How to Collaborate (in Real Time!) with a Remote Team

Gustavo Grodnitzky Employee Engagement, Organizational Culture

We’ve been talking about how you and your organization can adapt to the emerging hybrid workforce. In my last blog article, I discussed the shift to asynchronous communication, which allows you to be anywhere, at any time, and still be able to send, receive and understand a message.

However, in some situations, there’s just no substitute for real-time communication. To thrive in the world of hybrid work, we need a way to talk through problems, brainstorm and develop ideas together — without collaborators being in the same place. And, ideally, we want to make this happen without scheduling more calls or Zoom meetings that eat into everyone’s day. So what does the future of collaboration look like?

How the Pandemic Changed Collaboration

Most of us are used to collaboration happening when all the collaborators are in the same place (usually their organization’s offices) at the same time. This is called co-located synchronous collaboration. Any time you say something like “Let’s reserve the conference room for a couple of hours so we can hash this out” or “Let’s meet in your office for an hour to discuss the next steps of this project,” you are instigating synchronous collaboration.

Enter the Covid-19 pandemic. With their offices shut down, many teams were forced to collaborate by passing documents back and forth while taking turns changing or commenting on those documents. They were engaging in distributed asynchronous collaboration: collaborating from different locations at different times. This will be an important skill as the hybrid workforce of the future takes shape.

The Solution: Open Zoom Hours

But there’s another skill we need to add to our toolkits for those times that demand more creative, spontaneous interactions. Distributed synchronous collaboration is a new frontier for many of us. But some best practices are emerging.

For us and for many of our clients, a method we call “open Zoom hours” has been the solution. Here’s how it works:

  • Your team (or any other group of collaborators) agrees to be in a Zoom Room during a certain time period — for example, 10 a.m. to noon MDT. (You could also use any other video conferencing platform, such as Teams or Webex.)
  • Cameras are off and everyone works individually. But participants agree to stay within earshot of their computer.
  • Let’s say you are in this Zoom Room and you have a question for your colleague Tara. You would turn on your camera and say, “Tara, are you there?”
  • Tara would then turn on her camera and the two of you would begin your synchronous communication and collaboration — with everyone else in the Zoom Room listening.
  • Then let’s say that another colleague, Alaina, sees a way she could contribute to your conversation. Alaina would then turn on her camera and say something like, “I understand that’s how you solved that problem a couple of years ago, Tara, but let me tell you how we solved it only six months ago.”

In other words, an Open Zoom Hours session is like having your team sitting around a conference room table, doing their own work independently and chiming in as necessary to contribute a thought, idea or solution.

This method has worked well for our clients, including those in fields that typically rely heavily on co-located synchronous collaboration, such as architecture, design and engineering. They continue to reap the advantages of real-time collaboration while still giving employees the autonomy they want in choosing where to work.

Are You Ready to Evolve?

If all of that feels a little bit out there and “not the way things are done” at your organization, I would ask you to remember that the greatest obstacle to your future success is your current success. People, particularly those who have succeeded in leadership positions, hesitate to adapt or change to anything that is (to them) untried and unproven.

But, as you’ve no doubt heard many times, what made us succeed over the past 10 years is not what will make us succeed over the next 10 years. Future success will come to those willing to give up antiquated systems and processes for new and better ones.

Are you willing to abandon what made you successful over the past 10 years, such as co-located synchronous collaboration, for what will make you successful over the next 10 years, such as distributed synchronous collaboration? It’s your decision. Choose wisely.

As I continue this series of articles about succeeding in the hybrid workforce, I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note.

Until then, let’s keep cultivating our culture, together!