How to Keep Dispersed Teams Connected
Scott Wharton, VP & General Manager, Logitech Video Collaboration
Over the past four months, the working world as we once knew it drastically shifted. Prepared or not, businesses were forced to flex their work from home protocols. This dramatic, virtually overnight, change disrupted more than just the way we work—it disrupted how we interact with our colleagues.
Humans are innately social beings. As we shift from working in the office to solely working from home, or in some cases, a new hybrid of the two, it’s important that we strategize and prepare dispersed teams to stay connected.
We believe this hybrid model will emerge as the predominant workforce model, but it’s not without some unique challenges in terms of connection and cohesion between employees. By design, hybrid workplaces are intended to be flexible and provide employees with the ability to work in an environment that is most convenient for them, whether that’s the office or at home. However, when a team of six needs an impromptu meeting, and four people are in the office and two are working from home, it’s easy to forget to be inclusive of the work-from-home employees. We tend to balance the old habits of bumping into someone at the water cooler and the new habits of scheduling every meeting. Therefore, managers will need to plan for, strategize, and implement new technologies and workplace policies that will encourage full team participation and inclusion.
A simple way companies can help overcome this is making sure they have video capabilities easily accessible in all their huddle rooms and break out rooms. And that’s the key—accessibility. Whether employees are at home or in the office, the systems need to be available and, more importantly, easy to use.
It wasn’t long ago that video systems were very complex or not readily available. In the large conference rooms where they existed, they often required a mastery of cryptic remote controls overflowing with funny looking buttons, deterring employees from walking into the room, starting a video conference, and going about their business. Now, since everyone has been exposed to video conferencing at home, and understands it’s actually very easy to use, they’re going to expect the same ease when they’re in the office. When it’s easy to use, including remote teammates on a whim will also be seamless.
When thinking about people’s hesitancy with video conferencing, it’s quite comparable to TiVo’s rise in popularity. It seems silly to think about now, but when it first came out, no one really understood the value of being able to pause, rewind, or record live TV. However, over time the product evolved, and people began seeing its value, using it more and now we can’t imagine our lives without it. The same goes for video conferencing. Right now, video conferencing is in its awareness and transition phases—people are adjusting to video conferencing being a part of their daily lives—both from a work and social perspective. So much so that, eventually, we won’t be able to imagine living without it and wondering how we put up with those awful group audio conferences.
To ensure employees stay connected as this shift continues, companies need to take responsibility for training their employees to properly use their tools. From cursory tutorials for video conferencing (both at home and in the office) to promoting the use of other tools such as instant messaging, it’ll be important to develop, support, and encourage behaviors that imitate those we have in the office, such as “bumping” into someone in the office kitchen. Scheduling more frequent one-on-ones helps, but leaning into the social opportunities presented with video is just as important. For example, our teams have hosted video hangouts where we each take a turn sharing a hobby. During one of these virtual “happy hours” a colleague taught us all how to barbecue, and another how to spin records as a DJ.
These are unique opportunities to learn more about our colleagues and feel more connected than we did when we were all sitting in the same office. A pre-pandemic study from Microsoft found that 89% of remote employees said video helps them feel more connected to their colleagues. That stat likely holds true today, despite the rise of “Zoom fatigue.”
While “Zoom fatigue” is very real, managers can help prevent it by providing employees with proper tools. High-quality audio systems, such as noise-canceling headsets with great audio retention help our brains feel like we’re in a face-to-face conversation because our brains don’t have to subconsciously work harder to listen, and the voice coming through the headphones sounds natural. Additionally, supplying employees with mountable webcams allows for natural positioning during video calls—that way we aren’t speaking to the top or side of our colleagues’ heads. Proper camera positioning gives us the visual cues that we need for our brain to easily translate the interactions in the same manner it would during face-to-face interactions.
All in all, it is possible to keep dispersed teams connected and engaged by doing a little planning and leaning into the social tendencies of humans. Once companies make video conferencing easy and accessible in the office, supply key tools like headsets and high quality webcams for at-home, and encourage impromptu and non-work-related gatherings over video, we won’t be able to imagine a world without it.