The workplace has adapted at an unprecedented pace in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The unplanned shift from physical collaboration to mostly online has challenged both mindsets and processes. Some argue that the workplace will never revert, so managers and HR leaders need a mid to long-term strategy to connect the remote workforce effectively.
This blog explores the challenges and opportunities of virtual collaboration and how to optimise working methods to meet business and well-being objectives.
The rise and challenges of virtual collaboration
A recent research study of IT and business professionals revealed that, as the pandemic hit, they achieved the implementation of a 4.7x increase in the level of home working, sometimes in a matter of days. 35% of those surveyed said “90-99%” of employees are now working from home, compared to a response of 0% for this band pre-pandemic!
Without technology there is no virtual collaboration, so having the right infrastructure in place is a key challenge. Remote support, business-grade devices and cloud-based software are essential, enabling everyone to work efficiently and securely away from the workplace.
Your organisation will be held back if systems are not easily scalable, adaptable or extendable. With this in mind, legacy / manual Payroll & HR systems are not going to cut it. Paper-based or bespoke systems without remote accessibility are likely to lead to pay delays or errors, especially with complex or irregular arrangements such as furlough and flexi work.
Payroll, HR and workforce management systems that operate as separate functions increase the risk of data loss, duplication or false figures when analysing key data. By comparison, teams with integrated, automated solutions will be able to collaborate effectively and administer pay correctly on time, every time.
Challenges of virtual collaboration
Additional pain points of virtual collaboration include maintaining productivity, inclusivity, innovation and accountability.
Social interaction (such as informal catch ups, banter and buzz) in a physical work environment contributes to a sense of well-being, friendship, empathy and creativity. However, emulating genuine social interaction is a challenge with virtual tools.
Similarly, co-ordinating teams and maintaining motivation can be thwarted by lack of face-to-face collaboration and human interaction. There will be those who relish working remotely and those who find themselves less productive or more isolated. It’s a challenge to identify who is working, who is shirking and who may be suffering.
However, video conferencing does offer advantages over traditional telephone conferences. Facilitating screen sharing, reactions, chat boxes and body language via live video helps overcome negativity, confusion or even hostility when bringing teams together online.
Top tips for virtual collaboration
- Implement a range of appropriate platforms, from project management to document sharing to communications. Ensure everyone has access to training if needed.
- As a manger, set expectations but be ready to adjust them as everyone settles into remote working.
- Reduce ‘virtual distance’ by aligning individual and team objectives. List actions and track project progress transparently so everyone is accountable for team success.
- Remember the telephone! Sometimes digital communications can be mis-read, unclear or more time-consuming than an actual conversation.
- Host regular (perhaps daily) team ‘check-ins’ online to discuss tasks and encourage everyone to participate.
- Use cloud-based software to ensure version control and transparency.
- Make time for emotional connectivity via informal/fun activities, celebrating events or social chat channels.
- Limit meeting invites so decisions can be made more efficiently.
- Continue 1-2-1s and reward employees who meet KPIs.
- Ensure employees can indicate when they are not working (e.g. via status settings) so their personal life isn’t impacted by working from home.
- Where possible and safe, bring colleagues together in person periodically to facilitate more connectivity and bonding.
- Be mindful that working from home can impact people’s mental health and wellbeing in different ways.
Opportunities arising from virtual collaboration
We have been forced into virtual collaboration at breakneck speed, but there are opportunities for savvy leaders.
Whilst the future workplace is uncertain, the most innovative and agile organisations will emerge stronger by building virtual collaboration (or at least a hybrid model) into their strategy. Sound technological investment and adapting management style will prepare your people and organisation for a potential blend of remote working and face-to-face.
A virtual workplace offers access to a wider (even global) talent pool, removing barriers of distance and accessibility. Digitised workplaces will also attract digital natives (Generation Z) and increase diversity which is great for collaboration.
With the new-found confidence to bring distanced and talented individuals together virtually, there is opportunity to drive innovation without micromanaging. An article by McKinsey explains that small, focused, empowered teams are key to agile organisations. “Direct teams to the best opportunities, arm them with the best people, give them the tools they need to move fast, and oversee their work with a light but consistent touch.” Now is the time to be bold and experiment with virtual collaboration strategies.
Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, people have achieved impressive shifts in mindset and working practices. Whilst working remotely can make collaboration very challenging, we should embrace it for the foreseeable future. As humans, we are naturally social, but virtual collaboration impacts different people in different ways. Smart leaders will recruit and manage diverse teams as well as optimise technology whilst being mindful of wellbeing.
Integrating Payroll and HR functions means these teams will be equipped to align more closely as we move into the flexi work revolution and perhaps a more hybrid model of virtual and face-to-face working. Leveraging real-time data will help manage talent, performance and even diversity to aid collaboration. Equip your teams to look after your best asset – your people – with best-of-breed Payroll & HR solutions.