Microsoft recently conducted an extensive study that looked at data from more than 60,000 of their employees over a six-month period, starting just before the start of the pandemic. The findings, published in Nature Human Behaviour, revealed some interesting and thought-provoking insights surrounding hybrid workplaces and the potentially negative effects of remote work on collaboration, innovation and output. To sum things up: While short-term productivity may go up, long-term productivity will likely go down.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any leader, particularly those involved in industries where creativity, collaboration and output are highly dependent on internal relationships — especially relationships that rely heavily on mutual trust, a strong work ethic and teamwork in its purest form.
In order to build those relationships, here are five key insights to consider about the future of remote work:
dictate work environments
The business model itself should determine what kind of work environment is most beneficial and productive.
There are too many variables to make this decision easily.
Ultimately, it will depend on the nature of the business or the role. Take, for example, the auto manufacturing industry. Much of the industry makes remote work detrimental to productivity, but those who work in the finance or IT departments could conceivably work remotely.
Many other factors come into play to determine which business model would be the most appropriate fit for a specific company within a specific industry. When considering commuting, for example, does it make sense for someone to travel an hour to the office to do a job that could be done from home or another closer location?
and reduced innovation
Remote work, by its very nature, means fewer connections between team members across the organisation. Supported by findings in the Microsoft study, this leads to a breakdown of critical bridging ties.
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the C-Band take off
In remote or hybrid workplaces, employees don’t interact as much as they used to nor in the ways they normally would. The proverbial water cooler talks, lunches in the corporate cafeteria or impromptu meetings are no longer possible. In the workplace, these types of interactions would have occurred naturally and instinctively.
Bottom line? There’s a direct link to how collaboration time is spent and, more specifically, what people spend their time working on or the information they pursue. If no one ventures out to investigate new fields of interest or looks deeper into emerging trends, then creativity and innovation will suffer.
Companies need to be perceptive and proactive: Be aware of how team collaboration is changing. It’s necessary now to strategically enact policies that will encourage connection and collaboration. Call it “forced collaboration.”
It can be as simple as setting up meetings that involve cross-functional teams, or setting aside some time to think about creative ways to find opportunities for different teams to interact and, where possible, generate solutions.
Work silos and
The study also confirmed that remote work causes formal and even informal silos to form. It’s a natural evolution. When there is no perceived need for interaction outside of one’s own team, cross-functional interaction diminishes.
This leads to employees not having access to new or critical information within other areas of the company, limiting the sources for innovation.
To counter this, companies could look at holding small meetings throughout the course of the work week. Include a mixed group of participants — for example, sales and developers or marketing and account managers.
Use video calls to discuss and find solutions to issues rather than trying to solve them through an email chain or instant messages.
Conduct regular meetings for cross-functional teams so that people can connect organically and stay informed about what is happening across the organisation.
Fragmented networks and natural connections
In a remote or hybrid workplace, employees often gravitate to settings or situations where they feel most comfortable. This can lead to fragmented internal networks, which is supported by the study’s findings.
These fragmented networks can be offset by something that existed within every organisation even before the pandemic forced remote work. Leaders know who the natural “connectors” are in their companies, those who effortlessly and seamlessly build strong ties between people and departments.
At the same time, they also know who are content to work independently and often go out of their way to avoid unnecessary interaction.
Encourage those natural connectors to do what they do best: Build bridges and strengthen ties within the organisation. This, in turn, encourages stronger teams and better collaboration — which ultimately has a positive impact on innovation and productivity.
Siloed work. Less collaboration. Stunted creativity. Fewer innovations. Reduced productivity.
Leaders have experienced all of these developments since widespread remote and hybrid work began nearly two years ago. As long-term decisions about remote and hybrid work are being made, it’s important to remember that short-term data is serving as the basis for those decisions. As the Microsoft study suggests, we must ask ourselves if this is a practical solution. I’m inclined to think otherwise.
One of the biggest challenges facing leaders is ensuring the ongoing viability and profitability of a company, two factors that are tied to not only individual performance but also team performance as well.
It’s the latter where collaboration, creativity, innovation and productivity are irretrievably linked and dependent on one another. Ensuring team dynamics aren’t further eroded will take some planning and perhaps some ingenuity, but it’s an important commitment to make to ensure the long-term health of a company.