COVID-19 as an accelerator of digital collaboration
Suddenly, the exception has become the rule.
This applies to many areas during this coronavirus pandemic – and to the world of work in particular. In the past (before the present crisis), many companies had already addressed the topics of working from home, remote working, or virtual teams. But these issues have been moved up the agenda. Businesses have many questions about these issues – not only about technical implementation, but also concerning the new challenges for managers.
We would like to support you effectively on these issues and provide more information, so that – in the ideal scenario – you can use the “COVID-19 acceleration factor” to your advantage.
What to expect in this article about remote working:
1) Internal communication is more important than ever!
2) What needs to be taken into account when managing remote teams? – Communication instead of control
3) Which digital tools make it easier to collaborate?
4) How can I work effectively as a remote employee?
1. Internal communication is more important than ever!
In the media, there are many contradictory messages about the spread of the virus. We hear reports of discrimination against supposedly infected individuals. In addition, COVID-19 is linked in a stereotypical way with China. This also has implications for cooperation in multicultural workplaces. Proactive communication with all stakeholders based on objective information is therefore indispensable to manage public perceptions of the outbreak, to minimise false information and panic, and to limit the negative effects on businesses and individuals.
The working conditions and the overall societal challenge with which we are confronted, needs to be directly addressed in internal business communication. In times of increased insecurity, employees expect leadership, open communication, and honesty from employers.
Here are some tried and tested methods for achieving this:
- Communicate regularly with employees about the current situation, even if there is still uncertainty. Give your teams the sense that the company is working on solutions.
- Provide reliable sources of data and information (e.g. you can find further information and FAQs on the website of the Austrian Ministry of Health and Social Affairs).
- Communicate openly about the measures that need to be taken within the company (working time, short-time working, etc.).
- Send authentic video messages from management and communicate on both professional and personal levels.
- If possible, create a guide to working from home (e.g. use of video chat, daily team meetings, etc.)
- Use digital media for “challenges” to keep you team together when working remotely (e.g. #Showyourdesk).
- Express gratitude to employees and thank them for helping implement the measures and dealing with the challenges (for the company). Use data to reinforce this expression of gratitude (e.g. data on the increase in the number of video meetings or similar).
2. What needs to be taken into account when managing remote teams? – Communication instead of control
1. Bring your staff up to speed: Ensure that all staff are familiar with the main tools and can use them as required.
2. Clear responsibilities: Greater freedom in framework conditions means that clearer guidance is required. Define clear roles and responsibilities.
3. Establish routines – fixed points to give the day structure: It is important to establish “points of contact” (e.g. daily stand-up meetings). Ensure that clear feedback processes are in place. Define ways of using shared documents, team calendars, meetings, email etc.
4. Virtual communication requires consistency: Make sure that the “rules” for virtual meetings are clearly defined and put into practice. In addition, digital meetings require more preparation. Use presentations or online surveys (e.g. Mentimeter) to make meetings more diverse and interactive.
5. Create transparency around availability: While remote working creates flexibility, it also requires availability. Team calendars with information about time off can help with this. Clear, open and regular communication helps prevent misunderstandings and lack of certainty.
6. Human beings are social animals: Encourage your staff to activate video chat during meetings, in order to create the feeling of proximity. Use this function in 1:1 calls too. Don’t forget the importance of informal chat (e.g. digital coffee breaks).
7. Manage and “control” tasks, not time: As far as possible, take the opportunity to manage employees in relation to targets and results, rather than the number of hours worked. This especially applies during the coronavirus crisis, when employees have additional obligations at home (e.g. childcare) to integrate into their daily routine.
8. Trust as a foundation: Digital leadership means placing greater trust in the ability of your staff to self-organise. This results in a much greater sense of cooperation.
9. Stop micromanaging: Become a leader in the truest sense of the word – now, especially, leaders need to focus on the issues beyond organisational problems. Trust strengthens your relationship with your employees and allows it to grow. When leading virtual teams, two essential tasks for leaders have been identified*
- Task leadership: Goal-oriented coordination of the completion of sub-tasks within projects by team members.
