Connection and Collaboration

The hybrid model is supposed to bring the best of both worlds to the workplace. The ability to work asynchronously for solo tasks or in a group setting for team projects, as needed. Sharing space, naturally, is a key piece of hybrid work. But if team members are unable to work together even when they do come into the office, how can leaders ensure that employees are able to connect and collaborate even when people are not in the same room?

PODCAST | 24m 
September 14, 2022
S5:Ep1

 

Executive summary

  • Find out why connection and collaboration are an essential part of the hybrid workplace – not just for work output, but also the emotional well-being of employees
  • Take a tour of an office in the metaverse

Featured voices

Jana Raver
E. Marie Shantz Professor of Organizational Behaviour Smith School of Business, Queens University

Dan Corcoran
Managing Director and Owner
Reedmace Talent

MELANIE GREEN
In March 2020, the world experienced the most dramatic shift in working behaviour this century. COVID 19 led millions of people to work from home. And ever since, we've all been asking: "when will we get back to normal"?
More than two years later, the answer for many employees lies in a NEW normal --- the world of hybrid work.
Welcome to Remote Works – an original podcast from Citrix. I’m Melanie Green. On this show, we have been exploring the changing nature of work since the early days of the pandemic. This season we are exploring the way hybrid work is affecting people’s work lives. We'll delve into the innovative ways companies are adapting hybrid work, and the challenges that remain for managers and employees.
Because working from home doesn’t suit everyone.

RICARDO
Sometimes I would end up sitting on the same chair for a very long time throughout the day until the sun goes down. And then that felt like I wasted my time. I wasted my day.

MELANIE GREEN
Ricardo is an extroverted Italian living and working in Barcelona.
And like a lot of people these days, he doesn’t work with his team in person. Ricardo’s office is a distributed hybrid workplace. That means that he has colleagues in different cities, who work from a variety of locations – some people are at home, and some people are in offices. The flexibility is great – but the lack of in-person contact with his managers can sometimes lead to problems.

RICARDO
What happened is that yesterday I had to, to call a client. They contacted us because they needed something. So they just gave me the task of answering this particular client.

MELANIE GREEN
This was a new task for Ricardo. He’s still developing his client-facing skills. So he wanted some guidance from his boss.

RICARDO
I just closed a group meeting with my manager and my colleagues. And I just stayed five minutes longer with my manager, just to talk with her about this particular call I had to make. So of course I prepared a draft and some things, some notes, just so that I could go through with her and see what I could speak about what I should not say, et cetera. And once we closed the call and I actually called this account, they didn't pick up the phone because they were very busy. And so I spoke with a secretary and I was not really sure about which were the next steps.

MELANIE GREEN
Ricardo felt lost. If his manager was beside him, or down the hall, he could pop in for a quick question. But he felt uncomfortable.

RICARDO
It was something very easy. Like, should I send them an email anyway? Should I insist? What should I do? I don't wanna call my manager back because I know she's been very busy these days, and this is something very trivial.

MELANIE GREEN
It might be a small thing, but these small moments of disconnection can add up.

RICARDO
No matter how present people are online, no matter how much they can say for whatever reason, just call me, just send me a text, there small talk is something you can only have in the office. So that's why I think sharing the same space is very important.

MELANIE GREEN
Sharing the same space -- face to face -- is a key piece of the hybrid model. But if teams are only together in the office one or two days a week, how can leaders ensure that connection and collaboration can continue even when people are not in the same room?
According to the Citrix annual report on hybrid work, 63% of business leaders and 69% of employees say that in-person interactions are essential for emotional well-being.
Plus, 61% of both employees and leaders agree that creativity and innovation is enhanced when working face-to-face.
Jana Raver has been studying hybrid work for 25 years. She's a professor in the Smith school of business at Queens university and an expert on team dynamics in building and sustaining high performance teams. She has spent a lot of time considering the dynamics of collaboration --- and the kinds of situations that help people connect creatively.
So we’re turning to her to help figure out – what is it exactly that happens at the office … that doesn’t always happen when you’re working at home by yourself?

