Virtual collaboration suits today’s remote workforce

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Gina London

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

That famous saying keeps springing to my mind as I’m in conversation last week with Dr Gleb Tsipursky, neuroscientist, bestselling author and CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts.

He’s telling me how the many business leaders grappling with back-to-the-office, remote and hybrid employee plans are missing a key factor in their models.

“Whether it’s in Ireland, the UK or the United States,” Gleb states, “one of the biggest problems is how to encourage collaboration in the new future of work?”

Gleb explains that leaders are making a mistake trying to implement old office-centric models of working for their remote and hybrid employees.

So, for today, I’m going to share three problems and provide virtual solutions. I’m also going to share who is credited with that famous quote.

Problem: Zoom happy hours

Solution: Virtual water coolers

“Leaders emulated that idea from the beginning of the pandemic based on the in-office style of social gatherings,” Gleb says.

“But it’s not sustainable as a collaboration model because it’s a forced gathering without a lot of structure. It actually causes fatigue and disappointment which reduces collaboration rather than increases it.”

Gleb says the brain science behind this is called “functional fixedness”, a cognitive bias that causes us to make bad decisions based on how our brain has been previously wired.

The “virtual water cooler” is the new alternative. Gleb recommends using a Slack channel or another collaborative communication tool on which employees are required to check-in first thing in the morning.

This requirement seems to similar to those mandated Zoom happy hours, but the big differences are that the duration of the check-ins are only five minutes and during that short amount of time, there is more structure layered on than in the free-wheeling virtual happy hour model.

At the virtual water cooler, each team member is asked to write a quick update about their day ahead, how they’re feeling or how their night was. They are also asked to comment or quickly interact with three of their other teammates rotating through the team over the course of the week or several days.

“These organised, regular micro-connections establish and maintain connection and collaboration in a much less fatiguing way than previous methods,” states Gleb.

Problem: On-The-Job Training

Solution: Virtual Job Shadowing

“One of the big problems for companies using hybrid and remote work is they’re losing on-the-job training and junior employee integration,” Gleb says. “It’s one of the reasons that many companies are trying to get people back into the office.

“But they haven’t tried native virtual formats for addressing these problems. One is virtual co-working. People sign into a video conference like Zoom. The goal of the day is to work on individual tasks. But at first they briefly share their daily goals and then they turn off their speakers and cameras if they want but stay connected. That way, if either of them have a question, they can quickly turn their mic on and ask in real time.”

This, according to Gleb, has benefits because you feel connected because even though you’re working alone, you are also working with a teammate. It’s great for junior employees or new hires, to help them get introduced and integrated with their teams.

Problem: Idea Generation

Solution: Dedicated Idea Channel and Async Collabs

“For both spontaneous and deliberate idea generation, there are virtual ways that are useful,” Gleb points out.

Companies are missing those spontaneous idea moments like when Mary runs into Julie in the hallway. They have a quick conversation and an idea springs forth. To facilitate this in the virtual world, Gleb suggests dedicating a specific channel on your communications platform for ideas where team members can post and others can add or offer constructive criticism.

Alternatively, the deliberate approach to creating ideas used to be the brainstorm session where everyone gathered in the same room and talked about an idea.

“This technique creates synergy and social facilitation when the people around you get excited,” says Gleb. But problems can include “production blocking” when an idea gets lost when others are busy talking about something else or “evaluation apprehension” when someone like a junior employee or an introvert withholds their idea in fear of being criticised. Instead, Gleb suggests a new and improved method is to launch an “intentional asynchronistic brainstorm”. In this, people input ideas at different times in one repository like a Google form.

“You can keep ideas anonymous so no one is afraid to share and everyone can evaluate anonymously as well,” explains Gleb.

Speaking of anonymous, if you were thinking Albert Einstein or perhaps Ben Franklin for that quote at the top of this column, it’s not either. In fact, there’s no agreement upon the original source. There you have it! You’re not crazy, you’re just trying to force people back into an Office 19 way of working. It’s time to try something new.