In another special guest post for Collaboration Week, Sally Harrison from Unify Enterprise Communications introduces us to the concept of the virtual coffee break.
Each day at 3pm I have a standing conference call. Yes, I know that is not unusual but what if I told you that I actually look forward to this call, – which has no agenda but is entitled “Virtual Coffee Break”.
My daily “virtual coffee break” lasts only 15 mins and each week I have this break with someone different on my team. There is no set agenda but the conversation inevitably drifts to a common topic, our business and what we are working on. This meeting always ends up being so different from others because the conversation is unfailingly honest and we talk about real issues at a new level and how we can help each other and the business. On numerous occasions I have found that my informal conversations have had a very positive impact on my work, removing blockers and improving business results.
Even though I am a true #anywhereworker (thanks to technology and the culture of my business) and I love the flexibility it offers – I do miss the personal connection that comes with talking to people (colleagues or agency partners) – understanding them and building those relationship.
That’s my experience and one that we at Unify felt was worth exploring further. We have always been interested in the way people interact (well you would expect that from an enterprise communications company) and increasingly how virtual teams work effectively.
The first in our new research series, Unify New Way to Work Index, ran between January and February 2014 and surveyed more than 300 executives across the globe focusing on the habits and constructs of successful teams. Among the results was the finding that 94% of respondents work on teams with remote and/or mobile team members.
It also gave some insight into the behavior of successful virtual teams:
- Those on very successful teams are more personable in their habits. 71 percent of them engage in personal/non-business conversation with colleagues daily or weekly, compared to just 42 percent of those on less successful teams.
- Successful team members reach out across locations. 86 percent of those on the most successful teams regularly reach out to colleagues at other sites merely to keep in touch
- Dialogue trumps monologue in successful team meetings. 77 percent of those on highly successful teams say less than a quarter of their meetings are one-way monologues. Only 16% of those on struggling teams can say the same
Successful teams collaborate freely wherever they are. Only 16 percent of those on the most successful teams say they are less likely to voice disagreement on virtual calls than they would in face-to-face meetings; compared to 55 percent of those on less successful teams.
I fully appreciate that we are all extremely busy – but I promise you if do make an increased personal effort with your virtual team members – you will reap the benefits. So what are you waiting for? Open your calendar now and book a short virtual coffee break with a colleague you don’t see often, or ever…
It will be the cornerstone of a whole new way to work.
Sally Harrison is the head of social media for Unify, a provider of enterprise communications and collaboration solutions. Since October Unify has placed a huge emphasis on the new way to work – and that while technology is important, it is people’s mindsets and behavior that need to adapt.
As part of our Collaboration Week, we’re giving you the opportunity to ask Professor Lynda Gratton and Hot Spots Movement COO Tina Schneidermann questions about collaboration and join the conversation to share your own perspective.
When is it?
We’re running the Tweetjam twice, at 10-11am BST and 3-4pm on Wednesday 16th April 2014.
How do I participate?
The first step is to follow @HSpotM so you can see our tweets. If you’re asking a question or commenting on another tweet, using the hashtag #collabweek14 – you can also use this hashtag to find tweets from other participants.
We are pleased to announce the first speakers for our Collaboration Week pop-up on April 17th.
Join us at Somerset House for the climax of our Collaboration Week programme. On Thursday 17th April, from 12pm-6pm, we’ll be hosting a pop-up event in the West Wing at Somerset House, featuring guest speakers, a collaboration questionnaire and the opportunity to speak to our team of experts in the Collaboration Surgery.
Lightning talk programme
Our programme of lightning talks will be kicked off at 12.30pm by Hot Spots Movement COO Tina Schneidermann, who will be followed by a range of speakers including:
- 1pm – Gail Kirby, Vodafone, on Building trust between individuals and managers
- 1.30pm – Professor Lynda Gratton, Founder, Hot Spots Movement, on Productive Practices
- 2pm – Steve Goldberg, Technical Writer, Venda, on Rewarding and recognising collaboration
- 2.30pm – Emma Birchall, Head of Research – Future of Work, Hot Spots Movement
- 3pm – Deborah Bickler, Save the Children, on Building critical capability through global collaboration
We’re still finalising our running order, so we’ll be announcing themes and adding speakers throughout the week.
