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Gleb Tsipursky

Management

Effective Collaboration for a Thriving Culture in Hybrid and Remote Teams

Redevelop workplace processes with a virtual water cooler and breaks to reinforce diversity and inclusion

Published: Tuesday, December 14, 2021 - 13:03

Organizations will need to pivot their corporate culture if they wish to survive and thrive in the world of virtual collaboration after the pandemic. The most important changes will stem from the wide-scale and permanent shift to hybrid and fully remote modes of working.

Between 65 percent to 75 percent of employers intend to have a mainly hybrid schedule, with a minority of staff fully remote. This is being led by large companies that announced a permanent switch. Combining hybrid and fully remote work largely matches what employees want.

To adapt to the hybrid and remote future of work, leaders need to benchmark and adapt best practices based on external research, as I learned from my interviews with 47 midlevel and 14 senior leaders I guided through the transition to the future of work.

Why did corporate culture suffer during the pandemic?

Culture refers to the social and emotional glue that bonds employees together into a community of belonging. It also motivates employees and protects against burnout. It includes the norms and practices that determine how people collaborate, and involves the values that guide your employee community into the increasingly disrupted future.

During Covid emergency lockdowns in March 2021, companies shifted to working from home. Numerous companies simply transposed their office culture-style of collaboration to remote work, to unsatisfactory results.

Only a select few took the strategic approach of revising their company culture to fit the needs of remote work. Such companies had much better employee retention, morale, and engagement.

Human beings are tribal creatures. We connect to others and belong to a community to be fulfilled. Work-from-home cuts us off from much of our ability to connect effectively to our colleagues as human beings, rather than little squares on a screen. No wonder so many suffered from work-from-home (WFH) burnout and Zoom fatigue, and felt increasingly disconnected from their employers. Thus, there is a tendancy for remote employees to demand fewer fewer virtual meetings.

However, that model is here to stay. So what is the best way to address the tension between remote collaboration and human connectedness? In-person meetings are important; they connect us on a human-to-human level, no matter how brief they are. Recognizing and acting upon these problems will save us from the deprivation of our human connection.

Adapt your culture to virtual collaboration in the post-pandemic normal

The hybrid model of coming in once or more per week will help address this issue, while still offering effective connecting activities for virtual collaboration on nonoffice days. You must replace bonding activities from office culture with bonding activities designed for a virtual format, taking advantage of digital technology.

Prepare this cultural re-onboarding as part of your office return and adaptation plans to rebuild connections within the organization. Educate your employees on the changes, provide ample time to prepare themselves, and seek their buy-in for reintegration into an office-based culture.

The water cooler conversation of virtual collaboration

Most of my clients implemented a “morning update” for four- to eight-person teams within their company. Teams establish a separate channel for personal, nonwork discussions using a collaboration software.

Every morning, all team members send a message answering the following questions:
• How are you doing overall?
• How are you feeling right now?
• What’s been interesting in your life recently outside of work?
• What’s going on in your work: What’s going well, and what are some challenges?
• What is one thing about you or the world that most other team members do not know about?

This activity provides an excellent foundation for developing relationships, rebuilding trust, and accommodating differences.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion in virtual collaboration

Surveys found that there is a much greater desire among minorities for a hybrid or fully remote model. For example, a study by Slack found that 79 percent of white knowledge workers wanted either a hybrid or fully remote model, but 97 percent of black knowledge workers preferred such work. The study suggests that hybrid and fully remote work facilitates diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) concerns because it reduces instances of discrimination.

Other studies have shown discrimination through bullying of minorities on group video calls and one-on-one harassment via chat and email, as well as men frequently interrupting or ignoring women in virtual meetings.

Assume that these problems occur in your company unless you have a reason to believe otherwise. Conduct internal surveys to determine issues in DEI and remote work, and appropriately institute policies and solutions, as well as facilitate effective virtual collaboration. A refresher on the DEI part of your cultural re-onboarding will help.

Work/life balance in virtual collaboration

Research shows that taking physical and mental breaks reduces burnout, increases productivity, and minimizes mistakes.

Employees should take at least a 10-minute break every hour while working remotely. To counteract the harmful effects of prolonged sitting, at least half of these breaks should include physical activity, like stretching or walking around.

Conclusion

Redevelop workplace processes with a virtual water cooler as well as healthy physical and mental breaks, and reinforce DEI during and after the pandemic. Research-based practices will promote virtual collaboration, build sustainable strategies, and accommodate the needs of companies and employees.

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About The Author

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

Gleb Tsipursky

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky helps quality professionals make the wisest decisions on the future of work as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. He is the best-selling author of seven books, including Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage. His cutting-edge thought leadership has been featured in more than 650 articles in prominent publications such as Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and USA Today. His expertise comes from more than 20 years of consulting for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox and more than 15 years in academia as a cognitive scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill and Ohio State. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, Twitter@gleb_tsipursky, Instagram@dr_gleb_tsipurskyLinkedIn, and register for his Wise Decision Maker Course.