We are now well familiar with new ways of working embraced in 2020 as a result of social distance restrictions from impact of COVID-19. In 2021, there is much talk about how these changes are here to stay, revolutionizing traditional office life. Yet, what’s less apparent is how this will happen? Will we be effective with important process changes necessary to make the most out the best lessons learned from the “new normal?”
The reality is that many of us are using collaboration technology like Zoom, Slack, Teams, etc. in old-fashioned ways. Let us face it: We often are force-fitting old practices into new tools. If this continues, the impact of change may be minimal.
Let’s look at history as an example. Despite the promise with the invention of electric motors, it took decades for significant impact on the factory floor. Why? Companies kept many existing processes in place. The production line that was once connected to huge steam machines used the same layout and struggled to operate with the new electric technology. Managers failed to fully embrace change, simply claiming the electric motors weren’t useful. It wasn’t until an entire new generation of supervisors took over and reimagined the factory workflow, adopting new practices along with new tools, that productivity and profits dramatically improved.
The massive embrace this past year of digital collaboration tools risks a similar fate. We often find ourselves wondering why we used less of these tools in the pre-COVID world. And while sometimes this technology helps us connect with a co-worker sitting miles away from us, many still find ourselves sighing “it is better to be in office.” Cue those change-adverse steam machine managers.
Embrace the impossible
To embrace more effective operations and impact change across the enterprise, it is necessary to redesign the way we work and collaborate, adopting “virtual native” models. That is, use new tools to do what was impossible in the past and not simply what we were doing before. Consider these tips:
Make meetings asynchronous. It’s not about a single Zoom call; it’s an ongoing process. Use Teams, Slack, or similar tools to encourage collaboration before and after the actual meeting.
Leverage recordings and transcripts. Since collaboration tools operate in the cloud, we can access meetings’ recordings and transcripts faster than ever before. Share the knowledge with larger teams, who also can quickly scan and search for the most important parts.
Use the cloud for ideation, and even creative global flash mobs. Share documents on the cloud and encourage teams to co-edit, ideate, and brainstorm. Consider specialized tools like Miro, Mural, Slido, etc. Diverse, global teams in different time zones literally can work around the clock to share knowledge and contribute innovative ideas.
Reinvent whiteboards. I like to say, “A whiteboard a day keeps obsolescence at bay.” There are great digital equivalents of the effective board and eraser in old-school conference rooms. Use these tools to problem solve problems and build interesting narratives.
Embrace internal crowdsourced predictive markets. While there has been some lack of knowledge on how to deal with process change needed to make the most of this technology, it worth reconsidering tools like Unanimous.ai.
Find ways to reconnect with co-workers: Working from home has weakened important social ties and collaboration that comes from bumping into each other in cafeterias and hallways. Go out of your way to encourage this virtually.
Go bold with collective Intelligence
All of the above tips and tools are relatively easy to implement. For even deeper impact, consider new ways of learning by harnessing the collective intelligence of your company.
By mapping the “nodes” across your enterprise, including identifying people who may be “invisible” in your traditional organizational structure but may act as go-to knowledge sources for many employees, your company will run as a networked intelligent machine rather than isolated subject matter experts.
Offer incentives to encourage more contributions to this larger network. It also is important that to consider diverse groups for knowledge sharing, and mine both internal and external information sources systematically.
In times like today where we are tempted by nostalgia of our past office life, embracing new practices along with tools is critical to take advantage of the opportunity to welcome an exciting era of innovation. New ways of working may not eliminate the old office entirely, but we may see an evolution in the how we engage physically with our teams onsite in more emotional ways to recharge and energize.
By building on the remote collaboration tools we’ve embraced during the challenges of COVID-19, we can leverage best practices, and combine innovative process changes and entirely new ways of learning to truly revolutionize the future of work.