7 Strategies That MakeIt Easier ForThe Employees to Collaborate Effectively in Remote and Hybrid Work
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7 Strategies That MakeIt Easier ForThe Employees to Collaborate Effectively in Remote and Hybrid Work

Neeraj Grotra, Head of IT, Application Services and Business Transformation, Kinectrics
Neeraj Grotra, Head of IT, Application Services and Business Transformation, Kinectrics

Neeraj Grotra, Head of IT, Application Services and Business Transformation, Kinectrics

Remote meeting fatigue is real& hybrid work is not any better:

COVID-19 forced many organizations to embrace remote work, and many employees are now coming back. While some organizations are mandating 100% of employees back to work, many employers are still in the process of bringing them back to the office in various capacities, and it is becoming evident that hybrid work and remote work are here to stay. As we engage with our employees and understand what our employees are telling us and correlate our own findings to industry research done by Microsoft and other research firms, a lot of data is emerging from various studies that show that remote work and hybrid work can feel more challenging, especially for employees that need to collaborate.

Employee engagement surveys and human factors assessment showed that in organizations where high degrees of brainstorming, discussion and collaboration are needed, remote work and even hybrid work can be very tiring and exhausting than in-person collaboration.

We looked at the studies from Microsoft1 where scientists ran an experiment to understand how the brain responds to collaborating remotely through computer screens compared to in person. This study began pre-COVID as part of ongoing work in Microsoft around the remote work experience.

According to the study published by Microsoft1 – “ They asked 13 teams of two to complete similar tasks together – once in person and once remotely. Research subjects wore an EEG device that monitored changes in brainwaves. The study found that remote collaboration is more mentally challenging than in-person collaboration. Specifically, brainwave patterns associated with stress and overwork were much higher when collaborating remotely than in-person. But they found something unexpected as well: If the pair first worked together remotely, their brainwaves suggested it was more difficult for them to work together in person afterwards. It seems that the social connection and work strategies created when working in-person transfer to a remote setting, but the opposite is untrue.

This study provided two important learnings. In a world that’s moving to more remote work, people find remote collaboration more mentally challenging. But also, as people return to more frequent in-person work as the pandemic eases, it may feel more difficult than it did before COVID-19.

A second study found that brainwave markers associated with overwork and stress are significantly higher in video meetings than in non-meeting work like writing emails. Further, due to high levels of sustained concentration, fatigue begins to set in 30-40 minutes into a meeting. Looking at days filled with video meetings, stress begins to set in about two hours into the day. The research suggests several factors lead to this sense of meeting fatigue: having to focus continuously on the screen to extract relevant information and stay engaged; reduced non-verbal cues that help you read the room or know whose turn it is to talk; and screen sharing with very little view of the people you are interacting with.”

Learning from the above studies, as more people are embracing remote and returning to the office in a hybrid work model, we wanted to see if technology can help reduce anxiety and stress while maintaining the same experience that users have been used to during remote work. We implemented 7 strategies over last year that really hel employees.

1. Extending the collaboration to meeting rooms – bring physical and digital spaces closer:

When Covid happened, many organizations did not spend any capital to upgrade meeting room technologies as the majority of the people were working remotely. We found that as users started to transition back, meeting rooms were still struggling with old projector systems and pull-down screens and were out of sync to provide the experience users were looking for.  The objective was to extend the MS Teams’ experience to meeting rooms. We implemented large and dual TV screens 86 inches and above depending upon the size of the room. On one side, it projects the presentation content and acts as a collaboration screen where users can turn on their cameras to be part of the meeting. We also implemented microphones coverage to pickup sidebar conversations, AI-enabled cameras with a large field of view of up to 70 Deg and above that track and focus on users that are speaking and meeting room controller. This really elevated the user experience as the remote collaboration experience is now carried over to the meeting rooms with familiar controls.

Typical Large Room Layout. Note Dual Screens to present & engage. Enhanced audio equipment and whiteboard collaboration.

Image Source: Logitech

2. Smartening up the White Boards

As employees are working in remote work, highly collaborative teams had to adapt to collaboration via tools like Zoom, Slack or MS Teams. While these tools are great, they all miss a key feature which is essential to highly collaborative teams, and that is “White Boarding.” While digital whiteboards exist in some of the tools, using them with the mouse or on tablets is not easy, and of employees we surveyed, 80% overwhelmingly said that a better way to use whiteboards is needed.  While some companies have found success with smart boards, usually, companies find that smart board equipment goes missing and not many employees understand how to use the smart boards properly. We found new generation devices such as Logitech Scribe, when mounted over whiteboards, actually make a regular whiteboard smart and live project whiteboard content to engage remote and hybrid workers alike.

