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  • Writer's picturesabina strachan

Virtual collaboration. Part 1: Collaborative culture...

cartoon: person looking at screen with video call thinking 'Mmm, how well are we set up to collaborate?'

How do you make the switch from in-person collaboration to virtual? In the first of this two-part blog we meet ‘Jervaise’, a legal advisor, trying to find new ways to collaborate with clients and colleagues and retain opportunities for ‘spontaneous’ interaction.

Over the last few months Jervaise and his team had put new processes and systems in place to enable hybrid or remote-only forms of working. They’d spent time finding and playing with apps that allowed them to make sure communication channels were open and transparent and information was easy to share. Jervaise facilitated this transition and provided support but was mindful not to be directive and provide options for how, when and where team members interact, acknowledging ‘one size doesn’t fit all’. It had taken time for everyone to adapt, but day-to-day operations and current project delivery were on track.

Now Jervaise wanted to improve how they worked virtually with external clients and partners who had different systems, were at different stages of transition, as well as shifting priorities and how team members could form new ideas and solutions by creating more casual and incidental ways to interact.

Virtual collaboration externally

  1. As a first step, the team identified those particular projects and stages where collaboration would be an appropriate approach to follow. It was a good idea to prioritise and not troubleshoot in too many areas at once.

  2. The team then captured the types of issues they were coming across. They noted there was considerable variety between different external clients and partners, the numbers of people involved and complexity of the collaborative activity.

  3. In this way they built up a picture of how and why issues varied and options for known or potential solutions to those issues. They then tried out options in real time and were able to apply what worked to other similar situations.

For example, for client groups made up of a variety of organisations and individuals, it was important to establish what technology they were already familiar with and what limitations they might have in terms of e.g. bandwidth and availability. It was still OK to try new methods with these groups, but just make sure they had the chance to try things out, and the ‘stretch’ was manageable so that everyone could move forward together. It also worked well to have options for offline contributions at different times and make choices and progress clear and transparent for everyone.

Virtual collaboration internally

The team had welcomed the opportunity to develop solutions together for improving external collaboration. At the same time colleagues had raised issues about internal collaboration – they missed the opportunity for spontaneous and casual conversation and unplanned brainstorming.

  1. Jervaise decided to get a wider view from the team and discovered there were a range of preferences for brainstorming, from quiet reflection and going for a walk, to active and quick group methods. One size definitely didn’t fit all!

  2. It wasn’t just group problem-solving that would benefit from more ‘spontaneous’ interaction however, it was also learning, awareness-raising, experience-sharing and wellbeing. These in themselves would help individuals thrive, as well as help them solve problems in their own ways.

  3. The team looked to other organisations where hybrid or remote-only teams was the norm. They decided to trial a few of the examples that worked well in those environments and made sure everyone bought into the different kinds of benefits ‘spontaneous’ interaction could have.

In some senses, the ‘spontaneity’ had to be planned or integrated into new expectations. For example, options included ‘free’ windows where you could call any teammate or they could call you and regular randomised one-to-one ‘virtual coffees’. These opportunities would allow team members to chat about their ‘what next’, talk through an issue, or share the seed of an idea and see what grew.

Jervaise understood from the ‘what worked well’ research that it was important that these ideas were not ‘forced’, they were aligned with the company’s values and lived culture, and were allowed to flex, shift and develop. He was looking forward to giving it a go!

Sticking with the virtual theme, next time the glu blog will look at “how to network and find collaborators in online settings”.


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