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GSE Expertise: Remote Collaboration
Real World Scenarios
This article is a break from normal satellite industry programming to address an important issue that will be an all-consumptive conversation topic over the next few months. If you're here looking for information about how GSE supports remote workers via satellite technology, I encourage you to take a look at our case studies instead. Today, we will be addressing the topic of decentralized teams that are still within the normal terrestrial grid, just working from home, and whether or not people and companies should be anticipating a return to business as usual in the coming months.
Back in February of 2020, GSE announced that it would be ceasing its in-office operations and company-related travel out of an abundance of caution for COVID-19. Just a few weeks ago, we made the internal decision to reopen the office to any fully-vaccinated employee, ending an 14-month period of our entire team working 100% remotely. This would have been a major change of operations both times for most companies, but GSE is unique: more than half of our team has always been fully remote, so we already had a better understanding of how to make it work than most companies. As other companies plan their return to the office, we're offering some ideas and reinforcement that should be lessons learned by now.
Lesson 1: Everything (and Everyone) Still Works
Among the chief fears of remote work and remote teams is that people will simply not work, or that processes and productivity will suffer because of lack of discipline and lack of interaction with team members. What we know to be true, because of our own team's success and because of the clients we support, is that being "remote" doesn't cause a suffering of collaboration for the majority of teams. Creative people will remain creative, regardless of where they are, and some may work better from an environment they can control. Responsible workers will continue to do their jobs without the threat of being "caught" taking an extra 10 minutes for lunch, and in general, talent will continue to thrive in whatever form you hired, whether you can watch them work or not. When all is said and done, people who have the newfound luxury of being able to take a short break, walk to the next room and spend it with family instead of intentionally wasting time at the water cooler, will categorically return to the project they were working on to complete it on time. Teams that are remote will succeed if the organization has set them up to succeed, and that requires attention to the following two rules.
Lesson 2: Communication is Key
Our company's success is predicated on this understanding of the fundamental needs of any organization. We build all of our products to support communication between people, assets, machines, platforms, and devices, including and especially remote ones. "Remote work" to us means supporting operations and projects that operate outside the reach of standard terrestrial communication networks. What we have learned is that people being "remote" is rarely an issue when they are properly connected, and can communicate. This is true for our team, for military, emergency response, mining, utility, forestry, and other clients we support, and very likely for your team as well.
Lesson 3: Tools and Technology
Once a team has a communications infrastructure set up, all they need beyond that are the tools and technology to support and facilitate collaboration. So many companies have invested exclusively in a single collaboration tool that is as outdated as suits and ties: their physical facility. While there are a number of valid reasons to have a physical facility, and to invest in it heavily for employees that have to be there, far too many companies view their office as the best tool to facilitate collaboration, and therefore force their employees to use it. For these companies, the mantra is typically something along the lines of "we understand the value of face to face interaction in the creative and collaborative process." Press 1 if you've heard this before at a place you've worked; press 1 again if you've heard it from companies not particularly well-known for their creativity.
Simply put, the past year and a half has changed the world in a number of ways, not the least of which is the discovery, proliferation, or augmentation of collaborative tools and technology. People have adapted to collaborating on anything from anywhere at any time, and it is because these tools became a necessity, and many organizations that chose to invest in them have seen how they affect productivity. That meeting everyone suffers through can finally actually just be an email, Zoom call, Slack conversation, or Google Doc. Lunch and Learn sessions are just as effective, if not more so, when delivered via Zoom and a strong Learning Management System like Moodle. People actually get more done in less time with these tools, and companies should anticipate employees having expectations that they can continue to use them after they "return to the office."
That being said, let's talk about the return to the office. Based on the lessons we all should have learned by now, it will be important to NOT go back to business as usual in most cases, especially not as quickly as possible. People have already begun speculating about the potential "reckoning" associated with companies pulling people who have grown to love working from home back to the office, and from what we have seen in the hospitality and service industry, workers are starting to assert their value. Companies that return to BAU will likely experience a talent siphon to competitors and companies that remain flexible, and it is entirely avoidable.
So what does that mean for the workspace? Should we just ditch the office entirely? For as many reasons as there are to not return to BAU, the simple answer to that question is "no." What companies should be doing in this interim period is designing, preparing, and updating the concept of their workplace. Make the office what it actually is (a collaboration tool), and make it the best version of that for your company's needs. The office should not supplant other collaboration tools, but rather, should make workers more effective. Maybe there's a conference room at the office that can be outfitted with screens and a smart board to support virtual meetings and collaboration sessions between people in the office and people at home. Perhaps cubes could be replaced by more open spaces or larger coworking cubes with larger tables meant to facilitate group work and collaboration. Either way, giving people the option to use the office, with the incentive being upgraded collaboration spaces, tools, and equipment is the way to go.
Oh, and for the love and sake of everything... get rid of that dress code.