Working Together While Working Apart

home office by arnel hasanovic mnd rka1o0q unsplash

In Columbia University’s M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) program, we like to say that “we make work better together.” We do this by providing truly effective teamwork training and leadership development.

But how can teams stay together while working apart? This is the challenging question confronting organizations across the world as the Covid-19 crisis drives up the level of remote working. Suddenly, people who are used to working in close proximity to their colleagues must now enforce social distance protocols. And managers who previously relied on physical proximity to ensure employee productivity will have to find other effective ways to manage their teams.

It’s a learning opportunity for all of us. And it’s a massive learning opportunity for people in more traditional organizations.

So what should we do?

Dr. Nancy Dixon is one of the leading researchers and practitioners in knowledge management. She is also a frequent and much-appreciated lecturer in our IKNS program. Her book, Common Knowledge, is a must-read for anyone interested in leveraging the intellectual capital of their organization.  Her blog, Conversation Matters, is a rich source of wise advice.

Nancy has been researching the best ways to ensure the engagement, happiness, and productivity of remote teams.  You can find insights from her research on her blog and on LinkedIn. For those of you who need fast answers, here is some of her advice:

  • Face-to-face is best. But if face-to-face is impossible under social distance protocols, ensure that your meetings with your teammates are done using a video platform such as Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime.  Except in extreme circumstances, do not permit audio-only meetings or just email communication. Humans need to see other humans!
  • Institute daily group gatherings online. Take a leaf out of the agile playbook: even 15 minutes every morning for teammates to report on what they accomplished the day before and what they plan on doing today will increase transparency, connection, and a sense of purpose.
  • Virtual work often results in relationship deficits and loneliness, which can take a toll on mental health, engagement, and productivity. So make sure your meetings include an opportunity for personal connection. Remember, purely transactional meetings can increase the feeling of distance and isolation.

If you would like to read more about this advice, please see the following materials on Nancy’s blog:

This period of remote working will challenge some of our assumptions about how to foster engaged, happy, and productive teams. Be open to the lessons. They could show you the path to a much more satisfying way of working.


[Photo Credit: Arnel Hasanovic via Unsplash]

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