The digitalisation of the world of work is changing how work is done and how people work, behave, and relate to each other. To do this, we must also learn to think, act and question things in new ways.
Most business leaders I talk to think of the digital workplace almost exclusively regarding the right tools and how best to use them.
Digital collaboration, instead, needs to be looked at holistically: It’s about leaders understanding the decisions they need to make, new or different:
- Interactions in virtual space
- The factor of place and time: processes + tasks
- Personal preferences
Technology and Mindset Shift – why do companies call their employees back to the office, and what are the beliefs behind it?
Technology is one of the critical factors. A change is taking place here right now: Communication tools are well established. Collaboration tools are available in companies, but the possibilities of digital collaboration are far from being exploited.
Digital collaboration tools enable serendipity as we know it from the office – if the tools are used correctly.
„Serendipity refers to a serendipitous awareness of something not originally sought that turns out to be a new and surprising discovery.“ [wikipedia].
In the office, serendipity happens in chance encounters in the coffee shop. In the conversations that occur, as a result, people learn something new or exchange knowledge, from which new ideas emerge. We often refer to this as „serendipity.“ Serendipity – such „coincidences“ and encounters – are essential for innovative capability.
The exciting question is:
How can „serendipitous“ experiences be created in virtual collaboration?
Companies that call their employees back to the office have yet to learn that innovative interactions are possible in the digital space. Managers often think a shared meeting place is always relevant in all work situations. They are afraid that the ability to innovate will suffer if work is done exclusively digitally at a distance.
Tools can support them, but they are never the only solution. Despite all the technology, digital collaboration must also be designed concretely. Unfortunately, many people need to remember this. Simply providing tools or technology is not enough.
In addition, the workplace (location) and working hours are often still dependent on the 9-5 daily schedule. However, this is an old way of thinking and contradicts the digital mindset. Employees should be able to make their own choices about how, where, and when they work without managers feeling a loss of control.
The focus is on the „what“ and not the „where.“
This also means that the old belief that „being in the office is a career advantage“ is becoming obsolete.
What are the first steps to implementing the digital mindset?
Managers first need to know and understand the advantages and disadvantages of digital work: asynchronous collaboration on an individual schedule (time, place) can improve productivity, but it can also hinder coordination/collaboration or lead to isolation. Too much synchronicity quickly leads to overload.
So how can a good balance between asynchronous and synchronous interaction, collaboration, communication, and meetings be achieved?
1) Start by identifying the activities in the processes to define digital working principles with the team, such as:
- Customer comes first
- Focus time is important
- Shared time is important
2) Determine with the team what factors positively and negatively affect each individual’s productivity and performance in these activities:
- What is distracting?
- When do I need interaction and direct exchange with colleagues to complete a task?
- Where do I need focus time, and what can I get done asynchronously?
3) Consider which digital/remote/hybrid working arrangements best fit employee preferences.
Empathy for digital mindset
Empathy is nothing new in leadership, but it is essential in the digital world of work. This is because individuality, diversity, inclusion, personal preferences, and attitudes play a more significant role here. These factors influence how interactions can be shaped and how everyone can be involved at a distance.
Empathic people can put behaviour and performance into context. Data indicates what is going on in the company and explains correlations. Empathy helps interpret the behaviour behind it and causes us to make better decisions with the data basis and its analysis. Empathic managers involve their employees. They get to know them and question what they need to perform at their best.
Companies that know how to create a digital work environment for their employees will remain competitive. Going back to the office with the conviction that this is the only place where all interaction can occur is an outdated belief and contradicts a digital mindset.