As companies move toward hybrid workforces, they are starting to uncover benefits and pitfalls, including new ways to collaborate and “access” problems that create competing remote and onsite cultures. Getting to grips with this will be essential for digital transformation plans.
To learn more, Digital Journal spoke with Dan Pupius, CEO and cofounder of team effectiveness platform Range.
Digital Journal: How disruptive has COVID-19 been for businesses?
Dan Pupius: Massively disruptive. Even companies whose customers’ behavior didn’t change significantly were faced with huge challenges to their operations.
DJ: Has the pandemic helped to drive digital innovation?
Pupius: It’s accelerated trends that were inflight already. For example, remote work is squarely mainstream now and even disciplines where face-to-face communication was considered essential have learned to utilize Zoom effectively. Many companies have learned to be digital by default, which will be critical to their success in the future.
DJ: How important has collaborative working been and which technologies have helped foster this?
Pupius: In some respects, we are lucky that video conferencing infrastructure had already been commoditized and was mainstream. Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom have been essential. And it seems like the development and innovation has accelerated, with both Teams and Zooms exposing rich surfaces for apps to extend.
Asynchronous communications have come to the fore as well, and software like Range that helps foster meaningful collaboration for remote teams is no longer a nice-to-have, but critical to effective teams.
One aspect of work that has been under-appreciated is the value of good culture. Companies that had established strong foundations of trust and belonging were more resilient and able to adapt more readily to the environment.
DJ: What have been the downsides of remote working?
Pupius:In 2020, most weren’t experiencing normal remote work. It was a forced and sudden dive into remote work, during a global pandemic and times of civil unrest. People weren’t prepared for this, they had kids or roommates at home, they didn’t have ergonomic workspaces, and due to shelter-in-place, they didn’t have the support structures outside of work that are needed. And many organizations lacked the infrastructure, culture, and processes to support effective remote work.
Teams who have been fully remote from the outset know how important it is to intentionally build culture. This means creating a cadence of communication that ensures people have the right touchpoints with their team, ad hoc practices can leave people feeling disconnected and unable to resolve problems. The second element is creating a sense of belonging. When you are in an office this happens organically.
In general, the biggest downside of remote work is losing opportunities for serendipitous interactions. These are interactions that aren’t planned but allow for creativity, cross-pollination of ideas, and innovation. Remote-first companies work to cultivate serendipity through regular all-hands offsites in the real world.
So, for many people, the main downside has been missing the practices that make them productive, effective, and feeling connected to their team. The absence or erosion of these practices, in turn, creates conditions that are ripe for burnout.
DJ: How will digital transformation unfold in 2021?
Pupius:Remote work and distributed teams are now mainstream. This year has shown that butts-in-seats management practices and formal 9-to-5s aren’t necessary for productivity. Pandora’s box has been opened.
Even as COVID subsides and offices reopen we’ll see that many employees will want to stay remote; that’s not to say that lots of people don’t want to head back to offices, but more people than pre-covid will want more flexibility in where they work.
Fully remote isn’t practical for all companies, so we’ll see hybrid workforces becoming the dominant mode of operation. This will have impacts on IT and team effectiveness.
In the IT realm, cloud-based collaboration is now table stakes which means SaaS Ops will become a mainstream discipline as companies manage hundreds of different services. Network security in a fully remote world makes network security more complex than firewalled corporate networks. Expect zero-trust network architecture such as BeyondCorp to replace traditional VPN solutions.
To ensure teams remain effective, as I mentioned, asynchronous communication is becoming a core element of ensuring team effectiveness. Async communication will create ambient awareness of what’s happening across teams, in a way that happens organically in co-located teams, and will empower collaboration that affords flexible work schedules and cross-time zone teams.
DJ: How can businesses build more cohesive teams?
Pupius:By being intentional. When people work in the office there is often informal chatter before and after meetings, and by the coffee machine or water cooler. These channels weren’t always inclusive of all members of the organization, so as we intentionally build practices to create a sense of belonging we have the opportunity to make them more equitable.
To start with, we encourage teams to interweave culture-building into normal work practices. For example, at the start of the meeting have an opening round where everyone has the chance to speak, perhaps saying what they’re looking forward to this week, how they’re doing (green/yellow/red), or an icebreaker.
DJ: What else will successful businesses do that others won’t?
Pupius:Focus on fundamentals. Effective teams lead to effective businesses. Effective teams embrace transparency, have a strong sense of purpose, and actively cultivate a sense of belonging.