How videoconferencing can take collaboration to the next level
With Google’s decision to allow employees to work from home through June, 2021, other companies will likely follow suit. While those with long commutes and comfortable home offices might welcome the extension, others find working from home more taxing than going to the office. According to a recent Smartsheet study, this is especially true for Gen Z and millennials who feel less connected to peers and think video calls are an obstacle to productivity.
Anna Griffin, CMO of Smartsheet, a software as a service company, believes that working from home doesn’t preclude meaningful human interactions, increased productivity and creative collaboration. She offers a number of ways that fellow marketers can make the most of video conferencing; Smartsheet's “Pulse on Productivity” study itself grew out of a virtual brainstorming session. Griffin’s top recommendation is to link ideas to actions to help collaborators feel valued.
What are some of the challenges of virtual collaboration today?
Collaboration brings in more blue sky, new perspectives, and lots of different people—so people are feeling creative and their juices are flowing. But how do you turn an idea into action? That’s always been the proverbial challenge and it's becoming even more difficult now when your entire day is filled with 14 hours of Zoom meetings. You've already lost the three or four hours that was going to be your get-work-done time, because now meet-to-connect time has gone into overdrive.
How do you take those beautiful, brilliant, creative moments, and can you quickly assign them to an action or a next step? Who's on point or who's going to explore that further and who's going to drive it? You might go into email for a week and then someone forgets about it and all of a sudden you lose the impact of an idea. Couple that with the pandemic, and you have to be able to ink that dot because the expectation to output in real time is there.
Have you noticed any upsides to Zoom collaboration?
The blessing of the collaboration is that you can take brainstorming and start to action it real time. A great idea gets captured, it gets assigned, and before the meeting even ends, everybody knows exactly what to do, who's on point, who's doing what. It's taking collaboration to a different level that perhaps doesn't always happen in live rooms. I'm seeing collaboration plus execution, and with those two things together, that's where real things happen and happen fast.
How do you set up online brainstorming sessions?
You want to create a frame; give the room space. Start with something completely off the top of your head. It can be a joke, something you saw, whatever it takes to get people off guard because we're so on guard right now. You have to enter into it with a frame break. Everybody’s also approaching things in a more casual way. There is a formality about being live, so taking advantage of the casualness allows more people to participate and more things come in and out of the conversation. You have no idea who really is even on a Zoom or a WebEx call. The larger the group, you're still only going to see a certain amount of people and everybody is going to be on their email, so some kind of visual contact is important.
How can you turn ideas into action?
Ownership is step one. In a room of 10, there's always that one can-do person. When you assign ownership to the can-doer, you really get an activation that can take off. You need to give them the tools to connect because ideas don't happen in a vacuum. There's an ecosystem of people that have to touch ideas and have the ability to weigh in or produce or connect, so it’s about having the right kind of tools to connect that wide ecosystem. Everybody has a single or common source of truth and there's somebody who has an ownership of the driving. That clarity of who owns, how everyone can action, and where things are in real time is a gift in moving to execution quickly.
Have you put this process to the test?
Yes. The research we published about the difficulty of transitioning to remote work started as a Sunday afternoon video call that we connected to a sheet. We were in market two days later with a partner and a survey, and we had results back five days after that. We were able to take what still felt like really good insight and actually build something that could be a campaign in a week based on real insight.
Does the research connect back to your brand purpose?
Absolutely. Our brand is about achievement, and the people that we serve are those who can do. That is why we make the product that we make, so they can do more, so they can achieve. They don't want to just work; they want their work to matter. They want it to mean something. We could see a really challenged world, so we knew what our hypothesis was that people are not more productive right now, which is ironic because we're all collaborating and connected. That essentially came right out of the brand purpose. “Is something getting in the way of your human achievement? What can we do to help you with that? Let's go find some facts and then let's go figure out how to help you solve that.” That's what we want to do. Remove the barriers to achievement.
Were you surprised by any of the research results?
I was blown away at the research. I generally felt that people were going to somehow feel less productive, but I had no idea that millennials and the younger generation were. They've always wanted to work from home. They have more productivity tools, there's an app for that, they work their way at their style and their preference, so I thought for sure, this must be their heyday. It was super interesting that that demographic more than others was feeling less connected.
What is your main takeaway from the past few months?
That power of belonging is still important, so we've got to figure out, with technology, how can you still belong and get stuff done? There is power in union, there always has been, so how do you create union again? You either have to be so united on a cause or a mission and that becomes your union. And it's got to be a worthy mission to get that real sense of union, or you have to be feeding off the physicality and off the energy of each other. If we're going to continue in a post-virtual world where this is very much not going away, this is going to be the trend. How are we going to find union?