The office environment has changed radically in the past two years. Previous to this shift, a dramatic change might have been something like the creation of open workspaces versus having individual offices. Now, we face a future with far less in-person collaboration than we’ve ever seen before because our team is no longer spending all their time under the same roof.
Once staff were working from home for an extended period of time, many decided that this was a better situation than their old routine. And many of their supervisors agreed. Two years of experience showed us that much of what we did before can be done with a team scattered around the city, or even the world. After all, what is so different in two colleagues sitting in their cubicles in front of their screens or sitting in their living rooms in front of their screens?
But what is lost is the power of in-person collaboration.
When a sports team is successful, almost always it’s the result of them players spending years together in the same system. Rarely does a team get assembled quickly and then find success. Though it’s difficult to measure the bonding, the friendships, the trust that is built up over time, but it almost always has a positive influence on the results of their work together.
Look at the successful football teams and you’ll notice that the owner, head coach, quarterback and key starters have been together for several years. The franchises that are always at the bottom have seen a carousel of coaches and players and each year seem to be rebuilding.
And while we may never fully return to an office environment where everyone is side-by-side for 40 hours a week, there are steps we can take to ensure that a more flexible work schedule doesn’t break down or keep from happening, the important team-building aspects found in in person collaboration.
The New Normal
The new team dynamic needs to include in-person collaboration while allowing for flexible work habits.
There’s no doubt that in-person collaboration is important. When people are able to work together in the same room, they’re able to communicate more effectively and come up with better ideas. This is because when people are able to interact face-to-face, they’re able to see each other’s body language and facial expressions, which can give them a better understanding of what the other person is saying.
Real conversations occur in person
Real conversations just don’t happen over email or through texts or even on Zoom calls. We don’t linger at the end of video calls like we would after an in-person meeting. It’s in those moments that questions get asked and answered, ideas get thrown out that, and those who are less vocal perhaps in a group dynamic find their voice when it’s only a few people left in the room.
When a team member is off site and doesn’t really know their team, they are far less likely to offer without prompting, valuable suggestions or ideas that might help the business.
The “ah ha!” moments don’t regularly occur as much in scheduled meetings as they do in casual conversations, impromptu drop-ins and during an afternoon coffee break.
Mentoring Is Better in Person
One of the most important, and often overlooked, aspects of success in any field is mentorship. A good mentor can offer guidance, support, and advice when it comes to both professional and personal development. In the business world, a mentor can help you navigate the corporate landscape, learn the ropes of your industry, and make connections that can further your career.
Mentoring can be a great way to help someone learn and grow in their career. A good mentor can provide guidance, support, and advice, which can be incredibly valuable for the mentee.
A mentorship can be an incredibly valuable asset, especially in the early stages of your career.
Developing a relationship of this magnitude is one that requires many hours of interaction and conversations. Yet another challenge if employees are not “in office” on a regular basis.
Some Possible Solutions
No matter how the “return to the office” pans out, you’ll still probably have some fully remote team members. Sometimes getting the best talent means hiring outside your geographical area.
Company retreats are one way to build camaraderie with your remote colleagues as any “in-person event” will help build relationships. Once the staff spends time with each other in person, a bond does start to form. The zip lines, the trust falls, the impromptu singing, create laughs, great memories and help bond the team. The next time that they converse on Zoom, the relationship will have improved, and the teamwork will be much improved as well.
Remote workers can be brought into the office on a quarterly basis to meet the team, experience the office dynamic and begin to create connections and even friendships that will improve communication and lessen turnover. The cost of bringing in remote workers occasionally may be less than the cost of replacing them later. The more connected they are to the team, to the company, the less likely they are to quit.
Remote “happy hours” over Zoom or Teams is another way to connect the team where the goal is relationship building and not just getting work done. Staff can be assigned fun tasks like preparing a slide show of their vacation to Las Vegas or games like staff trivia can be developed towards getting to know each other better.
If there is a company goal for in-person collaboration, then the solutions can come. It just takes a commitment from upper management to have the team together as much as is feasible and to make other gestures towards meaningful interactions in those in-between times.