Just as in nature, survival among businesses is determined by the ability to adapt to change.
It’s estimated that as a result of the coronavirus pandemic a quarter of the world’s population now finds itself living under some form of quarantine restrictions. Hundreds of millions of workers spread across multiple continents all suddenly find themselves forced to work remotely and in isolation from their teams. This detachment risks a loss of staff cohesion, a collapse in productivity and, ultimately, a decline in overall commercial function.
Everyday face-to-face interaction in the workplace between co-workers themselves and their managers is often valuable for all parties. We can use it to pose questions, offer updates, gather feedback, read body language, benchmark our performance and, ultimately, collate the information to inform our decision-making. But, by losing the close physical proximity of the working environment we lose this feedback mechanism.
Overcommunication and the rise of the ‘Temple of Zoom’
Organisations have recognised this loss and have looked to compensate. The event and conference provider, TED, for example, has begun creating virtual spaces where staff can have the simulated experience of working alongside their co-workers in a relaxed coffee shop environment. More common, though, is the widespread embrace of videoconferencing platforms, such as Zoom, and online team collaboration tools like Slack.
There are few winners from the coronavirus crisis, but Zoom is one of them. It’s been used to host birthday parties, business meetings and even Cabinet briefings. App tracking firm Apptopia has reported that Zoom was downloaded 2.13m times around the world on 23 March, the day the lockdown was announced in the UK – up from 56,000 a day two months earlier. The company’s share price has more than doubled since the start of the year.
The difficulty is applications such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams have their pitfalls. In a bid to compensate for the loss of everyday informal interaction, managers and co-workers often lean towards having more phone calls, scheduling more frequent videoconferences, and sending more emails. All of a sudden momentary and informal discussions in the office have escalated into regular, lengthy video seminars involving multiple team members and often with no guarantee employees will gain the knowledge they’re looking for. Communication overloads. Productivity slumps.
Providing an effective feedback and performance mechanism
Platforms such as Zoom are effective for brainstorming sessions and formal business meetings, but they shouldn’t be relied upon as an effective forum for receiving feedback and performance assessment. Not everything you see on people’s faces is necessarily easy to interpret. Also, in group settings it’s almost impossible to get a sense of how you (and even more importantly your team) are perceived.
A key challenge facing managers is how to provide remote workers with an effective facility through which they can receive feedback and measure their cooperation with co-workers.
We’ve spent lots of time looking at and understanding how teams interact and deliver feedback. We’ve developed a tracking metric for team cooperation called TeamScore which acts as a performance tracker for use by teams, both in the office and remotely. It combines a diagnostic toolkit to help teams understand where they need to improve, and crowdsourced feedback and coaching advice to understand how they can.
In a remote working environment the need for feedback becomes heightened, but the capacity to receive it is reduced. By providing team members with a platform through which they can individually, and as a team, receive and offer real-time feedback in the form of performance ratings and constructive suggestions for improvement satisfies this need. It helps individuals and teams find meaning by being empowered to do good work whilst also being recognised for it. Importantly, it also does so without the disruption associated with having multiple videoconferences.
Cooperation is also a two-way street. The feeling of having a voice, being heard, and seeing tangible improvements in outcomes is among the most empowering enablers of employee engagement and one of the opportunities most at risk from remote working. The platform gives remote working individuals and teams the ability to give feedback to others too, whether to individuals, to other teams or even to teams external to their organisation.
This last element, the provision of an effective feedback mechanism to individuals and teams in external organisations, such as a client or other important stakeholders is in some ways even more critical. Struggling to adapt to remote working themselves, often these teams will have an even lower tolerance and capacity for frequent, disruptive Zoom calls to deliver feedback. This leaves the provider in search of an alternative option. Less invasive, online, real time and interactive platforms like ViewsHub satisfy this function.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought massive change to all our lives. Remote working is one. Technological innovations such as Zoom are invaluable tools to help maintain team cohesion and function. But we must be careful of overreliance and overcommunication. Online real-time feedback platforms and easily digestible performance trackers for team performance offer the facility to boost productivity, encourage effective team working, and continually track client-service levels.
Ab Banerjee, CEO of ViewsHub