Virtual Teams

If its so important, why didn’t we organize for it in the past?

As organisations try to sell the idea of returning to the office (to an often reluctant group of employees) many are focusing on things that can’t easily be done remotely, a consensus seems to be emerging around factors such as informal social communication, relationship building, learning from others, and instilling and maintaining corporate culture.

Many companies now consider these factors to be so important that they want people to come into the office for two to three days a week to make sure they are delivered.

However, if they are so important now, how come we never used to organise for these to happen, and how come we spent so little time on them in the past. In most cases these things were delivered as a free by-product of proximity, they weren’t organised, and they weren’t resourced – “culture is caught not taught”.

if you spent half a day on informal social communication someone would probably tell you to get back to work.

Did you ever try to get approval for a meeting or an event where you could get people together for social contact and to build relationships, with no other business objective?

We should also reflect on how much time we actually spend doing this. Are we telling people to come into the office because they will be spending two to three days per week working on these things?

Maybe what we’ve finally realised from the absence of these things is that they are valuable and that pretty much everything else can be done remotely if you are a knowledge worker.

I founded and run my own organisation on a virtual first basis for the past 27 years. When I bring people together face to face, which is no more than once or twice a year in normal times, I focus on community, relationship maintenance and learning – the things where face to face really adds value.

Now we’ve recognised the importance of these factors, surely we need to organise for them to happen more effectively? Surely we need to put some funding behind making these things work better?

We need to set up practices for making informal communication work in an environment where people’s working patterns often won’t overlap. Will we have mandatory days where we are all on site without having meetings booked all day to enable this? How will we embed informal social interactions into our virtual time?

If we have much less time for culture to be caught, then we need to put more effort into making sure it’s taught.

If we want to learn from others, how will we do that? Does it rely on us overhearing something interesting by chance in a busy office, or do we need better mechanisms for sharing tacit knowledge between experienced and new people. Does that mean that experienced people will need to be in the office more often than they might like to support newer people?

I look forward to this realisation being applied more widely. How many times have you been to a large event or conference where you sat through boring presentations and complained about them in the bar in the evening but concluded it was worth going for the networking and the informal conversations. Maybe your next big meeting or event will look more like a speed dating evening than a series of PowerPoint presentations?

How are you going to organise for these important informal factors to thrive in a hybrid future?

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