Increasing Collaboration in a Pandemic – Thru Quick, Ad Hoc Calls

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by Bob Hewes, PhD
June 30, 2020
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Many clients that are in work-from-home situations talk about too many meetings and tons of video calls. Many of us are having more meetings than ever. At the same time, clients talk about how collaboration is down and the exchange of ideas is not happening as much: “I used to bump into people or have a quick impromptu discussion;” “I used to be able to run ideas by colleagues.”

So, all those meetings and calls, but collaboration is down?
In one sense, it makes a lot of sense. We moved into a highly reactive mode and by necessity are in a get-it-done mode – very task oriented.

However, as the work-from-home weeks continue due to health concerns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to increase our collaboration to get our best thinking for these times. We can increase our collaboration, but we need to make it happen. We have to put in some effort and energy and be purposeful about it. The idea is to create ad hoc “bump into” calls.

Given we are separated, we tend to default to “scheduled” calls and video-meetings. If it is scheduled on our calendar we participate, but then drop back into task mode. We also do a lot of quick hit texting and instant messaging. Also, there is a psychological hurdle to reaching out. It takes effort on your part.

The key is to reach out and then talk live – just a call or video if it helps.

Two types of outreach – just connecting and work-based.
On just connecting, or the relationship side, it’s about having a short call and simply touching base. Talk about things going on, no particular agenda or pre-identified topics. Think of it like bumping into someone in the office kitchen grabbing coffee or at the water cooler.

If you have a work topic, where in the normal course of business, you would run things by others, do some of that in one of these calls. We are defaulting to everything thru email, but things like brainstorming, talking thru alternatives, or talking about decision options, to name just three, work much better live – at least in the early stages. In a live call, you benefit from the back and forth exchange of ideas. You can discuss new ideas and flesh things out. Also, with all of our new-found skill at video calls, leverage the screen sharing capability to review documents, spreadsheets, designs, and project plans, and really talk them thru.

In both cases, reach out to setup a quick call. Use your messaging system to ask “are you available for a quick connect call?” If you can see their calendar, offer a good time when they are open. “Hey, can you talk at 2, I want to pick your brain.”

To make it easy, think of a few people you would consult when in the office, i.e., make a short list of people whose experience, opinions, and perspective you value. Every so often reach out to the people on your list. Because we are good at doing what’s on our calendar, let’s use that fact and put in a calendar reminder to make some ad hoc collaboration calls. It might sound strange to schedule an “ad hoc” call, but the technique works. Not only will colleagues appreciate the connection, but so will you!

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