When physical proximity is a challenge, how can companies use digital tools to maintain their work cultures?
With the idea of the office altered by COVID-19, businesses are seeking to maintain company cultures rooted in face-to-face interactions. What role are digital tools playing to help distributed workforces thrive?
Learning from distributed companies.
Startups and tech companies have long needed to create strong company cultures for distributed and remote workforces. Popular collaboration apps such as Slack, Teams, and Miro were created for such situations. Even before the pandemic, many established firms were using digital collaboration tools to keep project teams connected. However, Gensler’s research has found that, pre-COVID-19, workers at companies of 100 or more spent just 14% of their time collaborating digitally. Now, companies of all kinds will need to get up to speed on these tools in order to project their values and support their people.
Successful companies use a variety of video, audio, and digital collaboration platforms to give employees enough options to find what works best for them. They’re also beginning to leverage social media and wellness apps to provide a form of recreation to their people — the digital equivalent of a company softball team. At Gensler, we’re experimenting with spontaneous digital interactions to help foster creativity and innovation, such as a “virtual watercooler” using video-conferencing software and a chat thread, where workers can share photos and stay connected. In the new hybrid office, teams need the digital tools to know when spaces are being used, when they’ve been cleaned, or simply whether there’s enough room for them to come into the office that day.
Diverse employees, diverse work styles.
Employees not only need to feel connected to one another, they also need to feel supported by management. Regular check-ins and a culture of empathy are essential for promoting employee well-being in the virtual workplace. Companies should also look for opportunities to empower people when they’re working from home. Virtual meetings without a designated leader can help foster a more horizontal work culture so that employees at all levels feel that they can speak up. Finally, when people are allowed to work asynchronous workdays punctuated by childcare, meal prep, and other domestic chores, they can find opportunities for what Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh calls “collisionable hours,” the times of day when people on different teams across the world can interact.
The lessons companies learn from this challenging time can provide long-term value. By being sensitive to the diversity of workstyles and open to a wide range of remote work platforms, companies can be more responsive to employees, thus becoming more productive and attractive workplaces.