All-day Zoom Meetings: Why WFH collaboration isn’t as simple as Video Calling

For decades, a large percentage of organizations have had remote work capabilities in the palm of their hand, with a long list of incentives to start utilizing them. Even with flexibility in shift scheduling, increases in employee autonomy, and operating expense savings, organizations have been hesitant to offer work from home opportunities for their employees. It took a global pandemic to initiate this widespread adoption of WFH collaboration, and now there’s no looking back.    

Due to a lack of precedent in most organizations, paired with an aversion to adopt uncertain change, it’s easy to see why leadership teams were a bit hesitant to go all in on the distributed/remote work  model. According to Upwork’s 2020 Future Workforce Report, the percentage share of remote workers has seemingly quadrupled from 15% to over 50% from late 2019 to April 2020. Knowing  the complexities of organizations across different industries – a steep learning curve is expected for  such a wide-scale change. It’s as if we’re trying to drive a car while its being built and it just isn’t  working.

What seemed impossible before is now our reality, and circumstance has called for the business  world to make it possible. We’re realizing that you can construct a frame and attach wheels to it to  make it look like a car on the surface, but without a well-developed engine, steering column, and  other integral supporting equipment, it simply won’t operate.

Kitchen table serves as a remote worker's desk while WFH

Why ‘our culture’ isn’t enough for remote work

Within organizations, the people and culture serve as the engine that injects fuel into business  processes and outcomes. We have to regularly service our organizational engines by cultivating meaningful cultural diagnostics and implementing repairs (or interventions) strategically. This is preventative maintenance for organizational cultures that are more susceptible to burnout, miscommunication, disengagement, and a variety of other negative implications for workers in the virtual space. Unfortunately, a majority of organizations haven’t been able to dedicate enough time and resources to cultural maintenance, neither in office or virtually, due to the attention snagged from logistically transitioning out of a shared workspace.

When organizations migrated to virtual workspaces, we saw many with brand new frames constructed and wheels attached, but the same engine that had been burned out for years was still  under the hood. That’s to say – the logistics of moving employees remotely were executed fairly seamlessly (video conferencing, call forwards, shared databases), but the cultural impact, which is unveiling itself every day, could not have been more underestimated. Traditionally, in-office cultures had a tendency to mask their deficiencies with casual desk conversations, unexpected run-ins with coworkers, and networking luncheons. Now, those “self-supported” cultures have come crashing down, leaving a mess behind.

Disconnection, emotional exhaustion, webcam fatigue, and technological inefficiencies have left  many feeling that remote work isn’t a practical solution. While this is an understandable feeling, it  is not representative of remote work’s potential. I mean, we’re still building the car! We’re merely running into the reality that our “in-office” work cultures had some vulnerabilities that are now being exposed in the virtual space. Knowing this, it is now the organization’s responsibility to develop their employees and address the inadequacies of the past.

As organizational scientists, we value a methodologically rigorous approach to evaluating and  structuring workplace cultures, especially as we navigate a relatively new work environment. With  that being said, we’re so pleased to announce our partnership with Unitonomy and their cultural diagnostic software OrgVitals that will help support more evidence based approaches to ReVise’s focus on virtual workforce analytics.

This pandemic has called for us to rethink current work design and implement something more sustainable for the future. ReVise not only assesses, but also bolsters the soft and hard skills that organizational members need to thrive in remote workspaces. This allows organizations to evaluate key performance indicators with a level of certainty that traditional training and development initiatives couldn’t offer. Using our internal consulting structure, the ReVise Cycle, we’re able to gauge the relationship between people and processes in the remote workspace to provide unprecedented interventions that drive workplace engagement. 

How should organizations improve WFH collaboration in 2021? 

The answer is two-fold. On one hand, there will be a natural progression of remote work efficacy. As more organizations commit to remote work offerings for their employees, the technologies and strategies supporting them will inevitably improve. Organizations cannot innovate in the virtual space if they’re not willing to commit to it, so this new commitment will yield rapid technological improvements.

On the other hand, not addressing these cultural issues poses a significant threat to employee well-being and business outcomes. The delicacy of organizational culture makes it vulnerable during turbulent change – something we’ve all experienced over the past year!

 Luckily, addressing these threats does not need to be painful. For example: 

  • Organizations have almost always paid for shared office spaces, so what keeps them from paying for home office accommodations? In this case, it’s a matter of strategically allocating funds. 
  • The work day extends from 8AM -5PM, but how many hours in-office were actually dedicated to focused work? When productivity is measured by “time spent working”, our organizational landscapes forego automating highly monotonous tasks to ensure employees can “stay busy” for 9 of the likely 16-18 hours they will stay awake that day. Talk about burnout! In this case, we would restructure workdays to have high energy windows for high priority tasks, leaving low priority tasks for the lulls. 
  • Some days we will work for 9 hours straight with very little interaction between our team and possibly no interaction with anyone outside our team. Some people have gone months  without seeing or hearing from anyone outside their team! Now is the time for organizational engagement initiatives to be more intentional and thoughtful than ever. In this case, leaders would need to spread awareness around the impact of communication deficiencies and foster an inclusive environment that is full of micro-interactions and WFH collaboration opportunities.

Many organizations have already started addressing these WFH collaboration changes – painting a picture of remote work we all hoped for. Referring back to Upwork’s 2020 Future Workforce Report that evaluated 1500 hiring managers from varying industries, they found that since the pandemic started:

  • 61% of hiring managers have committed to more remote workers moving forward, with the anticipated growth rate increasing from 30% to 65%. 
  • 9 out of 10 hiring managers feel that remote work is going better than expected.
  • 20% of hiring managers now have fully remote teams compared to 2-3% pre-pandemic.

This isn’t to say that remote work is working, but rather that organizations are committing to and feeling optimistic about it.

So if you’re still unsure about the purpose of virtual workforce analytics by now, then ask yourself  the following: 

  • Do I have established performance and cultural metrics and a way to measure and track their efficacy?
  • Does my remote/distributed workforce have regular, structured opportunities to  collaborate?
  • Has the health of the relationship between people, organizational processes, and work  environments in my organization been measured since moving to the virtual space?
  • Has this migration negatively shifted our target market and product offerings? 

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, then your organization may be vulnerable to culture threats. The longer the vulnerability lingers, the more expensive these threats will become whether it be with employee turnover, loss of clientele, or decreased organizational revenue.

Make sure to get ahead of the curve and protect your virtual workforce. It is no longer a question of  whether or not to utilize WFH collaboration, but rather how to integrate techniques properly into your organization.

Contact ReVise and Unitonomy to learn about our tailored approaches today! 

Are you a culture consultant? OrgVitals is an end-to-end assessment solution for your clients. Learn more!