JANA RAVER
You know, when you end that zoom meeting or Microsoft teams meeting and everything just goes back to you sitting alone in your house with your cat or your pet or whatever you have there. And it's just this dead silence and you walk to your kitchen and you're just like, well, wait a second. Like I'm all alone. And what happened to that positive energy that just had in that team? In an office that doesn't. Right. So you walk to the meeting, you get kind of anticipation, you drop by a couple of people's offices on the way there you run into somebody in the coffee room, and all of these spontaneous informal interactions on the way to meetings on the way to and from lunch, on the way in and out of the building, they mean something – they're actually part of work. And we don't have those home alone when we're going to, and from our kitchen.
There's some good research bases for this as well that we know that teams work way more effectively when they can bounce ideas off each other and they feel safe to do so. So we have psychological safety as one of the good predictors of what we call information elaboration or building upon each other's ideas. So, you know, someone puts an idea out in a brainstorming session. Someone goes, oh, hey, that's great. That reminds me of this. That makes me think of this. So this is how the process of innovation and creativity really works. You know, think of it like a band riffing off each other. You know, you have someone plays a rift and somebody else plays another rift. And then, you know, next thing you know, it's this beautiful new musical creation.
That's how teams work best. And that has to have an informal spontaneous element to it. In order for us to really maximize the potential for creativity.
And that is part of the reason why it's better, often richer experiences when people are able to do that in informal settings where they actually get to see each other, they can read each other's nonverbal expressions. That process works better when people are in a, either very, very rich communication, like a very, very rich high quality video conference, or if we're face to face more traditionally.

MELANIE GREEN
So many employees are reported feeling disconnected from their teams. Do you see a hybrid model repairing this disconnect?

JANA RAVER
It has very good potential, but it's also tricky. So I think yes and no, depending upon how the organizations execute it. So one of the problems with hybrid, or one of the possible risks or challenges, deals with what we call distancing bias.
And this distancing bias is that when you have a certain group of people who go back to the office every single day, and it's mostly the same people and you have other people that work at a distance. What you're likely gonna get is a social dynamic where the people who go back to the office on a regular basis are going to be seen as kind of the” in group,” the favored subgroup of the team or the organization, and the people who work at a distance will start feeling like there's maybe their ideas aren't listened to as effectively, maybe they don't get listened to when they don't get seen for promotions. There will be a tiered status difference in the group.
So if organizations work extensively to disrupt that distancing bias, it has great potential, but you have to work hard in order to make sure that it, it, it does actually include everyone in the hybrid model, as opposed to having just the, the haves and the have nots.

MELANIE GREEN
It does keep coming back to culture to some degree doesn't it.

JANA RAVER
It does. And a lot of the informal practices that communicate to employees, whether we actually value everybody around here and whether we're all part of something together or whether or not it's, we have these circumstances that are really favoring one group versus the other.

MELANIE GREEN
So then what do you see as the biggest threat to the hybrid model?

JANA RAVER
Yeah, I think there's for, for me, there's two, there's the distancing bias. I just talked about where we really do have to work to be as inclusive as possible. The upside of hybrid is that it really does have incredible potential if you can be inclusive. So for example, we've known for 20 plus years that we really can have better employee health and productivity outcomes by allowing more work-life integration. And so if we can realize that we can see the benefits of hybrid, but the risk there is if we actually aren't inclusive towards everybody and actually making those circumstances successful, then people will feel forced to come in.
So even if it's in the company policy, for example, that it's okay for people to work at a distance, if it becomes the norm in an organization, like if all of the leaders are saying, no, no, no, you have to come in or we'd really prefer that you're in. And then the people who are getting recognized and promoted and listened to are those that are in every day. The culture has essentially overridden the policies. And when that happens, then the hybrid model essentially start to dissolve and it'll just go back to the way things always were. So that's one of the big threats.
On the flip side of this, we've been talking about the human side of things, but the other flip side is actually more of a technological side of things. That hybrid really does demand that leaders work harder in order to have both an in-person experience, but a simultaneous virtual experience.
So teams need to have really, really rich collaboration software and opportunities to be able to, um, you know, do their filesharing, their ongoing commenting and project collaboration, and using all the tools in the technology in a virtual space that are going to enable the virtual collaboration simultaneously with the in-person collaboration.

MELANIE GREEN
You make a good point. And so have you seen any challenges come up sort of trying to raise that technological aspect while also the human aspect?