Image source: Logitech

3. Modernize executive offices and bring leaders back to work:

During the engagement with executives as they transition to hybrid work, it became evident that they are not fully set up to foster meaningful connections with their staff as many technology roadblocks exist. Executives need to be able to collaborate, discuss, engage with external clients, project the organization’s branding and most importantly, keep their teams engaged. Of the executives we surveyed, the overwhelming majority confirmed that improved technology is needed for them to manage employees in remote and hybrid work. We retrofitted executive offices in line with Teams-enabled rooms, team-enabled digital phones and whiteboarding collaborative equipment. This enabled executives to return to work easily and transition into work while focusing on engaging in more meaningful ways with remote and hybrid workers.

Modernized executive offices providing collaboration space, video collaboration and whiteboard collaboration technology. Image Source: Microsoft

4. Noise pollution in offices is a real side effect:

As people started coming back to the office during hybrid work, while the collaboration with peers slowly started to increase using meetings and board rooms, the majority of the time, employees are back on teams calls. Even though the office spaces were arranged to maintain social distancing and maintain capacity, multiple employees on teams calls can cause a real distraction for other employees who may find it hard to focus and thus find working in hybrid work even more difficult. We invested in individual spaces and pop-up office spaces that provided more enclosure and higher levels of visual and acoustical privacy that people have come to expect while working at home. In order to further enhance the collaboration experience, we retrofitted office spaces and pop-up office spaces with teams panels to provide meeting space availability and information at a glance and Logitech scribes for whiteboards.

Furthermore, we invested in noise cancellation/reduction headphones for employees, both corded and wireless. Wireless ones provided employees mobility to move around the room and collaborate on whiteboards, while corded ones were personal choices of employees. This enhanced employee experience and gave them the purpose build office spaces to focus on and collaborate with remote and hybrid teams.

Design of pop-up collaboration space and small individual offices

Image source: Logitech

Teams Panel mounted outside roomsImage source: Microsoft

5. Give employees time back to decompress after each meeting.

Employee survey showed that the #1 complaint employees had regarding working remotely and hybrid is the inability to find time between meetings, especially when the meetings are booked back to back. Many times employees find themselves locked into back-to-back meetings for many hours straight.  Research has shown that employee productivity decreases after the first 3 hours of consecutive meetings, and productivity can decline as much as 30 % after 5 hours of consecutive meetings. This is evident in employees coming to meeting late and not participating to their full involvement.  Human factors studies demonstrated a 10-minute break between meetings scheduled for 1 hour and 5 min break between meetings scheduled for 30 min.

Microsoft Office allows for these changes to be defaulted in meeting bookings. We applied these settings on the exchange server globally and were well received by employees.

6. App for this and app for that … App Fatigue Is Real!       

Covid changed how we interact with technology. Like many companies, we also invested in rapid digital transformation, and a key value proposition of digital transformation is the implementation of the mobile-first strategy. Many of these new technologies offer iOS and Android apps that can really enhance the user experience, but the survey of employees showed that “App Fatigue“ is a real phenomenon.  The introduction of too many apps is leading to an excessive amount of employee frustration on where to find the app and how to use them to get the best value out of them.

Further survey data showed that there was a clear difference in app adoption by age group. The younger employees < 30 years of age generally had a shorter app adoption learning curve, but the learning curve got steeper with the increasing age, and senior staff did not benefit from the efficiency apps provided.

To solve this, we reduced, enhanced and merged many central functions apps like HR, IT and other back-office functions to be accessible from “ONE APP” container. All employees engage and manage their requests using ONE APP that is our company branded and published to employees using MDM policies. We further connected these apps with information systems for employees to self-serve on information and updates and allow employees to access anything anywhere.

7. Be prepared to provide “Anything- Anytime” service:

Lastly, as employees embrace remote work, it has become more evident that standard 9-5 models do not work anymore. People choose their times and place of work and work extended hours in the evenings and early mornings to balance work and life while managing remote and hybrid work. Since employee working behaviours have changed, central services such as HR, IT, Facilitiesetc. must be available to support employees for anything and anytime.

If an employee is working late hours and he or she cannot log into a laptop, they or should not have to wait till the next morning. We found a lot of success implementing such a model of tiered support providing employees 24/7 human-enabled services support with fast response and resolution SLA.

Conclusion

Remote work is here to stay however many companies are embracing hybrid work and even bringing employees back. Over the last 2 years during the pandemic, the technology landscape and adoption of technology to do work and collaboration has drastically changed. Not enough investment has gone into facility and workspaces design that allow seamless collaboration between employees working remotely and in hybrid. Every organization must assess the changing business needs and merge the workspaces with better and meaningful technologies to help employees and drive collaboration.

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