With COVID vaccination rates rising and restrictions easing, Australia is planning its reopening. For many organisations that means the opportunity to bring people back to the physical workplace in some capacity. Even so, hybrid working is likely to continue across corporate Australia.
To help you set your organisation up for success post COVID, we spoke to Allan Ryan, Executive Director at Hargraves Institute and collaboration expert, to hear his thoughts on the benefits of coming together – and why remote working isn’t always the answer.
Benefit 1: Connection
Coming together in a shared physical space provides employees with a better opportunity to network and create connections with their co-workers, and many agree. A recent report found 93% of employees want to spend more time in the office collaborating in small teams.1
“Building rapport, sharing insights and effective collaboration are the key ingredients to creating high performing teams and strong company culture. As employees spend more time away from the office, they’ve starting to see the value of working with team members in a physical space. This longing to connect has become a strong incentive to return to the office,” says Allan.
TIP: The evolution of the workplace and the future success of teams rely on transforming the workplace into a broader ‘lifestyle hub’, where employees not only work but can access health and wellness services, relax and rewind and have casual conversations with other employees. Create collaborative hubs using ottomans, lounges and stools to encourage greater social connection and collaboration. It’s also a good idea to stock workplace kitchens with tea, coffee and a variety of other snacks and beverages to support this.
The limits of digital
While online platforms are adequate for collaboration, sharing information and connecting with team members, face-to-face communication is much more effective. “Remote working has resulted in the rise of feelings of loneliness and isolation and overall, it can be quite boring. Many people benefit from exposure to variety and external stimuli when they’re interacting with others in a shared space. This is where meeting rooms, collaborative spaces and even the workplace kitchen play a key role in forming connections,” says Allan.
Benefit 2: Energy
“When people interact and connect with one another, an exchange of energy occurs. This energy becomes a driving force for creativity, innovation and stronger team collaboration. While it’s certainly possible to achieve this through video calls, it’s more difficult to build the momentum that’s created when people come together in a physical space. This is why office meetups are so important,” says Allan.
Energy drain in online meetings
Studies reveal that online video meetings decrease energy levels for several reasons. “The first is excessive amounts of direct eye contact. When you’re in a face-to-face setting, it’s natural to look around the room and break eye contact but when you’re on a video call, everyone is looking at everyone all the time,” says Allan.
A study conducted by Microsoft found brainwave patterns associated with stress were significantly higher during remote collaboration and due to higher levels of sustained concentration on video calls, fatigue began to set in within 30-40 minutes of a meeting starting.2
“Then you have the factor of reduced mobility. When conversations are happening face to face, employees are more able to move around, walk around the office or even walk to the local coffee shop together. In video meetings, you stay seated in the same place, sometimes for long periods on days filled with back-to-back meetings,” says Allan.
A study conducted by the University of Melbourne found that movement and walking can improve cognitive performance, enabling people to make rapid decisions and precise movements in changing environments.3
“Online meetings can also mean greater cognitive load. When you’re interacting face-to-face, nonverbal cues and gestures are better interpreted but in video chats, these signals can be harder to send and receive,” says Allan.
TIP: The next time your team comes together, maximise the energy of face-to-face brainstorming sessions and workshops with technology solutions like laser pointers, as well as office products like whiteboards and whiteboard markers, colourful post-it notes and coloured paper to record and convey messages. By creating dedicated spaces for collaboration with furniture like ottomans and lounges, you are one step closer to building a more connected team.
Benefit 3: Boundaries
One survey asking employees about their ideal remote work location found 77% of responses centred around four key areas: setting boundaries (25%), staying focused and productive (20%), protecting your mental and physical health (23%) and putting personal priorities first (9%).4
“Those who return to the office will find they can benefit from quiet spaces and have more opportunities for quiet focus. Children, housemates, pets and other distractions like housework can be big distractions when you’re working from home, making it more difficult to focus on complex tasks. Access to spaces for both individual and collaborative work are crucial to productivity and high performance,” informs Allan.
TIP: Create dedicated spaces for quiet focus, common areas for relaxation, and collaboration rooms for interaction and team building. Populating these spaces with the right furniture will play a big role in transforming the workplace and bringing people back into the office.
Blurred boundaries in remote working
Working from home can make it more difficult to achieve work-life balance and many parents are now the most eager to return to the office.
Senior marketing manager at Winc and mum of two Tania Corvelo identifies with this challenge. “Being a parent is a full-time job, so it can be a delicate balancing act to make time for my little ones, attend all my meetings, focus on getting my work done and tending to other responsibilities around the house. Having that physical separation when I’m able to go into the office helps make the boundaries between being a mum and being a working professional much clearer,” says Tania.
“I joined the team just a few months ago and not long after, we went into lockdown. While working from home has its pros, the energy in face-to-face interactions is unmatched by online meetings. Being able to turn around and have a casual conversation with a co-worker sitting nearby is one of the things I miss most about being in the office. Something as simple as grabbing a coffee with someone is a really powerful way to build connections,” added Tania.
Since the pandemic, ways of working have dramatically changed and the shift to online working has presented a new set of challenges. There’s no going back – how teams work in the future will be different. It’s crucial to rethink the design of the workplace to encourage connection, creativity and celebration.
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1Deloitte, 2015, ‘Innovation, high performance and diversity’, <https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/human-capital/articles/creating-high-performing-leadership-teams.html>
2Spataro, J., 2020, ‘The future of work – the good, the challenging & the unknown’, <https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/blog/2020/07/08/future-work-good-challenging-unknown/>
3Mokhtarzadeh, H., 2021, ‘DO YOU THINK BETTER WHEN YOU’RE MOVING?’, <https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/do-you-think-better-when-you-re-moving>
4GitLab, 2020, ‘Out of the Office’, <https://about.gitlab.com/resources/downloads/gitlab-out-of-the-office-2021.pdf>