ANTONIO LÓPEZ | Tungsteno
The pandemic triggered a flood of new users in videoconferencing applications such as Zoom or Webex and collaborative work platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams. One year into the pandemic and despite the uncertainty in the labour market it has brought about, the experience of telecommuting has confirmed the usefulness of these digital tools. They enable remote working and facilitate the mobility of many workers, and have strengthened the following trends in the management and organization of work teams:
Bridging distances: beyond Zoom
One of the main challenges of working remotely is maintaining worker morale in the midst of the pandemic, without sharing one’s day-to-day life with one’s colleagues, as reflected in a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). While at the start of the pandemic, videoconferencing via Zoom or Skype was a great help, it is now necessary to move further in this direction.
In order to restore the feeling of belonging to the group in such a hostile social context, it is essential to facilitate the dynamics of collaboration and joint learning. These are the objectives of the online tool Miro, which allows brainstorming to be managed visually, using synchronised digital whiteboards, a timer and a real-time voting system:
The strengthening of teams that don’t work in the same physical space is one of the objectives of Miro, which introduces synchronised digital whiteboards to virtual meetings for managing proposals and ideas. Credit: Miro.
Tools such as Kahoot, TEAM MOOD or Dr. Clue tackle the same challenge and facilitate communication dynamics through alternatives to physical presence, such as virtual coffee rooms or gamification experiences. Virtual reality-based applications go one step further in bringing us literally closer to the office and our colleagues. By using virtual reality glasses, tools such as Arthur, vr on or MeetinVR recreate virtual workspaces that are even more practical than those in real life, since they can be optimised and customised according to the type of meeting and the preferences of each employee. In addition, the use of virtual reality avatars also makes it possible to take advantage of the benefits of non-verbal communication, making the "presence" of colleagues more tangible in processes such as team building dynamics.
Efficient communication: beyond WhatsApp in the workplace
Although group video calls were the first solution for bridging distances, they are not adequate for overcoming one of the main challenges of teleworking teams: fostering their cohesion and the collaboration of their members without having a physical space of reference.
WhatsApp is increasingly becoming a work tool, and in some cases it can be the most practical. However, it is a space where individual chats coexist with family and work groups. To avoid the chaos of multi-party chats, tools like Slack take advantage of the usability of the instant messaging concept to manage the workflow in a more private and secure environment that also permits all the communication of a work team (e-mails, documents...) to be centralised. The integration with other online tools to manage tasks or projects allows Slack notifications to be received whenever there are new developments in these other workspaces. And in the face of competition from Microsoft Teams, Slack has been incorporating new features such as the creation of workflows, which use the chat conversation itself to solve routine and repetitive tasks using templates:
Other tools seek synergy between instant messaging and workflow management in a secure and private way, as is the case with Slack. Credit: Slack.
Day-to-day operations also require different (virtual) meeting spaces where tasks can be distributed and progress can be tracked. Microsoft Teams also makes it possible to transfer the entire work universe of an office or a school administration team to the cloud and, in its latest versions, it also includes the option of transcribing all conversations, a feature that greatly facilitates access for people with hearing difficulties.
Slack and Microsoft Themes are the two great rivals in this type of conversation-based teleworking solution, and they compete fiercely with each other to be implemented into large companies. However, there are simpler alternatives to these two behemoths—and perhaps more appropriate for small workgroups and projects—which place special emphasis on usability and the design of a pleasant interface, both on the computer and on the tablet and mobile phone. Chanty and Flock are two fine examples of this simpler approach.
Managing the clutter: beyond email
The physical relocation of workers has established cloud storage as a meeting point to redesign project management and make it less reliant on e-mail, chats or phone conversations. With the pandemic and social distancing, the volume of information (personal and work) has multiplied in these channels, making it more difficult to assimilate and find specific assignments or attached documents when they are most needed: were they in an email or WhatsApp? In this context, organising the distribution and progress of tasks in detail has become inevitable, a functionality offered by tools such as Trello or Todoist—very useful for managing day-to-day work individually or with the work team itself.
When the organisation of work revolves around a specific project, for which a team is formed that includes staff from different companies and freelancers, tools such as Basecamp, one of the most veteran online work managers, are particularly useful. Launched in 2004, it is now re-emerging as a remote workspace where calm and organisation take precedence, in the face of delocalisation, dispersion and communication stress, which have increased since COVID-19 spread around the world.
But these project managers, just like task managers or chat tools, involve a great deal of design and conceptualisation of the virtual workspace, and entail a considerable learning curve for users. They also require an investment in training and an effort and willingness to reinvent daily routines. Over the last year, a less-demanding alternative has emerged: managing work around documents, which is something we have been doing for much longer.
To maintain efficiency in remote working, alternatives such as Dropbox Spaces, which manages the virtual workspace around documents, have emerged. Credit: Dropbox.
Google Docs was born in 2006 as an alternative to Word, accessible for free from any web browser. Beyond democratising access to a word processor, it got many people used to the collaborative editing of documents (also integrating comments and tasks) and the idea that the "good" version of the document is the one in the cloud for everybody with access to the document, avoiding the confusion generated by different versions of a file on different devices and in the folders of a variety of users.
Cloud storage service Dropbox launched the Paper tool in 2017, a more visual alternative to Google Docs and designed from the outset to integrate many work management features (including tasks and timelines) into documents. And the pandemic accelerated plans along these lines by Dropbox, which in late 2020 presented the second version of Spaces, its virtual workspace, an online evolution of the shared folder concept in the cloud (also popularised by Google with its Drive service).
Thus, confronted with the mental paradigm shifts required by many teleworking tools, Spaces proposes that the workspace should be organised in a natural way based on what for decades have already been the "objects" in which the work itself, as well as plans, procedures and doubts, are embodied: documents. Spaces is the latest big innovation in this type of tool, competing with other more veteran tools such as Slite, Kipwise, Confluence or Notion, which combine the clarity of folders with the flexibility of a wiki.
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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.