By – Souvik Chakraborty
It’s safe to say that the COVID 19 pandemic has fundamentally altered the socio-economic fabric of our world. First discovered in December of 2019, the virus has since then proliferated to every nook and cranny of our world, infecting millions in its wake.
As a response, countries have established lockdowns of varying degrees. These have ranged from draconian to mildly restrictive, and have effectively shut down entire economies, transforming the global business space into a ghost town.
An unintended consequence of this fiasco has been a massive overhaul of the workspace. The traditional notion of an ‘office’ seems redundant now, with ‘work from home’ steadily rising as the new norm for productive engagement with colleagues and supervisors alike.
However, such a drastic change in working protocols for professionals calls for a comprehensive analysis of the nuances of working from home, and what that means for team dynamics in a post COVID world.
A Workplace Quandary
Workplace engagement has taken a massive hit due to the lockdowns globally. The norm in the pre-COVID world was to opt for teamwork wherever possible, be it for brainstorming on a critical project, or to resolve conflicts. Such an approach was effective at creating a sense of community in the workplace, transforming it into a personal space as opposed to a rigid framework for increased productivity.
With the abrupt eradication of workplace collaboration, however, employees have been finding themselves in a tight spot. Intricate problems have become difficult to deal with, further pushing employees to a state of low motivation, where satisfaction from work seems to be non-existent.
Reports of mental health deterioration have been rampant, with a survey conducted by the Indian Psychiatry Society reporting a 20% increase in cases of mental health disorders within the very first week of the lockdown. The data further goes on to reveal that the number of cases has only magnified ever since, and at an increasingly exponential pace.
Such dire circumstances have called for flexibility in the approach towards teamwork, and a higher emphasis on remote meeting procedures. It’s no wonder then that, major players in the video conferencing domain have reaped massive profits during the lockdown. Arguably the most popular of the bunch, Zoom, has reported a whopping 418% increase in user engagement over the first two months of lockdown in the US. Another such platform, the
Microsoft Teams collaboration suite, operated by Microsoft, has reported an increase of over 12 million people in its user base in the very first week of the lockdown in the US.
Approach to Effective Collaboration from a Distance
It has become increasingly evident that the COVID-19 is here to stay for a while, and thus arises the need for evolving approaches towards teamwork within the ‘work from home’ framework.
The first step in combating the grim new workplace reality is to effectively carve out an action plan that aims to serve the employees and promote distanced collaborative endeavours. A likely point of initiation is to critically examine the current circumstances to be able to comprehend what lies ahead of us.
The next course of action must be to adjust our expectations from collaborations accordingly. Gone are the days when we could schedule a 3-hour long brainstorming session to counter a complex problem. As convenient it is to be connected to your colleagues via video- conferencing platforms. One must realize that staring at a screen for hours on end isn’t pragmatic and may even be damaging for the team members in the long run.
The next and most crucial aspect of this process is to ensure optimum connectivity during periods of engagement. It’s paramount for every team member to have access to a computer and a reasonably fast internet connection. In case of discrepancies in the availability of crucial technical equipment, immediate action must be taken to ensure timely delivery and set-up of the required system for uninterrupted workflow. As obvious as these may sound, skipping this step in the process is a recipe for disaster.
Aid and Assistance
Effective planning lays a strong foundation for the collaborative process. Which then needs to be facilitated by appropriate actions that ensure a streamlined process of remote working.
Two critical facilitative actions must be considered.
The first is for the moderator to be more methodological in his/her approach towards facilitating the video conference. One way to do this is to only invite a few people at a time, those being the ones who are indispensable to the project.
Another way is to invite the entire team but to mute the ones not directly correlated to the particular course of discussion happening at the said moment.
Another useful tool is the chatbox, which can be indispensable while communicating written documents or links to downloadable materials. Granted, using these tools can be tedious and time-consuming. But it’s worth noting that such tools help eliminate, or at least truncate the possibility of absolute chaos during the meeting.
The second course of action is to imbibe a sense of empathy towards one’s colleagues. The lockdown has been an incredibly stressful time. One must realise that the person on the other
side of the screen might be walking a slippery slope, and might require moral and emotional support. Antipathy towards such suffering must not be promoted during such a crisis. A more inclusive approach must be adopted for effective team engagement in the era of a remote mode of collaboration.
The Path to a Brighter Future
The aforementioned steps are by no means exhaustive, and barely scratch the surface of an evolving workplace narrative. However, such steps may contribute towards an acceptable point of initiation, and carve out a path heading in the right direction. One that promotes inclusive learning and healthy working sensitivity in the era of a globally spanning lockdown.
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