JANA RAVER
Yeah, absolutely. I think this is where a lot of the organizations I'm working with right now are struggling. They kind of understand they've known for a long time about the human side, and it's just working around that distancing bias. That's almost more familiar territory. It's about building inclusion.
Organizations aren't always great at it, but they're more familiar with that challenge. The new challenge for many leaders out there is figuring out how to live and collaborate. Um, as teams in a virtual space, many of them have been using email for years and years and years. And they're trying to do all of their collaboration over email, and this got better, it got way better across the pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, the many of the teams I would survey the leaders were saying they really only 20% of them or so were using teams or on online, um, virtual collaboration platforms regularly. And the people I'm talking to. Frequently now are saying, yeah, we, we, we're all using teams, but they're not, or some other virtual collaboration platform. But often they're not using it to its full potential. So they might just be doing, you know, team updates or they might simply just be, you know, using the file sharing or these kind of capabilities, but they're not figuring out how to do rich collaboration. They're not doing the ongoing pulse communications, the regular feedback, the opportunities to stay in touch [00:08:00] with each other in a, in a virtual reality. I don't think we're quite up to talking about metaverses yet. Um, but they need to at least get to the point of being able to collabo. Actively and collaborate extensively in a virtual space and not just go back to the idea of, oh, we're back in the office. And that makes us ignore the virtual environment.

MELANIE GREEN
Ah, the NEW new normal. Okay. So let's flip it. What are some tips then for organizations or business leaders to help make their teams feel connected?

JANA RAVER
Yeah, I think first and foremost, I would go back to tips for disrupting that distancing bias. I said earlier, it's going to be most likely to actually get created when you have the people who are on site, the people who are distanced, I would like to see organizations try to disrupt that. So there aren't just these two groups. Everyone should have the opportunity to come in. And even as a leader, I think it speaks volumes to your team if you yourself be occasionally leading from a distance, occasionally being in the office. Basically make it really clear through your practices and your norms, that it doesn't matter who you are and where you are that you can contribute to this team fully.
Another couple of things here is remember the xperience of the virtual attendees. So if you're gonna be in an in-person meeting, actually stay in the virtual meeting at the same time, put yourself on mute, but allow people to see your, your camera and see your face. And then if you want to, you can actually share documents that way. Don't go back to using a whiteboard. It's not a good idea to use an in-person prop. Any in-person props should be thrown out the window. We did not need to be using those anymore. It doesn't matter if you're in person or virtual, we should still be using these virtual tools. So again, living in this, um, this virtual space simultaneously with our in-person experiences,

MELANIE GREEN
That's a really good point. I hadn't thought about the importance of that. Actually. I was thinking I've been in a meeting where someone's used a whiteboard and I'm on I'm on zoom and it does feel different.

JANA RAVER
You feel excluded don't you?

MELANIE GREEN
A little bit, yeah!

JANA RAVER
It's one of those things because you can't hear as well. You can't see as well. And so the in-person attendees are getting a, a richer, higher quality experience than you. So organizational leaders really need to be thinking [00:11:00] about every single time that they're doing something that favors one group or the other, they need to rethink that experience.

MELANIE GREEN
Okay. So given that we're talking about the hybrid work model, we're talking about how organizations need to really think through that in person and virtual experience, what are some things that, that managers can do to lead a hybrid workplace?

JANA RAVER
Yeah. One of the things we know about leading, um, in, in virtual or distributed environments is that people, their, the employees themselves need feedback more often, they need engagement more often. And some of this goes back to that loneliness idea, that when you work alone, In your own home or in a coffee house, it gets lonely. And so you do actually need to construct regular touchpoints with others. So even if it's a little corny, you might wanna actually have the weekly coffee house chat. You wanna, um, you know, do some of these more structured or more intentional social activities. Even if not everybody shows up, people know it's there and they do occasionally show up. At a one-on-one coaching level, touch base with your employees more. They don't have to be longer meetings. They don't have to be scheduled half an hour meetings with every employee, but let's do, you know, five minute pulse calls. Just like, Hey, how's it going? You know how, and also make it human, make it a whole person interaction. It's like, you know, Hey, I know your daughter had a dance rec style. How'd that go on the weekend and just try to know and connect at a human level so that people feel again, like they're part of something and they see, feel validated and seen and understood leaders can do a, a lot more in terms of moting their other staff simply by just making them feel like they're, they're actually valued and actually seen as part of the team. And you can do that virtually you can do that in person. People naturally tend to do that more in person. So especially in a hybrid team, managers need to be way more intentional about doing those regular human touch points. And then of course touching based on work as well. It's not just about the social side of things, but, you know, ‘hey, how's this project going? Do you need anything from me?’ You know, these questions, and seeing yourself as a resource for your team.

