Throughout the ages, business leaders have searched for the right formula to get the best work out of their employees, trying every which way to inspire teamwork. And it has certainly been a process.
Here’s a little history lesson: The first modern offices were built in the early 1900s, and most of them were designed with an open floor plan, which allowed business owners to pack in as many workers as they possibly could. One can only imagine how loud and distracting that must have been.
Well, employers took note and around the mid-1950s, cubicles were introduced to help workers actually focus and get their work done. This had the unfortunate side effect of isolation and loss of morale (if you haven’t lived through that, watch the movie Office Space).
After the explosion of Silicon Valley, circa 2011, business leaders began to see the real value in collaboration, so open workspaces became the “in” thing to have because of the way they allowed individuals to work from a variety of stations, while easily accessible to their teammates.
Now we are welcoming a new age of collaboration and let’s just say that it doesn’t have to do with creating a fancier physical location.
Between the rapid expansion of global businesses and the rise of the telecommuting worker, many teams are spread out over numerous locations and time zones, challenging leaders to find more innovative ways to stay collaborative between offices. New technologies are constantly being innovated to accommodate the dispersed workforce and teams are using them in wonderfully creative ways.
Here are some practices that your office may want to steal in 2018:
1. Have a face-to-face whenever possible
Most of the time, telephone conference calls are a waste of time because they set everyone up for failure. Participants on the call can’t be seen, so they either talk over each other or become completely disengaged, causing everyone to dread the weekly “all-hands.”
Virtual reality is soon to be a very real solution to this mainstream problem. In fact, MiddleVR has already developed a VR software in which users of different locations can upload models of their products and meet in the same “room” to discuss.
“If a company wants to see the CAD model in reality before making a prototype, they can import the CAD 3-D model into our software. As they put on the VR headset, they can see the product in real size,” according to Hanna Burdorf, Shanghai manager at MiddleVR.
This kind of technology is certainly next-level stuff, but if you aren’t ready to splurge on VR for your next conference call, you can always opt for the good-old video chat to keep your teammates engaged.
“Our agency moved away from phone to video conferencing, which allows you to not only see facial expressions, but also whether someone is simply present at all,” said Curtis Sparrer of Bospar. “There’s no need to call attendance when you can see the faces in a virtual room, and it enables you to see who wants to talk next so there are not as many interruptions as on a call.”
Video conferences are definitely more personal and you may want to go the extra mile by making every call a face-to-face. You can always do this with Skype or Zoom, but if you want a more seamless user experience, you might want to spring for a video phone system. This way, every call is an in-person interaction.
2. Brainstorm in a new way
While we’re on the subject of company meetings, let’s talk about the crucial visuals needed to support ideas. If you’re using Zoom, presenters can share their screens to show PowerPoints or product designs, but what about when you’re brainstorming ideas in real-time and need something a little more collaborative?
Back in the day when everyone was in the same place, dry-erase whiteboards were in nearly every office. Turns out, this old standby has just gotten a technology makeover.
The G-Suite Team at Google has recently released a virtual whiteboard called Jamboard. The TV-like screen looks like a regular whiteboard, but each Jamboard can be connected so that people in different offices can draw on the same board during brainstorming sessions.
The next time someone in a different location schedules a “whiteboarding session,” you can graciously accept from wherever you are.
3. Capitalize on today’s communication trends
As we’ve seen with online marketing, video content is winning the game. According to Hubspot, 43 percent of people want to see more video from marketers and 51.9 percent of marketers cite video as the content with the best ROI. This trend can be applied to maximizing your email correspondence too.
There are new tools out there like Vidyard that allow you to create little video messages and email them to your colleagues for a more personal touch. Unlike text messages, videos also provide tone and context; if you’ve ever had a misunderstanding (or argument) over email unnecessarily, you know how valuable those things are.
4. Categorize your conversations
When it comes to communicating company-wide about projects in the works, Slack seems to be a go-to for keeping everyone on the same page through shared communication. However, it is very important that this tool is being used to make messaging efficient so no one gets lost.
“We use Slack very extensively—we have over 100 channels,” said Cody Nailor, PR associate for Museum Hack. “These various channels help us group and categorize conversations and information which allows us to not only cut down on emails (we send an average of 1000 messages a day!), but to help build up a knowledge base.”
5. Create a culture of gamification
Earlier this year, Walmart announced that the company will soon be using virtual reality to train employees, which is sure to add a little high-tech fun to the company culture. But you don’t need the big bucks to gamify your everyday processes when you can use the tech you have to work in a little fun.
Harvey Health, for example, hosts a weekly “Trivia Time” on Slack. Every Friday, one of the company’s co-founders post a question and everyone submits their answers; the winner receives $5 worth of Bitcoin. “It’s a very small and inexpensive ritual, but people love it,” said company co-founder, Mike Townsend. “It’s a nice way to unwind, be silly and connect with coworkers before the weekend about something fun and not work-related.”
Not only does gamification boost morale and allow coworkers to get to know each other, company leaders can actually learn a lot from techy, teambuilding tactics.
Case in point, Bynder recently launched a “Remote Week” for its employees. They were encouraged to work from their favorite locations, using a handful of technologies like Bynder, Slack, Asana and Google Drive, to collaborate.
“What we found was pretty interesting,” said Bynder’s CEO, Chris Hall. “Many of our employees saw their focus and productivity increase working from remote locations.”
What a novel concept. When employees are relaxed, comfortable and enjoy their surroundings, they may just do their best work—so long as they have strong leadership and access to the right technology.
We’ve definitely come a long way since the old cubicle days, haven’t we?