If the exceptional circumstances caused by the pandemic are prolonged, the initial infatuation felt towards virtual work will fade. Behind the short-term benefits, the age-old challenges faced by a multi-location organisation will emerge: weakening community spirit and innovation, and emotionless focus on performance. At the same time, these exceptional circumstances have opened up the opportunity to build virtual organisations that represent a new kind of prosperity and sustainability.
The transition to virtual cooperation was surprisingly easy and even inspiring for many. It is estimated that the attractiveness and autonomy of work, as well as productivity, have all increased.
The same research results that show the benefits of remote work also indicate that innovation has decreased and community spirit has become weaker. This data as such is not new, and virtual cooperation has been studied for a long time. Studies have already shown that virtual interaction is particularly stressful for our brain, and ideas and knowledge are shared less in virtual cooperation. In addition, maintaining trust becomes more challenging.
It all happened so quickly. Our work shifted from offices to multi-location hybrid work so quickly that we only had the time to transfer our old practices to the virtual environment. We did not see that the whole virtual cooperation is based not on new technology, but on a new culture of cooperation.
THE UNBELIEVABLE LIGHTNESS OF VIRTUAL COOPERATION
Luckily enough, we are already smarter. We know that in virtual interactions, we must invest a great amount of time in getting ourselves mutually tuned in. Emotional messages must be deliberately conveyed, and the idea of instant trust will become particularly valuable. As a rule of thumb, we need less agenda and more encounters.
Cooperation covering much more than just virtual encounters also has its own patterns. On the basis of studies, we know that face-to-face start-up meetings are particularly important for the success of a team and a project, and that we need to create room for non-formal interaction. To replace physical distance, we need to spend more time on getting ourselves mentally on the same page in terms of customer needs, the purpose of the work, and the common direction.
We still want to challenge you to take a step further. Exceptional circumstances have opened up a space in organisations where everything seems to be possible. Theoretically put, we live in a liminal stage where the old has ceased to exist and the new is yet to emerge. This may be the time to rethink well-being.
WORK COMMUNITY OF THE FUTURE LEARNS TO TAKE CARE OF ITS WELL-BEING
Ultimately, multi-location virtual work has taught us that maintaining well-being at work cannot be the sole responsibility of the supervisor or the individual. Especially when working remotely, an individual cannot be left alone with their ability to cope. The only way to build sustainable well-being in these exceptional times is to make the entire community support well-being.
Investments in communal well-being in remote and hybrid work produce significant added value to the organisation’s competitiveness. How could the community manage its well-being? Luckily, there are plenty of examples of this, particularly where self-direction has been recognised as joint-direction. Joint-directed organisations have had to develop the means to ensure that their employees cope in a changing world.
Communal well-being at work refers to concrete practices: the community’s early support and cooperative conflict resolution practices. Offering goals, feedback, and social support in small groups according to mutually agreed rules allows the performance to be directed collectively.
SUPERVISORS AS AMBASSADORS FOR WELL-BEING
What happens to supervisors? Are they no longer required? Of course they are required, but in a new role. The task of a supervisor is not only to provide early support, to resolve conflicts, or to help stressed employees prioritise their duties. A supervisor’s primary duty is to help the community ensure its own well-being.
A key factor in supporting well-being is the continuous and cooperative update of changes in work and the situation. However, the most important thing is that well-being is perceived as something that is interconnected with the changing needs of the customer. Therefore, the key characteristic of a well-being community of the future is the ability to understand the changing nature of work and to learn new ways to succeed together.
Multi-location virtual cooperation offers new challenges and opportunities for this development, as it becomes clear, for example, that hierarchical management is less effective in multi-location work. Perhaps exceptional circumstances help us to take the long-awaited organisational leap.