COVID-19 changed many aspects of our daily lives – work from home (WFH) being one of the major ones. In a situation like this, where we can avail all the comforts of being home, dressing down, and relaxing in our own spaces, productivity might have gone up but innovation and creativity have taken a silent back seat.
Productivity is on track, then what’s missing?
Innovation is not always a necessity, but productivity is a daily requisite. Interestingly, the thread binding these factors is communication.
A physical workplace allows for bonding on a more personal level where multiple people can converse, ideate, and share their ideas easily. With the digital shift, weekly meets and seminars conducted via videoconferencing apps become the means to promote inclusion, participation, and engagement. Basic communication about projects, status reports, timelines etc can aid productivity, but innovation needs more than just this. An emotional connect, a sense of belonging, etc — which can be achieved through a deeper degree of meaningful communication — is crucial.
As per a Forbes article, the Boston Consulting Group and KRC Research conducted a survey of 9,000 managers and employees across Europe, commissioned by Microsoft. 82% of executives said their remote teams had been highly productive. At the same time, they were also of the opinion that dispersed workforces fostered a sense of disconnect. Dr. Michael Parke, Assistant Professor at the Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania, observed there was “a loss of sense of purpose, which at work, is largely driven through strong and cohesive relationships and seeing how your tasks have an impact on others.”
Many have felt an increasing urge to partially return to the workplace – for water cooler conversations and meeting colleagues. An Aljazeera article pointed out that a Bank of England research showed a hybrid work life was the way forward – with a fair balance of physical office exposure and remote work. Prolonged isolated work, without face-to-face interactions, ate away at interpersonal relations at work and was detrimental to growth and innovation.
Ways to take the digital leap forward
Having communication tools in place doesn’t necessarily ensure that people will communicate the right way, or that it will spur a sense of belonging and team cohesion.
- Regular one-on-one interaction with employees, engaging them in group discussions, brainstorming, etc can provide clarity as to what works for a team. Peer reviews are important in this regard.
- Digital tools need to be utilized properly to foster a sense of inclusion and importance, and to develop a personal connection.
- Individual flexible routines can disrupt collaborative output, so a set routine that works for all can be considered for at least a couple of days of the workweek.
- People need to be trained as to how they can better work remotely as it is not an inherent skill that we possess.
A report by the World Economic Forum covered Parke’s observations at length. He said in a podcast, “It’s a challenge to feel connected, confident and communicate effectively with the team, and we know from a lot of research that creativity and innovation largely happen through collaboration.”