MELANIE GREEN
That’s Jana Raver’s take on staying connected in a hybrid environment. She’s a professor in the Smith school of business at Queens University.
So one of the biggest challenges facing the modern hybrid workplace – how do you maintain flexibility without sacrificing that crucial face-to-face human connection that we all need?
According to the Citrix work rebalanced report, tech companies are a good place to turn for lessons in hybrid collaboration. 70% of tech employees report that remote and hybrid working has not impacted their ability to effectively collaborate, compared to 56% across all sectors.
The new challenge for leaders is to figure out a collaboration tech stack that supports that balancing stack. Collaboration tools have to work for all workers in all settings. It’s a balancing act that requires new management skills and a willingness to experiment. The goal moving forward is to balance the best of both worlds: flexibility and productivity for remote people and networking and team building in person.
And some companies are already doing just that.

APARITA BHANDARI Hey Dan!

DAN CORCORAN
Hello. How are you?

APARITA BHANDARI
I'm well, how are you?

DAN CORCORAN
Yeah, I'm fantastic. Welcome to the metaverse.

APARITA BHANDARI
Thank you very much.

MELANIE GREEN
Dan Corcoran is the managing director of Reedmace Solutions. They’re a boutique recruitment firm that specializes in connecting talent with tech startups.
And their office? It has a beach. And a go kart racetrack. There’s even a space station. These sound like things that only a James Bond villain – or the biggest and wealthiest tech companies – can indulge in … but in the metaverse, these perks are available to anyone.
We sent our producer Aparita Bhandari in for a tour of Dan’s virtual office.

APARITA BHANDARI
OK first of all I have to make a disclaimer that I am not a gamer. But even I noticed the Mario Brothers-style, that 8-bit pixelized video game aesthetic. So basically, I went in, I picked an avatar, and then you use your arrow keys to move around. It’s web-based so there’s no oculus necessary. But I’m terrible at video games, I just don’t have that dexterity. But Fortunately, with a click of a button, could follow Dan, as he led me around his virtual office.

DAN CORCORAN
And as you can see, you know, when you enter, you can click on the plinth, which is actually our guestbook. So you can sign in. As you can see, my avatar is a, man, who looks fairly similar to me, he's quite short, albeit with a big head, um, you know, and he's got a man bun, um, which I do actually have, but obviously his is blue.

APARITA BHANDARI
I stuck with the generic avatar that was assigned to me when I signed in. I’d meant to add glasses and make my hair longer, but Dan was already leading the way around his office and I
had to keep up.

DAN CORCORAN
So at the moment we are in, um, the welcome area, which has also got my desk. And I like to sit there because then when people come in, I can greet them // Um, We have the cafe and we are just walking past. Now, you'll see the, um, teleportation pads, which take you quickly to some of the areas.

MELANIE GREEN
Excuse me, did he just say teleportation pads?

APARITA BHANDARI
Yeah! We’re in the Metaverse, after all

DAN CORCORAN
Why not? You know, you can teleport there, why you go the long way and you can go to the beach, the games room, or the race track from here, but I'm just gonna take you to the most important places first.

APARITA BHANDARI
In essence, it’s a shortcut. You just go through a door and are transported to whatever space you want to get to – whether it’s the beach, spaceship or go-karting track.

MELANIE GREEN
Ok. So many questions. Like what’s a beach doing in an office. But let’s start with something more basic. Like why Dan developed a virtual workspace for his company to begin with.

