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New Communication Realities

By Judd Chapman, AIA

Most members of your team or office have always gathered for team meetings, company culture discussions, internal brainstorming sessions and general working sessions in conference rooms or breakout areas. Employees have always needed a place to collaborate, talk, plan and share ideas. This is the place where the culture of a company evolves. Traditionally this was done in the conference room or other group meeting space where attendees sat in close proximity. Under the present circumstances created by COVID-19, this type of face to face meeting is no longer possible. Most businesses are allowing employees to work from home while only essential personnel are physically in the office. Many businesses are considering how many employees to bring back into the office, when, or if at all. The question becomes how these employees can communicate effectively without the use of the traditional conference room while maintaining the same feelings of inclusion and creativity. The use of services such as Zoom or Microsoft teams has been able to give us the instant communication we require to do business, but has it been able to satisfy the personal needs which are fulfilled in a face to face meeting for employees, and has it enabled management to keep employees focused and on track?

The current health crisis we are facing has forced companies to rethink their methods of interoffice communication, whether it be via remote communication with those working from home or members of the team working within the office. The implementation of new internal communication strategies must ensure employees have clear information available regarding the crisis itself, the status of the company overall, and current tasks to be accomplished. Failure of any of these communication components can lead to a feeling of mistrust or isolation for employees in the workplace rather than a constructive atmosphere of solidarity.

Videoconferencing, instant messaging and chat have replaced the face to face meeting at a coworker’s desk or the team meeting in the conference room, and project management software has replaced the whiteboard hanging on the wall with team goals or tasks. The use of this software has created a virtual office environment which is not dependent on location. It is crucial that the software chosen for this new virtual office environment be user friendly and enable team members to quickly launch their own calls. Team meetings or check ins are one of the most important aspects of the remote working environment. While project management or tracking software can give an instant snapshot of the progress being made toward a common goal, the use of this software alone can lead employees to have a feeling of isolation. It is important for team members to discuss the progress being made in team meetings and share ideas on how to achieve the goal. There may always be a more efficient method to achieving the goal, but without the opportunity to brainstorm, this new methodology may not be achieved.

The virtual meeting should be handled in the same manner as it would in the traditional conference room through screen sharing and videoconferencing. An outline of tasks or goals should be presented and discussed as they would in a regular office environment through screen sharing, and tasks should be assigned to team members through productivity or project management software. Time should be allotted after virtual meetings to process the documented information and further outline the required steps to achieving the team’s goals. While it is always important to stay on task, if the conversation does stray to a non-work related topic, it is important to remember that this is a common occurrence in the traditional meeting and is a way of enforcing a feeling of value among individuals, promoting team spirit and combating feelings of isolation team members may have.

While the virtual meeting will never fully replace the traditional gathering of individuals in one location, it is up to us to ensure that it gets as close as possible in order to communicate the required information clearly, outline common goals, and integrate and promote a sense of company culture and community. The next evolution of this communication process is the use of this same technology in the physical workspace as some of us return to the office. We will have to consider how this will affect the layout and furnishing of offices for the foreseeable future and how we can use these new communication methods to improve the physical office space we will once again occupy.

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