When, back in March 2020, the world was thrust unapologetically into remote working, none of us knew what was in store.
This left us as an Accelerated Solutions Environment (ASE) team with many questions. How can I do my day job without my team around me? How will I get group projects/work done? How will I contribute effectively to conversations? Can I achieve the same outcomes whilst everyone is apart? We’re sure that these questions would have resonated with a lot of teams.
If this year has taught us anything, it’s about the importance of bringing people together and the power that can be created as a result.
We’ve seen this locally with neighbourhood food and medicine deliveries, nationally with VentilatorChallengeUK and internationally with One World: Together at Home. We have also seen it in the work we do in the ASE.
As an ASE team, our purpose is to ignite change in organisations and bring out the best in their people to enable them to solve challenges. Collaboration is central to what we do. Moving to a remote way of working so abruptly could have stopped us in our tracks. But it didn’t. People have continued to want to connect and collaborate and our challenge has been to find the best way to do this. Going forward, our task now is to embed these learnings into future ways of working.
So, what has the Covid-19 pandemic taught us about collaboration?
Collaborating remotely is not really a challenge
As a venture, we explored remote collaboration only a couple of years ago. Slowly but surely, we have worked to strengthen our skills in this space to diversify our service offering. Yet since collaborating remotely full-time, we have realised that it enables us to deliver great outcomes sometimes in more complex scenarios than in a physical office space. Over the last few months, we have delivered a multi-client engagement across four different time zones, enabling collaboration on a new scale, and also brought together a global community across 14 regions to collaboratively learn and knowledge share. Even on the same time zone usually collaborating as a large group is extremely difficult, but using remote tools we helped a 560-person strong community to work together successfully, and all experience the same learnings and outcomes.
Through these engagements and many others, we are enabling organisations to align, engage and inspire their stakeholders; to discuss and ideate solutions for high-risk challenges to move forward at pace; and to provide better experiences for their customers. It can be easy to assume remote collaboration is a lesser form of collaboration, but we’ve discovered that it’s just different. Different, and exciting! We’ve been able to bring together groups of people that aren’t bound by physical distance and experience a broader meaning of diverse thought. Broader collaboration.
The pandemic hasn’t slowed us down, it has only accelerated our strength in collaboration and facilitation capability as an ASE team, which will continue to be utilised and needed as the future of the workplace continues to be redefined.
Human connection is an enabler and accelerator to collaboration
Many had theorised that working from home would impact our connection to colleagues, making it harder for those natural, ad hoc interactions. Yet living through the moment, a different result emerged; we are naturally social beings. So many of us dived into socialising virtually; phone calls to our loved ones, drinks, dinners and birthday celebrations via Zoom. Did we ever imagine we’d become online quiz masters?!
A question that’s been repeatedly asked within the ASE is – how do we enable these stronger human connections when collaborating remotely? This aspect of our behaviour enables us to collaborate and to inspire each other to innovate and succeed. When we have a connection with someone, be it a family member, friend or a colleague, there’s a level of comfort that enables us to better be ourselves, remove barriers and have trust in one another. This is the perfect foundations for collaboration and getting great outcomes from working with others. For the ASE, it’s vital to create these conditions to deliver effectively and enable the right space for difficult, but necessary conversations. Creating that safe space amongst your team or your clients will enable your peers to comfortably have a voice, share their opinions and hopefully inspire something great. This isn’t limited to being in physical spaces together, it’s just as achievable from different locations.
To help with this, here’s what we’ve learned about collaborating remotely:
- Life happens – embrace it: As we’ve witnessed whilst most have been working-from-home, spontaneous interruptions happen. Embrace them! Laugh about them! Actively fold them in to ice breakers! These moments, whilst causing minimal disruption, can drive a greater personal connection, build trust between people and create the conditions for great collaboration.
- Have some fun: Bringing something a little different to a remote meeting can make a world of difference! There are loads of ways to bring fun into remote working and remove that potential awkwardness. Take a look at ASE Co-Facilitator Grace’s blog for a few great tips!
- Replicate the shared desk: At the beginning, we were really missing those ad hoc chats, questions and support you get when sat together in the office, so we learnt to replicate the ‘shared desk’. We open a call in the background as we collaborate, unmute to bounce an idea around and ask for advice. This helps us to replicate the face-to-face collaboration experience, and it’s how we wrote this blog! Though physically alone, this connection helps avoid a transactional form of collaboration and drives us towards and aligned and stronger outcome.
- Make the best use of your tools: Technology is always evolving, but even more so now with our reliance on it; utilise the advancements! For example, Microsoft Teams has released Together mode. Usually like to escape the office and collaborate in a coffee shop? No problem! Removing the traditional grid model can have a profound impact on the feel of the video call, provide more cohesion between the group and ultimately reduce video call fatigue.
Fundamentally, remote working is not a barrier to collaboration. When you think proactively about personal connection time, leveraging the right, powerful tools and creating the conditions to connect and support one another, the outcomes achieved can be as great, if not greater, to those we may expect from traditional group collaboration.
With the workplace environment continuing to evolve; some returning to offices, some still fully remote, and others somewhere in between, it’s important to remember our learnings from this time and utilise them going forward. This year has been a stark reminder to be grateful for the times we can spend collaborating from the same location(!), but we now have a whole load of new skills to help us continue to collaborate effectively in more scenarios!
Lizzie is a Co-Facilitator in the Accelerated Solutions Environment team with nearly ten years of experience delivering and running collaborative events. She has a particular passion for the energy sector, in particular the role the sector can play in achieving the net zero ambition.
Mel is a Co-Facilitator in the Accelerated Solutions Environment. She has a background in supplier management and has a passion for collaborative relationships, solutions and design.