I was hoping to attend a virtual seminar tonight, but the message “The room is full, unable to login” spoiled my potential fun. With the whole world trying to video conference from their kitchen table or attic, the systems are struggling to handle the load. My LinkedIn and Facebook timelines are filled with people presenting tips and how-tos on online collaboration, and of course, promoting their favorite tools and apps. Let’s zoom in on my blue jeans and hangout to get teams working
I don’t really want to discuss the best communication and video conference solution, as there are already plenty of useful suggestions available from experts in the field. What I find interesting is how difficult it can be for many organizations to actually switch gears and work effectively. Sure, most companies have now accepted the possibility of working from home, and their IT departments have enabled video conference services and allowed for online virtual meetings. While the technology is working (mostly), online meetings are much more intense than in-person meetings. You have to focus on a much smaller area (the screen) and work harder to keep the background noises and non-office views out of mind. In the pre-Corona days, your days were filled with meetings, and now they are filled with online meetings
When your organization relies heavily on meetings, it likely has a mostly oral culture. Most decisions are made in meetings and communicated through meetings. An action to be performed is only a phone call or a walk to a team member away. You probably have a lot of emails and Intranet pages full of information, but in-person communication is still the primary way to get things done.
However, when you are forced to work from home or any other long-distance location, this oral culture becomes a bit problematic. Video calls with more than three participants can become very annoying very quickly, and having several of these virtual meetings in a day is exhausting. Communication from a distance hinders nonverbal communication, making it harder to assess whether the other person really understands and agrees with what needs to be done. To compensate, people will keep explaining until they get the right signal that it is understood, but the camera may not pick up this signal. In other words, people will talk even more
Flow of information
When working from a distance, a more text-based culture is needed. Working from home requires writing and reading skills rather than talking and listening skills. When an online meeting is well-prepared with a shared agenda, meeting notes, action points, and briefings containing all the necessary information, the meeting will be more effective, take less time, and allow all participants to fully participate. It will also be less exhausting. Each participant should read all available material and share questions and discussion points. When email is used correctly, it can be a very useful tool for communicating decisions and the reasoning behind them. There are also many tools available to help set up workflows and provide tasks with all the necessary information attached. Perhaps companies should focus more on improving the flow of information rather than video conference capabilities when their staff is forced to work from home
In addition to focusing on becoming a more text-based culture, there is another decision that companies can make to improve the effectiveness of working from home. Most people have a daily rhythm where their ability to focus is stronger in the morning and their desire for connections and creativity is stronger in the afternoon. For most office workers, the best time to focus and concentrate is in the morning. After lunch, it becomes harder to focus and easier to connect and interact. Knowing this, companies can create a daily schedule that allows their staff to be free of distractions in the morning to focus on getting tasks done. In the afternoon, companies can schedule online meetings, allowing time for participants to read the information and prepare. The mail server can be configured to stop delivering mail between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., and meetings can start at 2 p.m.
Effective working from a distance
Some people are stating that in the post-Corona world, we will continue to work from home. While it is true that for many companies, working from home or another location will have become more acceptable due to current circumstances, I personally think that after the novelty wears off, companies will start to question its effectiveness. I hope they will investigate what makes working from a distance effective and preferred over coming into the office to work.