It’s turning out that, for at least some, working at home is not so bad. Many have found ways to adapt. Some even think they’re being more productive. One of the things that’s not happening is unplanned chance encounters in hallways, break rooms, and the like. This has to impact the quality of relationships over time. We all need to compensate for this by paying attention to individuals’ personal circumstances when we do interact with them and by leveraging excuses to contact people outside of formal, planned interactions.
Advertising executive Bill Backer’s flight to London in January, 1971 was diverted to Shannon, Ireland and held there. After a while, someone took pity on the stranded passengers and wheeled a cooler of Coca-Cola into the waiting room. It brought people together as they gathered around the cooler to share Cokes and their stories. That incident was the inspiration for Backer’s song and commercial, “I’d like to teach the world to sing.”
It happens in every workplace all over the world. Steve Jobs went so far as to put all the toilets in the middle of his new Apple headquarters so people had to interact with others from different parts of the company.
Productivity of working at home
Productivity is about delivering results. You can be more productive if you deliver the same result with less time or resources – more efficient. Or you can be more productive if you deliver better results with the same time or resources – more effective.
Most of the people that are being more productive working from home are being more efficient. For one, they’re saving all sorts of commuting time. Many are finding they get interrupted by work colleagues less often and there are less unplanned meetings. (Of course, some have more unplanned meetings with the other occupants of their quarantine space.)
Partly as a result of this, many are able to concentrate better on things they are working on by themselves. So, for some, there’s an effectiveness boost as well.
The same is not going to be true for working with others. Relationships and trust are built over time by working together, caring about each other, and making and fulfilling commitments. There is no way relationships can stay as strong if people are separated by distance. The longer the separation, the more people have to work to maintain those relationships – and their productivity together.
Planned and Unplanned Interaction Time
Somehow there seems to be a little more time for casual conversation in and around meetings in the office. People don’t all show up at the same time. Some linger after the close of the meeting. There are often breaks in the middle of the meeting during which people can share a Coke (or coffee or tea or anything else.)
This happens less in conference calls or video calls. People show up closer to the right time (which is a good thing.) They log off at the end of meetings. And they take breaks on their own. Thus, you need to be deliberate about relationship building.
Over time, we should expect virtual and online interactions to get better and better. As they do, the need for excuses to contact may go down. Still, let me suggest some possible ways to do this until the technology catches up.
News tips. Send people links to news tips – perhaps with your point of view.
Others’ articles. Send people links to articles you like and then follow up to have a conversation with the people you send them to.
Birthdays. Call or video on their birthdays.
Connecting software like Mandalay or H360 (in which I’m an investor.) These will tell you who else in your organization are working on the same things you are so you can connect with them.
Virtual hallways. Agree to wander through the same video chat room or Zoom meeting room or the like at the same time – just to connect.
Virtual team rooms. Leverage shared documents so people can wander in and out at will and leave thoughts, comments and ideas. Ideally, you’d have three boards in your virtual team room:
- Action: milestones (action, date, accountable, status/help needed,) communication (who, what, when,) parking lot.
- Plan: mission, vision, objectives, goals, strategies, guiding principles
- Insights: customers, collaborators, capabilities, competitors, conditions.