Five Challenges Businesses Must Overcome When Moving Online

With Covid-19, and the sudden need for social distancing, many businesses have been thrust into the unfamiliar territory of how to manage their day-to-day operations in an online environment.

For those that run “knowledge-base” businesses, this at first might seem easy.  You have interactive collaboration tools, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and you feel confident you can make a go of it.  And it will work, for a period of time.

But running virtual operations is not just about having the technology, it’s also how you use the technology. 

Maintaining company culture is just as important to business operations.   We often don’t think about corporate culture until we realize it has slipped away.  People aren’t as friendly, aren’t as supportive, aren’t as team-oriented. People become less engaged. 

It is really easy for businesses, especially knowledge businesses, to focus solely on maintaining productivity in their use of online collaboration tools.

I challenge businesses to think just as much about how they are using technology to promote their culture and create opportunities for real engagement.

For the past ten years, I have worked exclusively in an online work environment.  My business even created an online platform.  Through this process, we studied the pros and cons of various technologies, and we chronicled our experience of working in this type of environment. 

While my company is small, these five challenges we faced are universal.  How well you overcome them will be critical to how successful you are in working while social distancing.

1. Engagement

Sharing experiences amplifies those experiences and increases a person’s absorption in that experience. How are you using your technology to create shared experiences?  What kind of online experiences can you even create?  How will you mimic those monthly birthday celebrations you used to hold in the break room, or those quick water cooler conversations?

2. Balancing Meaningful Exchange with Productivity 

It is incredibly hard to speak up using video technology, both technically and socially.  Think about your collaboration exchanges online.  Are you focused solely on the productivity of disseminating information, checking in?  How are you taking the time to invite the conversations that build trust and rapport among your team?

3. Multi-Tasking During a Meeting

We all know that multi-tasking is the blackhole of productivity. I am terribly guilty of this.  Long meetings where I’m allowed to mute and turn off video means I’m checking my email and social media instead of paying attention.  Does your technology (and how you use it) make it too easy for participants to multi-task? What steps and protocols do you have to minimize the ability to multi-task during meetings?

4. Self-Consciousness Inhibits Participation

Glossophobia is real!  Jerry Seinfeld once said “At a funeral, most people would rather be lying in the casket than delivering the eulogy.”  In a study we did in 2015, over half of the video conference participants felt self-conscious when speaking, with 20% feeling “extremely” self-conscious.  Just because you moved online, doesn’t mean people lose this self-consciousness, and for some online technology may increase their self-consciousness.  It is important to invite conversation from ALL participants, especially the introverts like me who typically need a little more coaxing to participant, and a little more time to process the chaos of other people jumping in. 

5. Facilitating Equal Participation Among Diverse Groups 

As business owners, we know unconscious and implicit bias in meetings can impact group dynamics and collaborative participation.  This is true and real life, as well as in most online technologies.  Just as in real life, it is important to be aware of these bias and proactively facilitate engagement and interaction among all participants.

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User Engagement with Digital Workspaces Versus Video Conferencing

Comparing Users Experience with Digital Workplaces and Video Conferencing

©2015 Duncan+Coleverria, Inc. [click to see full infographic]

Drumroll please….

the results are in

Our third party researcher, Lynn Patra, completed a preliminary study comparing and analyzing the behavioral aspects of a users engagement – and the results are fascinating.

Some of the outcomes are a gentle reminder, others are downright thought-provoking.

If you click on the image above it will take you to the infographic. If you’re interested in reading the report in its entirety, click here.

We would love to hear your thoughts.

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What’s it Really Like to Work in a Digital Workplace?

Duncan+Coleverria's office in Flipside Workspace

Lisa Duncan heads into the Duncan+Coleverria’s digital office for the day.

Digital Workplaces have been getting a lot of press as a way to better collaborate, engage, and even recruit a more distributed workforce. What exactly is a Digital Workplace? I think the most accurate description comes from Gartner: “The Digital Workplace enables new, more effective ways of working; raises employee engagement and agility; and exploits consumer-oriented styles and technologies.”

Many consider the use of personal devices, such as smartphones and tablets, as the driver behind this increasing trend.

One year ago, Forbes published Five Essential Elements Of The Digital Workplace, focusing on the strategic use of devices, communications infrastructure, business applications, telecommunications tools and security to create a healthy digital workplace.

Our company has worked exclusively out of a digital workplace for the past five years, and while I read the reports and the trends, I am struck by what is missing from the conversation.

Related: What Five Years of Working in a Digital Workplace has Taught Us

Yes, more accessible personal devices, plus new technology and software, were drivers for us. In fact, I believe the idea for our digital workplace went like this: “With all the technology and resources available, there has to be a better work from home.” Our drivers also included the need for:

  • more effective online collaboration options,
  • increased engagement of distributed teams and a dispersed workforce, and
  • consistency among our team’s presence.

I suppose it’s easy to see why I prefer Gartner’s definition of digital workplaces! We had the devices, the tools, the applications, yet we weren’t working more effectively with each other. We weren’t engaging any better with these tools and devices and we certainly didn’t feel more agile.

Gartner nails the definition in the third point, “exploiting consumer-oriented styles and technologies.”  And that is what was missing for us, pre-digital workplace.  We knew our digital workplace needed to provide the infrastructure and framework for a better way to work remotely, which is a larger conversation than “what tools to use.”

My caution for any business considering moving part or all of its operations into a digital workplace is that they must understand and nail down the operational infrastructure, and not just the IT infrastructure. How do you do this?  The solution will be different for every business, after all each business has its own culture, size, functional, and budget needs. However, I believe all business should think about digital workplaces from an operations perspective.

The right solution for your business requires not only input from IT, but also  input from HR, Marketing, and Finance.  All departments must have a seat at the table because buy-in and adoption in a digital workplace requires the solution to be cost-effective, address all the needs of the company, have the right cultural fit, and be supported with the right training and expectations of use.

Although our company is small, we often collaborate with larger teams for our business using our digital workplace, Flipside Workspace. Over the years we have developed a good understanding of what works in digital workplaces. We’ve also learned that success in a digital workplace means considering the behavior of people first and the technology second. Companies that understand this will find much success with digital workplaces.

What is it like to work in a digital workplace? Well for us, remarkably it’s a lot like working in a physical workplace. In designing our digital workplace, it was a big priority for us to feel like we were getting all the benefits of working in a physical office, while having more geographical flexibility.

Our workday begins when we head into the office every morning. We check out who is in the workspace, we greet each other, and we hunker down in our “office” while we get things done. The convenience of this “perpetual presence” to our colleagues means that if we have a quick question, we can quickly ask a colleague. If we need to gather a group together for an impromptu meeting or creative discussions, we can do that too. We schedule meetings, we invite clients, we do all the operational functions just as we would in a physical office space. We are able to foster a culture of innovation, build trust with our clients, and easily manage and communicate with our teams. And yes, it’s pretty awesome working in a digital workplace.

Related: Why I Love Working in A Digital Workplace

But don’t take our word for it. Register at Flipside Workspace to download our app, then pop-in and see for yourself.

Lisa Duncan is CEO of Duncan+Coleverria, a consulting firm that provides growth strategies for businesses with dispersed workforces.  She is co-creator of the digital workplace, Flipside Workspace, an online collaboration platform designed to inspire creativity, enhance employee engagement, and nurture relationships among professionals in a digitally connected world.  

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