Effective Multi-site work / Hybrid work
If I were asked to describe the recent times in one word, multi-site work is the first that comes to my mind. Organizations are feverishly thinking about how to return to office work, if they return, and how to organize future work. There are many questions and tensions, and for a reason. In the big picture, we are facing a completely new way of working.
Multi-site work, like hybrid work, means that more of the work is done regardless of one’s physical location – work is done either remotely or at the office. When workers do come to the office, the previously designated places have changed into freely selectable workstations. These stations, in many companies, are reserved e.g., through an app.
Effects of virtuality on interaction
The transition to multi-site work evokes a myriad of thoughts and feelings. Productivity and the quality of work does not seem to have suffered in telework; but instead, there has been a positive increase in them. The biggest concerns, however, relate to the lack of personal encounters, a sharp decline in interaction and teamwork. These concerns are justified, because now we need to stop and really think about what human interaction really is while we are transitioning to the virtual environment.
I have repeatedly come across two arguments that are used to speak in favor of working from the office. They are
1) people are not encountered in virtual environments and
2) team building will suffer.
Both are argued to be the effects of virtuality, and the limitations set by technology.
I dare to disagree with these. On the other hand, I would argue that both in face-to-face interaction and in a virtual setting, the greatest challenge to encountering is the person themself. In virtual coaching situations, I have repeatedly witnessed not only intellectual and professional encounters, but also connections at a deeper a human and emotional level. Both parties have laughed, gotten emotional, and given feedback about how valuable the moment had been to them!
However, it is true that technology and virtuality are a new context for many of us. For many, virtuality creates a wall through which it is challenging to see the other person, and to make oneself visible. Since we will never return to 100% in-person meetings, the only constructive option is to tear down the virtual wall standing in the way of true encounters.
Tear down the virtual wall and succeed in virtual meetings
The image below represents a typical multi-site meeting. Some people are in-person while others are teleworking. The two most typical challenges related to these situations are: 1) those who are teleworking do not participate/feel left out and 2) the facilitator finds it challenging to get everyone equally involved.
The solution to both problems is ultimately simple. Let’s tear down the virtual wall that separates people.
How to tear down the virtual wall: Five tips
- The first thing is to treat all the people in the meeting as a whole, i.e. “We are present”, instead of “we here in the room are present and then there are those who are teleworking”. I argue that seeing the participants as one whole is a crucial element to the success of the team.
- It is the duty of all members to participate and take others into consideration. There is no difference here depending on whether the team is working in-person or remotely. In a good team everyone participates, and everyone is involved.
- Be brave and humane. It doesn’t matter if you are the meeting participant or the facilitator. In virtual encounters, we tend to be matter of fact and focus on the task-list. By boldly demonstrating our own humanity, we have the chance also to make the encounters more meaningful. Virtuality can be a threshold, but not an obstacle.
- Leader/facilitator: take advantage of pair discussions so that one of the participants is in-person and the other a remote participant. This type of pairing breaks the wall especially well in situations where the group meets for the first time or when you aim to tear down the virtual wall of a team.
- Make sure that the remote participants are involved in the informal encounters. Take time to go through a short “how is it going?” discussion or host a virtual afternoon coffee break so that those teleworking can attend.