real one, and it’s one leader must be on the lookout for. Your team’s processes need to be efficient in order to create the right space for effective, engaging collaboration.
When people are already overworked, the efficiency of just going it alone can be appealing. On the flip side, a ‘collaborative’ process that bogs people down in unnecessary meetings or requests for approval can lead people to throw up their hands and give up trying to get anything done. Make sure that your collaborative processes are designed to make work easier and more creative—not just slow it down.
WHAT TO PAY ATTENTION TO:
It’s your responsibility as a leader to ensure your team has the tools they need to get the job done.
As a leader, it’s on you to make sure that your team is set up to succeed at remote collaboration. You must ensure your employees have the tools they need to get things done.
Start with tech tools. You use these tools yourself, so you should have a sense of which ones make work easier and which ones end up being a time-suck. But you should also check in periodically with your team to find out what they need, what bugs them, what’s working and what’s not.
Your team also needs the right conceptual tools to get good collaborative work done. They need to understand the organization’s strategy in order to know what work should be prioritized. They also need to understand the priorities of other teams they interact with, so they can organize and prioritize their requests from cross-team colleagues—particularly those crucial, but often overworked, connectors.
Your team also needs time management tools. Bottlenecks arise when people feel the need to get ‘cover’ from someone higher up for every little decision. Help your team decide who the key contributors should be on any given project. Decide who will take responsibility for decisions along the way, and empower and support them to actually make those decisions. Back them up when they make those decisions. If you can do this, you’ll go a long way to creating an environment where real, effective collaboration can thrive—regardless of where people are physically.
Are you giving your team the tools they need to collaborate?Gut Check for Leaders
- The challenge of collaboration in a hybrid world
- What are you doing to build deep connections at work?
- Collaborative overload
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