Finding Our Workplace Synergy, Virtually
The word synergy comes from the Greek word sunergos, which means working together (from sun ‘together’ + ergon ‘work’).
For organizations, synergy is more than individuals ‘working together’ – it’s the exponential benefits resulting from effective collaborative work. When the collective achievement of organizational goals is prioritized over individual tasks, it opens a gateway for cooperative performance, i.e., synergy.
No part of its definition implies ‘working together’ must be in-person, virtual, or some ratio of the two. Our preferred form of collaboration is directly tied to what we’re working on and the most effective way to work. Modern times (and social distancing) prove that finding our rhythm doesn’t have to be exclusive to the office environment.
The pandemic has challenged us to find synergy – in a reimagined form – and we’ll need to hang on to these lessons long after we’ve returned to the workplace.
Fast forward five weeks into our remote working routine, and I’ve gained some new perspective on finding our workplace synergy, virtually. It’s not a finite fix to my self-isolation woes, but somehow I’ve found encouragement by admitting the hard truths and testing new ways to pivot my mindset and behaviors around them.
Hard Truth #1: Absence of physical presence requires a lot more energy to stay connected.
The physical, mental, and emotional energy that it takes to work from home can be exhausting. The workplace was a refuge from homelife distractions, and we had all the tools and people we needed in one place. Working from home completely changes the playing field and requires more energy to stay connected.
Pivot: No longer driving to work? Repurpose your commute time to set up for virtual success so that your energy isn’t drained by mundane tasks or technology.
- Run a quick internet speed test to make sure your WiFi signal will support your work. If you don’t already know, learn how to troubleshoot and reset your home WiFi.
- Be sure your team collaboration site is up and running so that teammates can see your availability.
- Keep your calendar up to date. In most cases, Outlook calendars sync with communication platforms so that others can see when you’re free, busy, or presenting.
- Block out time to focus on specific tasks or projects. The default setting for new appointments is Busy, but you can change this to Free or Working Elsewhere if you want to signal to others that it’s ok to IM or ask questions while you’re working.
- Energize with music. Music has a variety of health benefits, but for me, a quick jam session helps to shake off yesterday’s vibes and get focused on the new day’s tasks.
Hard Truth #2: Synergy falls apart when we believe “out of sight, out of mind.”
Until the day when everyone is wearing VR headsets at home, we aren’t going to feel like we’re in a room together when we work remotely. Behind every email or instant message, there is a real person brimming with new ideas and eagerness to make a difference. Just because I can’t swing by your desk or sit around a whiteboard together doesn’t mean our work has to be sealed off until completed.
Pivot: Now that collaboration is 100% virtual, the best way to stay intentional with my work is by staying visible to my team (through technology).
- Use video! Share your video with every meeting or call – we are humans, and we use non-verbal communication to build trust, context, and understanding. Video helps us pick up cues.
- Create a group calendar for each of your projects so that you can see everyone’s day with one click – who’s available, who’s busy, and when is a good time to connect as a group. It’s the virtual way of standing up to see who’s at their desk and available to talk.
- When you have an idea – put it out there. Early communication is better than perfect articulation. If I don’t share my ideas, I’ll be stuck overthinking them or worse; I’ll miss the opportunity to create a spark for someone else. Sharing our ideas keeps everyone on the same page and helps avoid inefficiencies or duplicated efforts as well.
- Check in with teammates often. Say hello, send a funny meme, ask how they’re doing. Then ask for their opinion or feedback on something you’re working on. You might gain a new perspective, and they get the instant mood-boost that comes from helping others at work. Win-win.
Hard Truth #3: It may be a long time before we are all together in the office again
Social moments and spontaneous collisions with colleagues will need more effort and coordination. Many of my ‘aha!’ moments were tied to physical activity or proximity to others. My thoughts would percolate while waiting on the coffee machine, I connected dots through talk-a-louds with the team or overheard conversations. Not to mention those feel-good moments when you run into a friend in the hallway or laugh with colleagues around the lunch table. I miss the energy in the office.
Pivot: With a little creativity, we can still do the things that gave us a deeper connection with one another and our work.
- Recreate the social moments. Microsoft Teams has allowed us to continue our office tradition of Thursday happy hour, virtually, in small groups. Social distancing has impacted everyone’s social life, so spending 30 minutes with officemates talking about anything and everything un-work related is a highlight of my week.
- Routine is essential. If you took a coffee break at 3 PM every day, keep doing it at home. If you walked the block downtown during your lunch break, keep doing it in your neighborhood. These activities helped break up the day and recharged you mentally. The mind has muscle memory too, and we must keep it flexed to stay productive.
- Random acts of kindness go even further. The barrage of daily news and uncertainty in the last few weeks has done a number on our psyche, while social separation has triggered new levels of loneliness. Find ways to send a virtual smile and do it often. It reminds us that we are seen, and we are here for each other.
- Find out what matters. This time apart has shown me why it’s important to really know your colleagues. There’s a virtual layer that separates us while we work from home. We might feel intimidated to reach out to others, especially if we don’t know them on a personal level. Side note: I’m using technology to record virtual interviews with colleagues and uploading them to our SharePoint page so that we can get to know each other more.
Synergy happens when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so it’s important to make sure your parts have the physical, mental, and emotional support to be most effective (technology included!). Creating a connection with one another, personally and through project work, is a key component to how we maintain our synergy virtually.
More than ever, I see how the workplace has been a vessel to finding and keeping this rhythm, but I’m grateful for the challenge this season has brought us. The future workplace will look a lot more mixed, between physical and virtual presence, and shifting our mindset and behaviors is a step in the right direction no matter what the new ‘working together’ looks like.
As a Workplace Strategy Consultant, Holly believes that workplace can be a catalyst for higher performance and a culture of innovation. Her interest in organizational design brings insight to clients about leadership culture, employee engagement and performance.