DAN CORCORAN
We decided to open a virtual office post-COVID and the main reason for that was the move to hybrid and remote working really clearly presented some issues. And those issues really were around communication. So not just in a pure work focused context of, you know, we've got a task to do, we need to collaborate, but also in the context of the things that you miss from those social interactions. So for example, when you're at work, It's quite acceptable to stand up off your chair and go over to the coffee machine and to go and get a coffee or to get a, you know, cup of water, whatever. And when you do that, it's quite possible that one of your colleagues is gonna be over there and you're gonna engage in some kind of a conversation. And that conversation may be work related, or it may just be, you know, having a bit of fun. And those are the moments for me as a leader that you, you need to try and replicate no matter what your method of working is, whether you are fully in the office, whether you are, you know, you've got a, a field based team of people who working remotely, you need to try and create those moments of levity in my opinion, because without them morale can dip really quickly.

MELANIE GREEN
So how does this Metaverse help solve those problems?

DAN CORCORAN
For me, the power of the metaverse is the way that you can literally just manifest something almost, you know, physically, um, and walk up to it and just engage with it.

APARITA BHANDARI
For example, when we were moving around, I could see various people sitting down and doing their work. So there was an opportunity for me to just walk up to the person, and tap them on the shoulder. Kinda like when you run into someone in the hallway or in the elevator, and have that – Oh I have been meaning to ask you – conversation that Dan was talking about.

DAN CORCORAN
Some people misunderstand the metaverse. I think we need to look at what the art of the possible is, but also what is it that, um, makes people enjoy what they do? And the environment is very much a big part of that.

APARITA BHANDARI
We finished our tour on the beach – it’s one of the most popular spots for Dan’s employees. And it does look like a beach – in a video game…

DAN CORCORAN
So as you can see, you know, we've got a fire pit, we've got some chairs, that's the little chill out area there. Um, and then we've got a bunch of, uh, umbrellas. We've got, uh, beach towels laid out. Uh, you can see the sea and there's, um, a fishing rod there and a fish on the end of it. And you can see some fish in the sea as well. So you can actually walk into the water, which is great.

APARITA BHANDARI
You can actually walk into the water. Can we, can we walk into the water a little bit?

DAN CORCORAN
There we go. We can wade into the water…
The most interesting thing about the beach is when I designed the metaverse, I designed the office area thinking everybody's gonna wanna sit in the office. And what I found was everybody wanted to sit on the beach. And you'll see people dotted along the beach, sitting on the towels. Um, and when you want to. Interact with somebody. Um, you can just walk up to them. // You can literally just tap them on the shoulder and have a quick chat. And that's brilliant when you're working on, um, you know, joint projects. It's great. If you just wanna say, Hey, how's your day. Are you having fun? Are you enjoying it, or, you know, are you having a bad day? You know, and sometimes people just want to kind of chat about that and you don't get that when you, when you're working remotely.

APARITA BHANDARI
Dan also told me that while his employees gravitate towards the beach – his clients want to go to the racetrack or the go-carts.

DAN CORCORAN
Quite often we'll do a client meeting and they'll say, what's this what's, what's the race track all about? And we'll, we'll actually hold a client meeting while we're racing around the track and it's chaos, but it's brilliant.

MELANIE GREEN
That actually sounds like a really cool way to break the ice or bond with clients.

APARITA BHANDARI
Exactly!

DAN CORCORAN
The interesting thing is our meetings seem to be, you know, maybe a five or 10 minutes longer, but we'll incorporate some fun. And I can't imagine meeting with a client and, you know, rocking up with a, a game of chess or something saying, Hey, before we do business, why don't we have a game of chess, cuz they're gonna laugh me out the room, right? But the interesting thing is when you bring them into this environment, You get them on a more personal level. Um, and actually they do want to have a bit of fun and it is new. It is exciting and they wanna see what's going on.

MELANIE GREEN
Whether you are working from home, or commuting into an office a few days, or spending your workdays online in the metaverse – communication and collaboration are key pillars of a successful hybrid work model. We need to be creative and compassionate in the ways that we relate to each other as we adjust to our “new” new normal. Whether that’s with a virtual go-cart race, or just a daily five-minute check-in with your colleagues.
This season is all about exploring the challenges and creative solutions that can make hybrid work sustainable and scalable. Be sure to subscribe in your favourite podcasting app so you never miss an episode.
I’m Melanie Green.
Next time on Remote Works, how much flexibility is TOO much flexibility?

KARLA
There were many days I drove in thinking I would have an in person meeting and I'd get there. And it would be like five people on zoom and me by myself in the office. So a little bit of a deflation!

MELANIE GREEN
Thanks for listening.

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