The global spread of COVID-19 has not only challenged healthcare systems internationally, but has also fundamentally changed the way we work and interact with each other. Before the pandemic, virtual collaboration models or hybrid settings were the exception rather than the rule, but they have now become an integral part of everyday working life.

These changes have not only affected the way teams work together but also our attitude towards collaboration as a whole. At the beginning of the pandemic, the rapid and widespread introduction of remote working was a significant challenge for many people because completely new issues arose that had to be managed: separation of work and private life, distractions at home, etc. On the other hand, once the initial hurdles were overcome, many employees realized that working from home offered new opportunities, such as flexible working hours, location-independent jobs, etc.

I want to present a practical case today that shows collaboration is of central importance in every setting, regardless of external circumstances, and that organizations need to invest to be modern and ensure that collaboration within and between teams works well.

The organization we are looking at is medium-sized and operates in the IT sector. Before the pandemic, the management lovingly renovated the office space and created many amenities for employees to feel comfortable in the office. Collaboration was already important before the pandemic and still is today.

Before the pandemic, the teams were already working very independently. The managers see themselves as supporters of their employees, ensuring that the experts can fulfill their tasks. Before the pandemic, they were usually also heavily involved in the content. They were sometimes profoundly involved in the projects without constantly being the project manager.

This organization was already technically well-equipped before the pandemic. The employees have good PCs, laptops, second screens, etc. Technical equipment is available in the meeting rooms – projectors and fixed screens and cameras.

When the pandemic hit, and the employees of this organization also moved to work from home, the office was suddenly deserted. Only a few people continued to go to the office regularly; most people worked from home.

The management team and the experts created an entirely digital working environment and ensured that communication was simple and without technical hurdles for all employees within a very short time.

The team members did not meet in person for long periods. Nevertheless, thanks to the good technical equipment and the practised use of the technical tools, the employees were able to keep in touch with each other via various channels and work well together.

After the pandemic, when everyone could return to the office, it was initially noticeable that the rooms remained sparsely occupied, and most employees preferred to continue working from home.

The management team had different views on this. From the economic perspective: “We have a separate desk for each person – do we still need that?” to “People no longer see each other and therefore lose personal contact – we need to regulate this somehow,” everything was represented.

Teams’ tasks only changed before and after the pandemic to the extent that collaboration tools improved rapidly, and the use of analog tools virtually disappeared.

The managers have now found an excellent way to deal with the new digital working world, together with the teams.

Each team has defined a fixed day each week on which everyone is in the office. On this day, they have breakfast together and discuss important matters. The teams also have lunch together and use this day to work together in person. In most cases, these days are not productive, considering the amount of work done on this day. Still, the open issues are reduced to practically zero after the team day, as the day is mainly used to clarify more complex matters.

For the rest of the week, the teams decide independently when to meet in person and when to hold hybrid meetings, for example. The meeting rooms are equipped in such a way that hybrid work is possible. For the teams, it is now irrelevant whether one person is at home or in the office for a meeting, as the meeting room is used as soon as more than two people are in the building. The teams always plan “in-person meetings” for the next two weeks so that the rooms are sufficiently available.

In addition to the regular joint “check-ins,” the managers hold monthly meetings with all their employees in which they pay specific attention to how people are doing personally, what support they need to fulfill their tasks, and where there are points at which the manager should intervene.

A summary

Effective collaboration is crucial in flat hierarchies, as team members have to learn to work well together without always having a clear “leader” who controls the work dynamic. This requirement was already in place before the pandemic and remains relevant today.

It is important to develop this competence regardless of the working environment—be it analog, hybrid, or digital. A high level of process competence in collaboration is crucial for success in all environments. This can include working with clear objectives, structured approaches, or effective facilitation.

It is also essential to strengthen your social skills, especially in increasingly digital working environments. Listening well, asking the right questions, accepting others, and promoting a positive working environment are crucial.

But what should you do if colleagues decide to work from home because they would instead work alone?

This question should be clarified as soon as you join the company. It is essential to consider whether it benefits the team or the position if certain people prefer to work alone and undisturbed. If necessary, rules can be laid down that everyone must adhere to ensure effective collaboration.

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