Complete our specially formulated collaboration questionnaire and return it to us to receive your personalised collaboration report.
Do you have a burning question about collaboration? Want some tips on how to improve your teams? We’ll have a team of collaboration experts on hand all day to answer your questions and share their knowledge – just book yourself an appointment on the surgery board when you arrive.
By Lynda Gratton
Something that is becoming increasingly apparent in the discussion around corporate resilience is that creativity matters. Large organisations are building vast banks of talented and creative employees to ensure they are ahead of the competition. However, when it comes to tapping into the potential inherent in this talent pool, they can find themselves at a loss, frequently going back to the same small group of people for their next big business idea.
With employees scattered over the world it can be challenging to find out what your people are thinking. In an attempt to mitigate this, many companies already have open innovation programmes to help them discover the thoughts and ideas of individuals both inside and outside their organisation. Practices such as sharing business plans with a wider audience and inviting employees to provide input are proven to have a positive impact on sales.
One avenue for surfacing ideas which I think too many companies ignore is experimentation. This can be a particularly valuable process when you are faced with problems to which no-one has a ready-made answer.
It seems obvious to me that if you are faced with an unknown, you need to experiment around the issue to find an answer. All the breakthroughs we have seen in medicine, for example, have come through a process of hypothesis, experimentation and clinical trials where several different options are tried out and compared. Despite the scientific record, very few companies dare to experiment. Recently, when I was seeking out examples of corporate experimentation for my book, The Key, I found that they were few and far between. In fact, the only two that made it into the finished book were at Roche and Xerox. This is despite the fact that one of the biggest changes in the workplace – flexible working – was the result of repeated experimentation at BT.
Looking at the examples of experimentation I did find, most of them were led by scholars or academics, such as Professor Ruth Wageman, who led the self-managing teams project at Xerox. This is another indication that companies are apprehensive about experimenting themselves. And if companies as a whole are poor at experimentation, their HR departments are worse. And yet, I feel that if companies would only dare to try, experimentation has a wealth of benefits to offer. Take, for example, the sphere of performance management. HR teams, managers and employees all agree that current processes are ineffective, but none of them have alternatives. Experimentation would be an ideal way to find methods that really work – and, as with BT, for your organisation’s discovery to become the model that others follow for decades to come.
Lynda Gratton’s latest book, The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving Some of the World’s Toughest Problems will be published on June 1st and is available to pre-order through Amazon now.
By Lynda Gratton
If you could name a single factor as the biggest enemy of employee retention in your organisation, what would it be? My guess would be job design – specifically, the availability of career customisation.
You might think your organisation already offers career customisation and improved job design, but let me make my point clear: improving job design is not that same as bringing flexibility into work. Many – if not most – large corporations have flexible working arrangements. But when it comes to improved job design – by which I mean initiatives such as phased retirement, job share schemes and, on- and off-boarding ramps, they are lagging far behind. I estimate that such companies have a period of three years at most to introduce these elements of job design before the lack of them starts to have a serious impact.
This is becoming an urgent issue. As things stand, when people want to customise their careers they do so by leaving the company. The most valuable people are building their career elsewhere because companies are not providing what they need.
This talent drain is just one reason why companies need to ramp up their experiments and pilots in the field of job design: and it’s about to get worse. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, life stage is becoming an increasingly important factor in people’s career choices – and people reach these stages at vastly different ages. For example, some employees will choose to become parents in their 20s, while others do the same in their 40s. As people start to live longer, we will see more and more people rejecting traditional linear career paths and opting for careers that move sideways, downwards, or even pause for a while. It is the companies that are dealing with these issues already – and the ones that act now to start handling them more effectively – that will prove resilient over the coming decades.
The importance of scale
So why are so many companies, many of whom have already invested heavily in flexible working and job design, failing so miserably in this respect? One reason is that companies have for too long associated the idea of career customisation with motherhood. Often because when women in particular leave an organisation, there is an immediate assumption they are doing so to start a family. In fact, what I’ve noticed about my MBA students at LBS is that often when they leave a company, it’s to start their own business. And a key reason for this is that doing so empowers them to take charge of their own job design.
