People

Recapturing collaboration: the art and science of making hybrid work

As organisations plan a return to the office within a hybrid model, data insights can show the extent to which collaborative performance has been lost – and what needs to be done to recapture it

Supported by more data, organisations with large numbers of knowledge workers are beginning to understand and appreciate the cost of working from home. Many studies (using self-reported questionnaire data) confirm that employees feel they are being productive and effective while working from home. Companies are comforted by the fact that this is accompanied by sustained financial results.

However, collaboration has suffered. As organisations make a return to office, it is critical to understand what happened while working from home and to recapture what has been lost. Extensive presentations and reports confirm that, because of many variables, the experience of remote working has been very different (good and bad) for individuals, even within the same organisation. Understanding the changes, first of moving to work from home, then moving back to some form of office, will give insights into what is needed in terms of the amount and configuration of space going forward.

What has been lost?

Here are the casualties:

  • Personal networks: Dramatic decrease in breadth, depth and strength of personal networks, with few significant new connections developed.
  • Cross-functional collaboration: People focused on their departmental and team relationships. Cross-functional and inter-silo relationships dwindled.
  • Network dynamics: The rate at which significant new relationships are established and developed has come to a virtual standstill. New connections add value to people’s ability to do their jobs effectively and increase productivity.
  • Team connectedness: the strength of the ‘collective connectedness’ of teams and groups has fallen.

All of this can be measured in a data analytics framework, with de-identified data (to meet privacy and security concerns) and an over-arching governance model to assure that people only see data and information they are authorised to see. At its core is the measurement of strength of relationships between individuals and collaboration clusters. With datasets from different time periods (such as pre-Covid, early Covid and current Covid), one can measure the actual changes in collaborative behaviour, which is a proxy for a change in collective productivity.

In partnership with WORKTECH Academy, Collabogence has launched a research study. Participating organisations will receive a relatively quick assessment of what has happened over time to the collaborative performance of their teams, groups, and departments. In most cases, the data can be extracted from archives. The insights derived from these changes can be the foundation for an agile workplace strategy.

We do not dispute that many people feel they are effective and productive while working from home. The question we pose is this: would sharing the impact of working from home on the collaborative performance and collective connectedness of the organisation not help to understand the value of a well-working hybrid office model, so they can have flexibility and recapture lost collaboration?

There are a number of things to consider.

1: Sharing data with teams, groups and departments

Providing insights on what happened in the organisation’s groups, teams and departments will increase understanding. Perhaps even track the measurement over time so everyone can see the impact for themselves. This is about the collective, not the individual. Roles and styles vary, so it is not about a single measurement, rather about the change that takes place. What can be done to help those groups who have lost the most and have had trouble improving during the course of working from home life?

2: Focused Training

By means of the data, those groups which have lost the most and are still having trouble can easily be identified. Once identified, focused training, such as provided by Operate Remote and Remote-How, can be scheduled, and over time, the impact measured. Longer-term, those trained will benefit as they will have shifted on the future-of-work spectrum.

3: Coordinated timing

As employees return to their offices, it is critical, that they see value in being there. People they work with should be there at the same time as they are, especially beyond their own groups, teams or departments. Knowing which groups have strong connections with each other allows them to coordinate time in the office. This can be facilitated through data-sharing with booking systems.

4: Visibility – who is in the office?

Give employees visibility into who of their primary collaborators are in the office when they are, even where in the office they are. This can be achieved in two ways. In both cases, the employee only sees their primary collaborators (unique list). They do not see everyone. An ‘opt in’ layer can even be added.  The first way to achieve this is by means of booking systems such as Smarten Spaces. Another way to do so is by means of adding wi-fi data from systems such as Locatee. Proper governance is mandatory.  

5: Adjacencies (who shares space with who)

During pre-pandemic work, the value of getting adjacencies right was confirmed. Inter-group relationship strengths were measured and used to ‘compose’ populations for spaces; post-move (more than 100 days in new space) increases in space connectedness of over 35 per cent were measured. Getting adjacencies right is therefore critical as people return to their offices. Most will agree that much, if not all of this increase in connectedness due to sharing space, was lost as they worked from home.

With an ‘adjacency optimiser’, groups, team or departments can be dragged and dropped from floor to floor or from building to building, to test adjacency scenarios. Each space ‘collective connectedness’ is recalculated, and one can see if the proposed move adds value. This can be used for ‘stacking’ new spaces or evaluating existing populations within a space to see who has the most and the least value from being in the space with the others and suggesting changes to optimise locations.

Over the past two years, people have changed the way that they work. Going forward in some form of hybrid model, they may change how they work again. Understanding how and with whom people work and connect, and how they use space, is critical. From this data, ‘personas’ are derived – a  series of behaviour profiles.

6   Assess suitability of space design

Knowing the mix of ‘personas’ in a group who are to share space allows one to assess whether or not the proposed space layout and mix of types of space (meeting, social, collaborative or focus space) meets their needs. In short, this opens the door for data-driven design.

‘Many organisations are unsure of how hybrid should work and what the results will be…’

In summary, data allows insights into how and with whom your people work, and what their space requirements are. Many organisations are unsure of how hybrid should work and what the results will be. These insights allow for the development of agile workplace strategies with a much higher level of confidence of outcome. Ultimately, this can lead to having more effective, collaborative employees and a clear picture of how much and what kind of space is required for your employees, all done in a secure data environment, to protect privacy and guided by the appropriate governance.

This article is the third in a series by Peter Smit, Founder of Collabogence, a Toronto-based analytics company, about using data to build an agile workplace strategy in response to Covid-19 and assure strong, collaborative organisations going forward. Read earlier articles by Peter Smit here and here.
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