Facilitating Collaboration in a Work From Home World

February 7, 2021

At our last session with the Focus Five, a comment was made by finance leader Beatty D’Alessandro on the “loss of serendipity moments” with the new work from home environment. In many companies, even where teams see each other face-to-face over video conferencing, they cannot engage in the spur of the moment conversations and explore ideas in impromptu discussions at the water cooler. Even worse, many companies don’t provide for cross-functional collaboration. Rarely does finance ever speak with marketing, and the ability to collaborate has become diminished since we are no longer passing each other in the hallways. Working virtually will never provide the same collaborative atmosphere that being together in-person can provide. However, with the right tools and company culture, companies can still facilitate collaboration from home.

 

Here are some best practices:

Longer Meetings Don’t Equal More Opportunity for Collaboration.

If your employees’ calendars are over half full with blocks for meetings, you may need to consider the consequences of occupying their time:

  1. Video conferences with large groups of people can become cumbersome quickly. Generally, many of the same laws that govern in-person interaction hold true in the virtual world, and overcrowding a discussion can take a toll on the potential for lively dialogue. For example, in our leadership programs, we limit the number of participants in each cohort to create an atmosphere that encourages people to speak up. This small-group atmosphere is also the idea behind the Focus Five, which are tight-knit discussions between industry leaders, allowing for in-depth conversations typically only found in the corners of rooms at a networking event.
  2. How much time for real work are you leaving for your employees? If your team has to work late into the evening regularly, your employee engagement will likely drop significantly and quickly. Unengaged employees are less motivated, unable to focus, and can harm profit. Meetings are easy to do, don’t mistake them for producing value. 

 

The solution

Getting rid of meetings is not the goal. In fact, there may be different types of meetings to add to the schedule that will increase employee productivity and collaboration. The goal, instead, is to consolidate and condense your meetings. Ask yourself:

  • Are we bringing up topics that are relevant to this meeting specifically? Encourage your team to avoid tangents and side discussions. 
  • Add a daily standup to the schedule: A daily standup is a quick, 15-minute rundown that goes around the horn, acknowledging what each individual is working on for that day. The purpose is not to have an in-depth discussion but to hold the team accountable by announcing where members will spend time over the workday. 

 

Get Creative with How Your Employees Interact

Does marketing ever get the chance to speak with finance? If you’re not already, consider establishing brainstorming sessions. Find ways to include multiple departments without overcrowding. Rotate the participants to keep the groups small but inclusive. There are body language cues that make video conferencing superior to phone and text communication, so encourage your team to see each other face to face. Continue to celebrate milestones, birthdays, and anything worthy of a social gathering.

 

Keep Everyone Informed

You don’t know what you don’t know, and you can’t contribute to a project you aren’t aware is underway. Share project documents, communicate with heads of different functional areas, let your company know what is vital to your team—garner suggestions from specialists outside your silo to gain new perspectives.

 

Questions to consider:

  • What is the content of your meetings? Are you meeting too much, too little? Is there room for increased efficiency? 
  • Do employees have the chance to collaborate in small group brainstorming sessions? Is it possible people aren’t speaking up because there are 20+ people on the video conference?
  • Are your teams aware of what the rest of the company is doing? Do you hold cross-functional meetings where suggestions are encouraged?

 

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