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Bring Back Inefficiency

Replace what’s missing from remote work to drive innovation and collaboration

What do you miss most about being in the office? For me, it’s not the quiet working space or the doughnuts on Fridays. Instead, it’s the casual conversations that we had when grabbing that first cup of coffee in the morning or while waiting for a meeting to get started. Those idle times – in between the work – are critical to developing and maintaining a strong culture. They might not be a model of efficiency but they do have tremendous value. Bring back that inefficiency!

Interactions between leaders and their teams – or between team members – act as an essential hub for creating the social unity that organizations need in the next normal. As offices continue to operate virtually, in-person or a hybrid of both, many organizations find themselves struggling to create new norms, a group mindset and trust. More importantly, a virtual office may boost productivity, efficiency, creativity and collaboration.

To recreate those magical interpersonal interactions, organizations are introducing new ways to promote regular old exchanges. Here are five ideas to bring back elements that work-from-home has been missing:

Bring back transition time

Does it seem like some days are one long meeting? Stress is unavoidable in the best of times, but without courteous breaks in the schedule, participants are sometimes stuck being “on” for hours at a time. Build back the transition time when everyone was gathering and getting settled. Ask participants to log in and then take five minutes to grab a drink of water, take a bathroom break, stand and stretch or simply chat with each other. These small breaks give our brains the downtime needed to course-correct from stress and to establish a connection with those in the meeting.

Bring back co-working

So many of the questions that used to be answered by walking across the hall or popping your head around the corner now require a more-formal email. Follow-ups take time and it’s impersonal. To combat that loss, set up co-working. Schedule a month-long meeting on Zoom or Teams so anyone can just pop in when they need support. Co-working reinforces affinity and replicates that randomness you have in an office where people talk over cubical walls.

Bring back face time

Have you ever chatted with a colleague in the hallway and learned something you didn’t know? Informal interactions foster the cross-pollination of ideas—and the wordless exchange of attitudes conveyed by an eye roll, a shrug or a smile—that are essential to bridging organizational silos, deepening relationships and strengthening social networks.

You’ll have to be purposeful to recreate serendipitous exchanges in a virtual environment. One idea is to leave a part of the meeting agenda free to discuss any topic. Another option is to hold virtual “fireside chats,” hosted by various leaders so can ask questions or talk informally.

Bring back the breakroom

Team building happens organically in face-to-face settings but it needs to be scheduled in virtual environments. Consider scheduling quick daily tag-up calls where everyone can share what’s on their plate. Or a standing once-a-week virtual lunch call among teams. Or—if your culture allows for it — play a game or solve a puzzle together in lieu of a coffee break.

Bring back leading by example

Research shows that leaders consistently fail to recognize how their actions are interpreted by others. When your people can’t see you at different points in the day, they lose valuable clues about what you like and expect. Take where you work. If you dial-in to meetings from the office whenever possible, you will be sending the message that you tolerate virtual work but physical offices are the real centers of gravity. Likewise, if you regularly jump on a call with team members in a sweatshirt and baseball hat, you’re signaling that being casual with each other is totally okay. Patterning norms and behaviors, subtly or deliberately, is a powerful tool for leaders who aren’t face-to-face with their people.

Virtual offices have put new pressures on our workforce. To keep creativity and collaboration flowing, bring back the small moments of inefficiency that made working together a true joy.

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected]. And to read more from our Winter 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.

Edward Tuorinsky, Managing Principal at DTS, a government consultant business, is a service-disabled veteran who brings nearly two decades of experience to DTS in the areas of leadership, management consulting and information technology services.

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