A damaging side effect of associating career customisation with motherhood is a lack of scale. You may have some great improved job design initiatives but failing to scale them beyond the concept of maternity leave means that employees will continue to achieve career customisation by moving on.
The solution to this problem is to make career customisation fluid, mainstream and transparent. Healthy, loyal employees have control over how, when, where they work and can manage their careers in tune with the rhythms of their life. To enable this, employers need to let workers know that the design of their job can change according to their circumstances and that customisation is available to everyone, not just mothers. Above all, they need to know what their options are at each stage of their life and career, so that they can make the appropriate choices.
By Lynda Gratton
The topic of emotional vitality has recently become increasingly popular in HR circles – and the general consensus is that if you are an employee, your emotional vitality is suffering at the hands of your employers.
This might be important news to individuals, but why are so many companies interested? Why do they care if people are stressed or tired?
The reason is that as work becomes more complex, balance and creativity are becoming increasingly vital to competitive advantage – and it’s a well-established research finding that while tired, stressed people are perfectly able to do their normal everyday tasks, they are also less able to be creative.
Stress is your biggest risk
So, what exactly are organisations doing to destroy their employees’ emotional vitality? The #1 answer everywhere is stress – and there are three reasons why.
- Demands and obligations – Stressed people often cite the number demands and obligations placed upon them at work as a key cause of stress. What this tells us is that stress often originates from the design of work, with many employees finding themselves faced with ridiculous demands as a result of poor management and duplication of effort. To combat this, companies need to design work to manage the demands the demands placed on people and to reduce the amount of unimportant tasks people are required to perform.
- Discretionary time – My research shows that when it comes to stress, the issue is not the hours people work but whether they have the capacity to take time out to rejuvenate themselves. We could all work for 12 hours a day. In fact, many of us have been selected for our jobs because we have the ability to do so. The important thing is that we can’t do it all the time. What matters is not simply taking time off, but when we do it and whether we feel we can do so. There’s nothing wrong with expecting employees to be always-on as long as they know that is the nature of the job and they have ample time to recuperate.
- Constraint – If you ask what drives Gen Y workers what drives them mad at work, presenteeism is often the answer. Younger employees resent the need to stay in the office until 10pm and the constraint of having to be “seen”. In fact they find it upsetting, since working additional hours affords them little advantage. Crucially, this is not about flexible working but about job design and recuperation.
These issues matter because stress is a huge problem – one so big, it’s actually business risk. In fact next time you conduct a risk analysis, you should probably include stress on your risk list. And as you can see, job design is key when it comes to mitigating this risk.
The importance of the work-home cycle
As research by academics such as Hans-Joachim Wolfram shows, the work-home cycle also has a huge role to play when it comes to managing and combating stress. This cycle can be either caustic and draining, or positive. Work doesn’t have the monopoly on stress – a person’s home life can be stressful too – but for the most part, people leave home feeling authentic and resilient at home because it is a place where they can feel authentic and have the opportunity to recuperate in a supportive environment. However, if people leave home feeling guilty or anxious, it can affect their stress levels at work. By the same token, if an individual leaves work feeling networked, inspired by things they have learnt, this has a positive spillover into their home life: in this context, work is good and the knowledge and connections gained there can be a source of support for the family.
To get the balance of the work-home cycle right, organisations need to stop thinking about work and home as two unconnected spheres, because they are incredibly connected. Companies must think about how they support families and about whether employees have enough scope to ensure a cycle of positive spillover.
We’re pleased to announce the theme of our Collaboration Week webinar: Leading a Collaborative Organisation. Professor Lynda Gratton will deliver a talk based on this topic, and will be joined by a special guest speaker. The webinar, which will be broadcast live at 10am BST and 3pm BST on Monday, 14th April is part of a week of Collaboration-based activities organised by The Hot Spots Movement.
- Join one of our events – contact email@example.com to register your interest for our free webinar and/or pop-up event.
- Invite your network – Do you know anyone else who is passionate about collaboration? Invite them along.
- Submit an article – We’re also taking submissions on collaboration for our newsletter and blog – so if you have an opinion or a story to tell, get in touch. To register for any of our events or to submit some content, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep checking our blog and Twitter feed for the latest speaker announcements and collaboration content.