The importance of technology and collaboration tools was shifted to the forefront of employers’ minds when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Within days, if not sooner, employees were told to work from home without formal plans in place for remote work, let alone employee collaboration. Organizations had to lean on their resources to adapt quickly to support employees and help them thrive.
Tools such as Zoom, OneDrive and Teams all became the new norm and are likely here to stay for good. Surveys continue to show that the majority of employees prefer a hybrid work model when feasible, and our flexibility work arrangement policy aims to support the work-life integration that’s now routine for many of us. WashU’s Information Technology continues to provide updates and maintenance to ensure we can collaborate both in-person and remotely.
Moving forward, it’s important to understand, adopt and consistently use collaborative tools to support and increase employee satisfaction. The key idea here is that what employees do shouldn’t change just because they’re now doing it virtually.
The workplace no longer requires that communication take place in-person. With chat platforms, such like Teams, employees can connect through written communication that doesn’t always need an instantaneous response. Giving employees the flexibility to be productive both at work and at home helps support the idea of work-life integration.
Employees want and search for positions with flexible work options, and has become a selling point for many job seekers, especially women in the workplace. Providing flexible options and resources that support virtual work can help retain employees and recruit future team members.
Fostering and building work relationships
Collaboration through technology can also foster relationships on teams and throughout your department. Functions like Zoom’s capability to raise your hand or celebrate accomplishments encourages employee participation and positive experiences at work. Adding filters can also be a fun way to engage coworkers during virtual meetings. Teams also allows you to share emojis or gifs to help foster relationships and teamwork. These technological features help create a more engaging and rewarding employee experience.
The implementation and ubiquitous use of video chat and video presentation has allowed me to increase my one-on-one and small group consults and teachings. I get to talk to patrons face to face who would otherwise not have time to come into the library and chat in-person. Across the board, use of Zoom and Teams saves time and cultivates stronger personal relationships.
– Lauren Yaeger, medical librarian at Bernard Becker Medical Library
Providing more employee benefits
With access to virtual resources, employees now have access to a wider variety of webinars and tools to help them grow and focus on their well-being. From financial to emotional to professional well-being, having virtual options has been a game-changer for employee benefits. Learning and development offers online courses, certificates and professional development webinars. Financial planning and online courses provide tips for employees to understand how to best manage their finances. Mental health resources, such as mental health tools and appointments, can now be accessed online through apps and virtual appointments. Employees can take advantage of any of these benefits with a few clicks or finger swipes.
Using the “cloud” to lessen the load
Utilizing applications like OneDrive allows employees to edit documents in real-time. Not only can this increase productivity, it helps employees share the work of creating and editing documents easier than through in-person work. Leaving direct comments on documents also increase teamwork and efficiency compared to discussions at a meeting that’s left to one team member to compile and circulate for feedback. Project management systems or tools, like Planner, also allow for transparency in workload and completing project deadlines.
“We leveraged a number of collaboration tools during the Workday Implementation process, all of which were critical to our success. We used Microsoft Teams as an instant messaging tool, to file share, as a meeting venue and multi-user channel to share content and have large group chats. These Teams channels also served as a repository to design and decision documents that could be easily accessed by our Wash U teams and Collaborative Solution implementation partners.
Smartsheets served as another significant collaboration tool. Smartsheets is an online Excel-like spreadsheet similar to Google Sheets, which allows multiple users to made updates to a file concurrently. We managed our project plan, work lists, content inventory trackers, testing plans, etc.”
– Pat Gray, assistant vice chancellor, Human Resources Systems
Adapting our work culture to the new norm
The workplace culture shouldn’t be defined by the surrounding walls in which an employee sits each day. Leaders should embrace the new organizational norm as one that embraces technology and virtual collaboration, and then kneed that idea into the employee experience framework. Managers also need to feel supported with tools and IT support to make the culture a rewarding one. Finally, employees should be encouraged to use those resources and give feedback on ways to improve their experience.