By Barry Duplantis, Vice President of Customer Success for Mattermost
Collaboration was challenging enough when employees were face-to-face in a single building. It became more difficult when team members suddenly had to work remotely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And now, employees are adjusting once again as some teams move back onsite, some continue to work from home, and some alternate between the two. Team interactions will be fragmented and in constant flux.
Effective collaboration is crucial to ensuring that your agency can support operations in today’s hybrid work environment. This new workplace reality calls for new approaches to collaboration. The solution? Take these five actions to optimize agency communication in your hybrid work environment:
- Sync up. And async up.
A big challenge for hybrid teams is communication, especially for IT teams working in DevOps or security. Should you instant-message? Send an email? Communicate through a project management tool? Schedule a videoconference?
Welcome to the vagaries of synchronous vs. asynchronous communication. Synchronous communication happens in the moment through in-person meetings, video conferences and phone calls. Asynchronous occurs over time through emails, tools and reports. Text messaging straddles the two.
Each approach is necessary in different situations, and most projects require a blended approach. Synchronous is sometimes the most efficient way to get everyone up to date; however, when relied on too heavily, it can be a serious time sink. Asynchronous lengthens communication cycles, but it documents what’s been communicated. For hybrid environments, lean toward asynchronous but establish a predictable cadence to sync up.
- Get secure and stay secure.
All teams need to keep security front and center, but government environments set even higher bars for privacy and regulatory compliance. Be sure your communication mechanisms and collaboration tools don’t expose sensitive data. That’s especially important with remote teams working outside your organization’s perimeter.
Look for a collaboration platform trusted by the Defense Department (DoD) and regulated industries such as healthcare and financial services. It should be deployable on-prem or in air-gapped environments. It should encrypt data in transit and at rest. And it should enable best-practice data protection and governance, with support for global retention policies, compliance exports, role-based access control with custom permissions, and blocking of message content from appearing in mobile-app notifications.
- Automate, automate, automate.
Predictable, reliable communication is key to optimized workflows. It’s also imperative when IT projects run into trouble and require all-hands-on-deck attention to get them back on track.
An effective way to improve communication is by automating as much of the collaboration process as possible. For instance, many DevOps tools can automate notifications and alerts. Take advantage of this capability to reduce the risk of missed process steps and avoid the need for team members to context-switch to keep track of what’s going on. Such automation can help keep geographically dispersed team members on the same page.
- Make sure it’s plugged in.
Any helpdesk tech will tell you that a frequent cause of user issues is simply an unplugged device. Metaphorically, the same is true for collaboration. You need to integrate to make collaboration work.
Collaboration tools for DevOps and security management exist by the hundreds. Use them. Consider embedding applications into team channels or embedding chat into applications that aren’t otherwise used for collaboration.
Such plugins can be useful in a variety of ways. For example, web app plugins can enable teams to customize a platform’s user interface or make it easier to integrate with DevOps platforms such as GitLab, Bitbucket and Jenkins.
- Customize for your culture.
Collaboration isn’t one-size-fits-all or one and done. You need to adapt tools, automations and integrations to your unique environment. And you need to continually encourage behaviors that result in a collaboration culture.
Make collaboration personalized and personal. Get everyone on your collaboration platform discussing timely topics or working together to resolve issues. Create forums for virtual water-cooler conversations. Encourage team members to post screenshots or other images, if appropriate, related to projects they’re working on. When collaboration becomes part of agency culture, working toward a common goal becomes easier, even when teams are geographically dispersed.
A hybrid workplace will serve as a new complication for agency IT teams. But there are advantages to enabling team members to work wherever, whenever and however they can be most effective. Organizations that conquer their hybrid-work collaboration challenges will be better positioned to support their missions and goals.
Barry Duplantis is Vice President of Customer Success for Mattermost, an open-source, self-hostable collaboration platform empowering enterprise DevOps and InfoSec teams with secure messaging, file sharing, search and integrations. Previously he led customer success, support and services at Red Hat, HP and Hackerone. Prior to his career in open source software, he served as a U.S. Army Special Forces officer.