Collaboration is at the heart of agile methodology for good reason: It engages all the talents on the team and generates comprehensive solutions. An organization doesn’t need to go full agile to benefit from cross-functional teamwork.
Now that many — but not all — employees have returned to the office, organizations need to adapt techniques and tools for hybrid teamwork. Borrowing a page from the agile book can help improve collaboration across a distributed workforce.
Lisa Jammer, Director of People and Culture for the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR), recommends focusing on the following objectives.
Get Faster Results That Work
Collaboration emphasizes people working together on the same task. This is great for brainstorming and solving problems, where varied skills and perspectives generate more and better ideas.
Save time and improve results. Including people from all the departments a project touches means you won’t waste time on a fix they can’t implement. Incorporating all the stakeholders from the beginning means solutions will be designed to meet their needs.
Reduce frustration and improve morale. Collaboration heads off the feeling that solutions are imposed by people who don’t understand the problem. Employees experience more successes, improving morale and retention.
Pay attention and improve hybrid performance. Collaborative work is still possible in a hybrid environment. “We have to be more intentional now that our employees are remote,” said Jammer. “We can’t forget the human part.”
Watch Out for Disengagement and Burnout
Disengagement and burnout undermine collaboration, but they can be harder to pick up in remote workers. These are signs that an offsite employee might be having trouble, Jammer said:
- Withdrawal from team activities
- Taking more breaks away from their computer
- A change in attitude or behavior
- Working longer or unusual hours
- Changes in productivity or quality of work
- Missing deadlines
To combat disengagement, Jammer said, “you have to understand the why. Is it that they don’t feel they have a voice in those meetings? Is that individual struggling with technology?”
Small things can promote a feeling of inclusion. For instance, Jammer’s agency offers both chat and hand- raising in virtual meetings. “People can chat-in questions but also ask them out loud,” she said. “We have our introverts and extraverts, and you want to have communications mechanisms that work for both.”
Responding to technology issues may take information, and it may take hardware. “If there’s a technical skillset that’s needed, can we put together a two-minute video, or a lunch and learn?” Jammer asked. For employees who live in places without good internet connection, Jammer suggested making
hot spots available.
Build Trust and Communication
Building trust and connections across networks takes time and energy.
“Being intentional about team-building helps with overall collaboration,” Jammer said. “We have all these platforms — Teams and Zoom — that we use for talking about projects and due dates. But there should be additional opportunities to build team culture and dynamics.”
Jammer recommended virtual “coffee chats” where team members talk to one another informally. DIR also uses a virtual recognition platform that allows employees to give peer-to-peer appreciation. “Those things can help with team dynamics in a virtual environment,” she said.
Here are some additional steps to consider.
Over-communicate. “Keep consistent communication mechanisms in place,” Jammer said. “Make sure to check in with people and ask everyone how they’re doing.”
DIR has put interactive equipment for virtual meetings in their conference rooms, so that both remote and in-person attendees can participate equally. “Provide a consistent opportunity for members who may be on-site and those who may be joining virtually to have a similar experience,” Jammer said.
Send agendas for meetings in advance, so everyone is on the same page. Make sure announcements reach everyone at the same time. Have everyone use their cameras during virtual meetings.
And watch body language. “The biggest difference [between in-person and virtual meetings] is that nonverbal speech works in a totally different way,” Jammer said. “You can’t see what my hands are doing. You can’t see my stance.” Jammer recommended backing up from the camera a bit to show — and communicate — more of yourself.
Lead with empathy and accountability. “Seek to understand what’s happening with your employees. But also hold them accountable. Being empathetic does not negate holding people accountable, you can be both,” Jammer said. “You can still have the tough talks, but empathy means everything.”