Over the last few years, we have learned first-hand the many benefits of working remotely. But there are downsides as well: Namely, the way we communicate between departments and teams in remote and hybrid environments has built bigger silos.
In an office, the opportunity for collaborative communication is far greater. With everyone working in the same place, there are more chances for employees to interact organically and communicate with coworkers outside of their teams. Those same opportunities just aren’t present for workers who telecommute—unless we go out of our way to keep connections with people outside our direct team.
I, for one, lost regular points of contact with coworkers who were outside of my everyday circle when I first started working remotely. I gradually lost touch with people I might have run into on my way to a meeting or met at their desks throughout the workday. After all, when most of your meetings happen via videoconference, your interactions become siloed to your direct team or the people you most often meet with.
This disconnect is not only a problem for small businesses or entrepreneurs but also for larger tech companies. Microsoft, for example, experienced a decrease in interconnectivity between business groups when the company shifted to remote work.
So, when it comes to cross-departmental collaboration and communication, is a remote work environment sustainable?
Creating a More Connected Organization
Microsoft found that from February 2020 to February 2021, time spent in meetings on its Teams platform more than doubled, and the average length of meetings rose from 35 to 45 minutes. That’s unsurprising, as when you’re going through a major change, you tend to over-communicate with the people around you. Because of this, the relationship with my direct team strengthened in many ways over the course of the pandemic. The uncertainty put us in survival mode. That, in turn, led to greater awareness and passion for the work we were doing, ultimately bringing us closer together.
This doesn’t happen as easily between departments, however, which can lead to losses in productivity due to miscommunication. Before the pandemic, you could walk around the office, go to a member of a different department, and have a conversation about issues with a project. But it’s not possible to “run into” someone over Zoom. So, unless they’re invited to a meeting, you probably don’t communicate with people outside your direct team effectively.
Remote and hybrid work aren’t going away any time soon, and it’s important to find more intentional ways to communicate cross-departmentally. Here are two key strategies that can help you and your teams break out of the silos you’ve been stuck in:
1. Maintain a location-agnostic culture.
In a remote or hybrid environment, you have to be conscious about spending time with people physically and digitally. While in the office, it’s easy to say, “Hey, let’s have a meeting,” and only invite those who are physically present, leaving out the remote workers.
Be cognizant of how you can keep everyone included in the workplace culture—regardless of department or location. For example, schedule a monthly in-person lunch with remote and in-person workers across functions to model cross-departmental bonding for your team.
2. Promote enhanced communication.
The ability to build deeper, more emotional connections is often missing in a remote work environment. Encourage employees who work remotely to make more time to check in and connect with people on other teams.
As I’ve mentioned, there are simply fewer opportunities for casual conversations in remote and hybrid teams. Your employees must be intentional about connecting, following up, and asking for updates about projects or issues that need to be addressed outside of scheduled meetings.
The pandemic forced us all to learn a lot about ourselves and our teams—and to rethink what it means to be connected and productive at work. We shifted, adapted, and as a result, gained a new perspective on how to work effectively. As leaders, it’s our job to implement those insights throughout our team to break down silos and create more connected, collaborative companies.
Contributed to EO by Bob Marsh, a keynote speaker and Chief Revenue Officer of Bluewater, a design-forward technology company that helps craft moments that connect and inspire. Specializing in retail technology, displays and fixtures, as well as AV integration and event tech services, Bluewater works with top brands, including Bridgestone, Rocket Mortgage and Forbes.