How Remote Working Can Actually Make Us Better Collaborators
The outbreak of Covid-19 has instigated the world's largest ever work-from-home experiment. While many struggle to adapt to the new normal, and most will rush straight back to the office once the pandemic subsides, there are also those who believe working remotely can lead to stronger teamwork. Social innovator Kal Joffres is one of those people. If done right, he says, online working can result in clearer, less hierarchy-driven collaboration between team members.
Based in Malaysia, Joffres is the co-founder and CEO of innovation lab Tandemic, which has worked with governments, Unicef and corporations such as Microsoft to identify “more agile ways of working”. Tandemic champions the concept of "design thinking", an approach to developing products and services through an understanding of the user’s needs.
Like everyone else, Joffres and his team have had a digital-first work arrangement since the outbreak, but it's nothing new to them. “The way we work hasn’t been significantly affected because the team is well-versed in online collaboration. Our offering [to clients], however, has shifted overnight.
"Many of our workshops and strategy sessions with clients were in-person as they preferred that. But over the past few weeks, we’ve been spending a lot of time training them to run online workshops, conferences and much more.”
As the outbreak looks set to worsen before it gets better, Joffres shares tips on how to maximise productivity and improve teamwork while working remotely, and how remote working can even be an improvement on in-person collaboration.
Show your face
“When you’re meeting a group of people face-to-face, there are so many things that happen automatically or spontaneously,” says Joffres. Conversely, with online interactions, there is the option of remaining “unseen” and staying hidden behind the computer screen. “Imagine being in a conversation where you don’t know if the person across from you is paying attention, or if they’re even physically present. That’s what a call without video is.”
A good way to prevent this is by fostering a culture of turning on your camera. Joffres gets people into the habit by starting his meetings with an activity that requires the other person to show their surroundings. “I like to ask people to show a little bit of their home office, or maybe an object on their desk that’s important to them and have them tell the story behind it.”
Recreate the spontaneity of office life
Working remotely doesn’t have to mean you're alone. “Some of my colleagues have scheduled coffee breaks together with actual coffee over a video call to replace spontaneous watercooler conversations," says Joffres.
"Another team runs a continuous video call with the microphones on mute, so they can quickly ping anyone on the table or engage the whole table in spontaneous conversation—just like they did when they all sat around a table.”
As an entrepreneur, encouraging your team to build their own work routines can be tremendously helpful for their productivity
— Kal Joffres
Use digital tools to remove ego and collaborate better
“In a face-to-face meeting, the extroverts might throw a few ideas out at the beginning, then there’s a discussion about a controversial point in one of the ideas. The ideas of the most senior or loudest person in the room have an outsized impact on the discussion. Maybe you end the discussion with 30 percent of what was proposed actually documented.
“In a digital brainstorm, however, I might start by getting everyone to silently write their ideas out on digital post-its in a shared board online. Then, we take a moment to read through all these ideas and do an anonymous vote to pick out the most interesting ones to discuss. We start talking about the most voted idea and work our way down.
"We might drop in an impact or feasibility matrix into the shared space to evaluate the top ideas around those criteria. When we end the meeting, all the ideas have been documented, we’ve had a far more structured conversation, and who spoke first or the loudest has a lot less impact on setting the direction of the conversation."
Develop a routine
When working from home, following a routine can be crucial to getting you in the right headspace to tackle your tasks.
“Routines are the single most important building block for productivity at home. People need a way of messaging their brain that they’re in work mode that is separate from leisure mode,” says Joffres.
For leaders, it could be scheduling daily check-in calls with your team every morning or crafting a detailed plan of responsibilities that everyone has for the week. For individuals, says Joffres, it can as simple as “sitting on a specific side of your dining table when you’re working or having a specific playlist you only play when you’re working".
Looking for that specific work playlist? Designer and honouree Dennis Karlsson curated a Gen.T playlist of 10 songs he plays at work to get into a creative mindset.