Collaboration While Working at Home

Sharing and editing documents is fairly easy with widely used digital tools. But other critically important types of collaboration remain challenging when colleagues don't share physical space — or even time zones. Remote work may be here to stay even after the pandemic subsides, so how do you move forward?

You need to support remote high-touch collaboration. Ideas range from immersive environments to virtualized offices. These are just beginning to be discussed and set in motion. Remote workers hope they will downplay the way that remote working obscures body language and distorts verbal cues.

Structured, interactive sessions that foster deep thinking would help a group achieve consensus on a topic. A lab may be used to forge consensus about the vision of a new firmwide initiative.

What's needed today are ways to exchange information directly outside formally scheduled meetings — the equivalent of poking a head in an office to ask a brief question. Tools include videoconferencing and digital whiteboards that feature interactive workspaces for visual sharing of ideas and problem-solving.

Such tools include:

  • Access to templates and frameworks tailored to a variety of meeting types.
  • Virtual sticky notes.
  • Timekeeping features.
  • Polling to streamline the decision-making process.

What they lack is the context to read a room and determine how to best engage participants. Legibility can sometimes be difficult. Virtual offices promise:

  • To replicate office spaces on your computer screen.
  • To run continuously in the background.
  • To show in real time what your colleagues are doing with digital aerial views of office floor plans, avatars and even 3D worlds.

Virtual offices aim to emulate the natural, rapid types of interactions that frequently take place in physical workplaces. They display context about colleagues: Are they meeting with a client right now? Are they listening to music? They provide multiple pathways for co-workers to informally connect. Virtual offices are meant to work with Microsoft Teams, Slack and Spotify.

Immersive environments are expected to let workers connect, share experiences and participate in simulated real-life scenarios using augmented or virtual reality technologies. You'd experience a 3D shared environment where you could see representations of yourself and colleagues and be able to conduct meetings. Immersive environments would be great for interactive sessions.

Combined with spatial audio or hand movements, such technologies can give team members the impression of being in the same space. Interacting with the environment and accessing menus using your hands or controllers is supposed to be highly intuitive.

Of course, progress in augmented and virtual reality will need to be boosted for these tools to appeal for collaboration. Microsoft recently deployed Together Mode, which uses artificial intelligence to place meeting participants side by side as if they were sitting in a virtual auditorium.  

Advances expected to arrive in the near future include tracking, which alerts a host when an attendee goes more than a few seconds without having an application open, and intelligent capture, which can make an employee's video image transparent so users can see content written or drawn on a whiteboard as it happens.

Clearly, remote collaboration tools are evolving and being experimented with. Some execs have used popular video games to conduct meetings. Let's hope that new tools eventually solve videoconference fatigue problems.

With remote work growing, people continue to look for ways to share information and increase workplace collaboration.