- Team leadership: Establishing relationships with individual team members and with the overall group.
10. “Speak up” culture – Everyone can make mistakes: It’s not only during a crisis such as coronavirus that leaders need to be perceived as humans with strengths and weaknesses. As a manager, you are also allowed to change your mind or make mistakes. Creating a positive error culture promotes trust and helps companies to grow in the long term.
Video links on digital leadership
- During the COVID-19 crisis – How can I connect with my team virtually?
- During the COVID-19 crisis – How can I engage in virtual collaboration?
3. Which digital tools make it easier to collaborate?
Many employees have to work from home due to the COVID-19 protective measures. However, it is often the case that the technical infrastructure, the available bandwidth, and the working model are not set up to support a large number of employees working from home. Based on the technical possibilities, all available options should be considered. Optimisation and evaluation of the available services and prioritising remote services can help prevent bottlenecks.
Intelligent use of the available infrastructure, the use of free resources, and provision of alternative communication technologies (mobile devices and corresponding data packages) can help optimise communication. The strain on existing infrastructure can also be reduced by using cloud services. In the present circumstances, collaboration models need to be adjusted. Virtual meetings need to be limited to a sensible format, effective use needs to be made of “off-peak” hours, and agile methods need to be employed.
Due to the current COVID-19 crisis, many companies are facing challenges around connectivity for their remote employees. Small and medium-sized companies have little or insufficient IT infrastructure available for working remotely. Even larger companies do not have systems designed to support the entire workforce working remotely on the company network.
In the present situation, solutions for virtual collaboration need to be found quickly. Unlike established systems, structures created ad-hoc are usually not fully tested for security flaws and may contain risks in relation to data protection and data security, which should not be underestimated.
Guidelines on virtual collaboration
These guidelines are intended to support you in identifying the most suitable virtual collaboration solutions for your company.
The following areas are covered:
- Audio & video
- Data sharing
- Remote workspaces
- Provision of hardware for home offices
A variety of solutions are presented and evaluated in terms of risk and security. In this way, we would like to make a contribution to building and developing the secure virtual working models currently required.
4. How can I work effectively as a remote employee?
Take some time to sit back and reflect on the sudden shift to remote working. Consider what you can do to remain engaged and to deal creatively with the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.
- Which routines are you using during COVID-19 to structure your remote working day?
- How can you connect virtually with the world of work?
- How can you keep in touch with the people you work with during this crisis, mentally and emotionally?
10 tried and tested tips for working from home:
1. Set up a fixed workspace, which fulfils your needs as far as possible. Pay attention to how you are sitting, light conditions etc.
2. If possible, organised the necessary hardware and software (mouse, keyboard, second screen, programs, headset, good internet connection, etc.)
3. Reduce distractions as far as possible, introduce new rules in the family to take control of this situation.
4. Structure your home office routine, e.g. using calendar entries to show your team when you are available.
5. You can use this time to acquire new knowledge about online tools such as Zoom, Skype, Google G-Suite, Mentimeter or similar, from which your whole team can benefit (including after the crisis).
6. Use the new situation to establish new routines (e.g. use the time you gain from not commuting to go for a run, or do some yoga).
7. Make sure you are available – Working from home allows you many freedoms and often greater flexibility about how you use your time. Make sure that you still define clear times in which you are available for your colleagues.
8. Reliability is an especially important factor for meetings – try to be online ahead of time in virtual spaces and make sure that your sound/microphone and camera are working.
9. Stay in touch with your team – chat, telephone, video calls, meetings etc. – use these media for informal conversations.
10. Share your concerns, the things that are worrying you, and questions with colleagues – and don’t forget your successes and the positive aspects. You are not alone in this new situation.
Video link on working from home
*Lipnack, J., Stamps, J. (1997). Virtual Teams: Reaching across space, time, and organizations with technology. New York: John Wiley.