Updated: Dec 8, 2020
As we begin to return to our office spaces in varying forms, it’s clear that virtual meetings and digital engagement will remain a part of our everyday operations, and we’ll need to continue to find ways to collaborate and be creative.
Middle of Six recently facilitated a panel discussion on this very topic. The webinar was moderated by our own Wendy Simmons and hosted by CREW Seattle. We invited three inspiring architects and designers who are leaders in their firms, and who are helping their teams navigate these changes to the way we work: Holli Smith, Senior Associate, TCF Architecture; Amber French, Principal, Johnston Architects; and Lori Robbin, Associate Principal, BCRA.
Watch the full webinar or read the summary below.
We asked our panelists to share their best ideas for creating collaborative environments while working remotely with both teams and clients. They offered approaches and techniques that are useful whether we come together virtually or in person, and we learned that the challenges we’re facing are also opportunities.
A poll of our panel audience on what they saw as their greatest barrier to creativity with the move to remote work revealed that 62% of people in attendance felt that limited face-to-face time was their biggest challenge. Here is what our panelists recommended.
Re-think old traditions and habits. This is a chance to consider what new activities or practices might better align with the times and how you have evolved as a team. Try brainstorming big, unreal/out of the box, crazy ideas, then pair them down to more manageable opportunities. We are in a time of change, and nothing is limiting us from what we can do for our communities and our clients moving forward.
Virtual meetings have leveled the playing field for collaborative conversations. Side conversations are not as much of an option and projects benefits because all parties are involved in the entire conversation
Engage the introverts on your team and have them sit in on meetings and interviews for professional development. Sitting in on meetings they wouldn’t normally attend gives them insight into the larger picture of project pursuit.
Virtual meetings require us to be more prepared and polished. More intention, more preparation, and more communication keep projects running smoothly. To get the most of your meeting:
Spend more time considering the meeting goals and send agendas beforehand.
Establish roles at the onset of the meeting.
Adjust responsibilities in interviews to help convey personalities and areas of responsibility.
Ask guests to join on video to create visual connections between attendees.
Facilitate engagement by calling people by name, especially those who may shy away from participating.
Ask good questions, and lots of them.
Consider breakout groups if you have groups larger than five to ensure all attendees are included in the conversation.
Think about other, simple “analog” tools such as old-fashioned whiteboards to convey information.
Employee 1:1 wellness check-ins are crucial. In a time where routines have been upended and face-to-face connection is limited, it’s more important than ever to look after the mental health of your team. Spend at least five minutes per month with each staff member to ask
How are you doing?
How can I support you?
What are you working on?
What resources do you need?
Use technology to support project progress. Checking in through chat apps is a good way to get a pulse on projects. Digital tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Mural allow you to share and collaborate in real-time.
Create virtual spaces for staff to connect. Firms are creating “water cooler” channels where staff can support one another and have casual conversations with space to share photos, inspirational stories, weekend projects and activities, news articles, photography, etc.
Firm newsletters that include a question of the week or a person of the week help staff get to know one another better. Think about including a photo montage.
Weekly lunchtime project presentations increase awareness of the cadence of work in the firm.
“Zoom fatigue” is real. The usual best practices still apply but be creative and find opportunities to meet without having to sit in front of a computer.
Use the phone for 1:1 and staff check-ins.
Go for a group walk while using Zoom.
Prioritize your meetings.
Try to shorten the length.
Schedule reoccurring meetings at the same time to help everyone optimize their time.
The “new normal” will likely be quite different from firm to firm. Focusing on how we can be better companies, not being afraid to try new things, learning from our successes, and supporting each other through this challenging time will benefit our staff, our clients, and our communities.