Deur Anja van den Berg
Personal technology and digital connectivity have advanced so far that many people, for many years, have been asking: “Do we need to be in an office to do our work?” The Covid-19 lockdown answered that question. It seems that remote working is here to stay.
Prithwiraj Choudhury, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, focuses on the future of work – particularly how work-from-anywhere practices are changing its geography. In a summary of his studies, titled Our Work-from-Anywhere Future, Choudhury discusses best practices for the post-Covid-19 employee:
- Bridging time zones means limiting big (online) meetings
When workers are distributed, synchronous communication becomes more difficult. Tools such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts can help those working in the same or similar time zones to connect. However, how do companies cross the time zone bridge for those who are spread wider apart? Choudhury says that businesses must get comfortable with asynchronous communication. Ideas to consider are a customised intracompany portal or a shared Google document. Geographically distributed team members can then access the Google document to write their questions and comments and trust that other team members in distant time zones will respond at the first opportunity.
- Knowledge sharing becomes codified
Distributed colleagues can’t pop into one another’s offices with quick questions to get advice. Research shows that much workplace knowledge is not codified but instead resides with individuals. The lack of documenting internal knowledge is a problem for all businesses, but much more so in the case of remote working. Organisations can solve this problem by building a transparent and easily accessible working handbook, which some authors describe as “the central repository for how we run the company”. Management should encourage all employees to add to and edit the working handbook.
For instance, ahead of meetings, organisers post agendas that link to the relevant sections to allow invitees to read background information and post questions. Afterwards, meeting organisers post recordings of the sessions on the company’s YouTube channel. A related idea is to create transcripts, publicly post slides, and record video seminars, presentations and meetings to create a repository of such material that individuals can view asynchronously at their convenience.
- A new take on socialisation and camaraderie
Remote work means a higher potential for people to feel isolated, both socially and professionally. Feeling disconnected from colleagues and the company itself is a real risk. Additionally, working remotely could make people feel cut off from the information flow they would typically get in a physical office. Even with video conferencing that allows for reading body language and facial expressions, the concern is that virtual colleagues are less likely to become close friends because their face-to-face interactions are less frequent.
Companies need to apply lateral thinking to address these concerns. Managers must create opportunities for socialisation and the spreading of company norms. For instance, technology can help facilitate virtual watercoolers and ”planned randomised interactions”, whereby someone in the company schedules groups of employees to chat online.
Why not share a “virtual meal” by ordering the same pizza for delivery to the homes of all remote direct reports during a weekly team call?
Another option could be the use of virtual reality tools to pair up remote colleagues for weekly chats in avatar form.
Yet another solution to the socialisation problem is to host “temporary collocation events” inviting all workers to spend a few days with colleagues in person. Another example could be to meet on a golf course to socialise, discuss work, and problem-solve together.
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2020/11/our-work-from-anywhere-future