• Robin Rosenberg

Collaboration in a Hybrid Workplace

Dear Robin,


It was recently announced that my team would be permanently remote. Before the pandemic, we were an on-site team. Some teams are returning to the office, but my team voted to stay remote. I’m wondering if you have any advice on how to encourage casual collaboration between teams that are in the office with those that are remote? While most of my team members prefer working to themselves, I have felt like our sense of collaboration (both within our team and with other teams) has suffered since being remote. I rely on working in person with people to “bounce ideas around” and brainstorm. I have had a really hard time doing this since being remote. Zoom calls feel like formal meetings and I feel like a casual brainstorm that I would have started by popping into a coworker’s cubicle now has to be scheduled. That makes me feel like I am inconveniencing that person or taking up their time. It doesn’t help that I seem to be the only person on my team that misses the on-site casual collaboration opportunities. Do you have any advice for my situation?


Answer:


Although your co-workers may not seem to miss casual, in-person brainstorming, many people report missing that form of interaction. There are some low-tech solutions to address this loss, as well as high-tech solutions.


One crucial step is talking to the people you brainstorm with and developing a system with each of them. This system should outline how you can “pop by” virtually so you won’t feel like you’re imposing—or not imposing any more than you would if you were all at the office. You may work out different systems with each person. For instance, one person may prefer you text them if you want to brainstorm, and they call you on your phone when they’re available. Another person may suggest that you video call them spontaneously, and if they’re busy they won’t pick up but will call you back later. Or if there’s a meeting coming up later in the day, you may ask if they have time before or after the meeting for a quick chat. You can loop in other colleagues as needed, depending on their availability. Whatever system you and each person devise, check in with them from time to time to see whether it’s working for them, and check in with yourself to see whether it’s working for you.


Another thing for you to think about is whether you would personally be better off working in a setting with at least one other person around some of the time (whether it’s a coffee shop, a co-working space, or working at a friend’s place some of the time). Although the people in those spaces can’t brainstorm work ideas with you, they may be able to provide some degree of spontaneous, casual conversation. If you’re working from home and no one else is around, you may go all day without interacting in person with others, and you may miss those types of casual interactions.


A high-tech solution is an always-on portal system, like Sneek, Sidekick, or Tandem. These systems allow you to “see” your teammates throughout the day, analogously to being with them in the office. The systems make it easy to check the availability of teammates and to connect with them (by video) spontaneously when they are available. Your organization would have to pay for these systems, and it should be something your colleagues want as well.

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