While the shift to remote work due to COVID-19 doesn’t seem to have significantly affected productivity levels in most organizations, it appears that many employees are struggling to adjust to remote collaboration. A recent study by WeWork looked at several collaboration methods—everything from casual watercooler conversations to more structured meetings—and found that “employees are in fact struggling in many ways while working from home.” Let’s take a closer look at some of their findings as well as a few ways to help improve remote employee collaboration.
Impact Varies With Different Types of Collaboration
WeWork took their survey in July 2020 among professional office employees across the U.S. and in Mexico City, Mexico; Toronto and Montreal, Canada; and London, England. They looked at three different types of collaboration: the ability to meet and brainstorm, the ability to maintain social relationships, and the ability to have unplanned interactions with coworkers. Here’s what they found:
- Meetings & Brainstorming
The survey found that an employee’s ability to meet and brainstorm with colleagues dropped an average of 11 percent overall, and for those who rely heavily on collaboration to do their jobs, it dropped even more—an average of 13-15 percent. In addition to impacting immediate productivity, the lack of ability to bounce ideas off of one another can eventually cause company innovation to stall.
- Social Relationships
The survey also found that the employees’ ability to maintain social relationships with coworkers declined 17 percent on average. Social relationships among coworkers are a big part of company culture: These relationships foster a type of casual collaboration that boosts employee morale and strengthens the social fabric of the company.
- Unplanned Interactions
WeWork also learned that the ability for employees to have unplanned interactions (chatting during breaks, passing in the hallway, or interacting in the moments before or after meetings, for instance) dropped 25 percent on average. This is significant because this type of encounter stimulates creativity and drives innovation.
Some Employees Struggle More Than Others
As you might imagine, the survey found that some employees are having a more difficult time than others when it comes to collaboration. The individual employee’s work style, the level of collaboration required in their work, and who they interact with throughout the day all affect how they are faring as they try to collaborate remotely.
- Work Style
Employees who socialize with their teammates but are less likely to make it a priority to expand those connections across the organization are struggling the most, while those who are skilled in networking are doing better. Those who have more interactions throughout the day tend to require less face-to-face collaboration. The survey found that employees who interacted with more than 150 people in a given week had the smallest drop in productivity compared to other socialization styles.
- Level of Collaboration
Perhaps predictably, the survey found that employees who spend more than 65 percent of their time working directly with others are having the hardest time working remotely. They are followed by more independent workers who tend to be somewhat isolated in their work already (they are struggling to stay connected), while those who have more moderate levels of collaboration in their work day are faring the best.
- Who They Interact With
Workers who spend more than 62 percent of their time collaborating with their coworkers rather than with external colleagues like vendors or clients are having the most difficulty, whereas those who work primarily with vendors and clients struggled the least. Since their jobs are focused on external relationships, their success is not as tied to the physical office as other employees.
Tools to Improve Remote Team Collaboration
Ultimately, all of these statistics point to the fact that when it comes to collaboration, remote work brings with it a number of struggles that we don’t see when working together in the office. But since it seems that remote work is here to stay (at least in part) for the foreseeable future, we need to use the tools available to us to reduce the strain on employee collaboration.
- Schedule Shorter Virtual Meetings More Often
While we may all be sick of Zoom meetings at this point, when it comes to remote collaboration they are a must. And if your business now has some employees in the office and others working from home, virtual meetings are a crucial part of maintaining a cohesive team. But instead of scheduling hours-long meetings, try having shorter meetings more often. Regular brief check-ins will both improve collaboration and increase a sense of connection among staff.
- Make Good Use of Messaging Apps
Utilizing a messaging app like Slack, Google Hangouts, or Microsoft Teams can significantly improve employees’ ability to have off-the-cuff conversations throughout the day. Consider having a channel specifically for non-work banter and “watercooler”-type conversations so that employees can stay connected socially as well as communicate quickly and directly about collaborative projects.
- Equip Remote Employees to Manage Distractions
For employees working at home, distraction is one of the biggest barriers to an effective work day. Employees who are able to focus on the task at hand will be better able to collaborate with their colleagues. Help your remote employees by ensuring they have a work from home setup that is conducive to managing distractions and increasing focus.
- Create Privacy
While some remote staff may have a separate room in their home they can use as an office, many don’t. For these employees, offering them a way to create a private workspace will significantly improve their focus. Portable room dividers or desktop partitions provide a quick and easy way to create more privacy.
- Improve Sound Absorption
Working at home brings with it a slew of distracting sounds that aren’t found in the office, especially in the COVID-19 world: spouses on video calls; children doing distance learning; pets needing to be let out; and so on. Consider providing sound absorbing partitions to your remote employees to help mitigate the noises around them so they can focus.
Versare’s full line of room dividers and sound absorbing panels provide a multitude of ways to mitigate distractions both in your work from home setup and at the office. Shop our online store here and give us a call at 800-830-0210 with any questions.