Article featured image showing a businessman working from remote at home with his colleagues.

How COVID-19 Sparked a Digital Transformation in Workplace Communication

It’s Monday and Bob walks into the office. “Hi Greg! Had a good weekend?”

Greg responds, they chit chat a bit, Bob grabs a cup of coffee from the work kitchen and sits at his desk. Two hours later, he stumbles over to the other side of his open office for a quick update with some of his teammates. While standing there, Bob peers into the window across the room where his boss is holding a meeting with other colleagues - Bob wonders if today will be the day that he tells his boss he’s overworked and needs support.

But, Bob finishes his ad-hoc team update, sighs, and heads back to his desk for the rest of the day. He files some paperwork, goes through his emails and gets handed a stack of papers from Margaret, his vis-à-vis colleague.

“Great! More work!” Bob says in his sarcastic tone just to make Margaret smile.

The next day, Bob wakes up and hears about this virus that’s going around. Within a week, Bob opens up his email to find out his office is shut down. And just like that, his spare bedroom just became his new office… starting Monday.

Come Monday, what will Bob do?

Well, for many office workers during this novel coronavirus outbreak, they’ve been thrown into the deep end of remote work.

Say goodbye to the commute, the morning chit chat, the ad-hoc face-to-face updates, and the physical paperwork from Margaret. And say hello to the digital transformation.

So how will Bob effectively communicate with his team?

As COVID-19 continues to sweep across the world, and government-imposed lockdowns increase, more businesses are forced to send their employees home to work for what could be a few weeks to a few months. The most drastic workplace change that’s taking place at this moment, however, is called communication.

An effective team is built upon clear lines of communication – that much is clear!

But now, Bob can’t swing his chair around to ask Margaret for some files or updates. Bob now has to email her. But email takes long and piles up easily in times like these. Then Bob discovers Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Bob loves them. He can now whisper a request to Margaret and within seconds, she responds. Need files? They’re shared in a minute. Need a team meeting? Zoom it away!

Sure, things are a bit slower at first, but after a few days, Bob starts to get the hang of it.

Everyone (finally) says what they feel. Virtual Emotions on the rise.

Despite being socially isolated, Bob’s team is closer than ever. Not only is there Microsoft Teams group chat in his desktop and mobile to discuss the work in the office, but Bob finally feels like he can say what he’s really feeling to his boss.

The whole office gets in on this permanently-opened virtual-team meeting room. People now can be who they wouldn’t normally be in a typical situation. A number of issues and concerns are brought up.

After Bob leaves a comment, and the response from his boss is receptive, he builds up the confidence to email his boss and request for support for his increasing workload.

Who knew it could be so easy? Well, it’s not all so easy, but speaking behind avatars does help, doesn’t it?

Additionally, in getting acquainted with purely virtual communication, Bob keeps confusing his vis-à-vis colleague, Margaret, when she “hands him” some virtual paperwork. Bob responds through Teams, “Great! More work!” and Margaret responds, “Bob, are you upset at me?”

“Oh not at all! It was just sarcasm!” – Bob replies. He’s never had to express himself virtually like that before. He’s used to showing how he feels face to face. After much confusion, Bob finally discovers what his millennial children have been using for years: emojis.

From then on, Bob started putting a winking tongue-out emoji at the end of his comment. And suddenly his “Great! More work! 😜 doesn’t sound so serious anymore. Not only that, but his children finally started understanding his confusing text messages, too.

Team Collaboration extends beyond the Workplace

The way a team collaborates drastically impacts productivity. So how do you ensure morale stays high when your coworkers can’t have a quick chat at the work kitchen anymore? Well, if nothing is done, then the team won’t feel like a team no longer. However, remote team connectivity is easier than ever with social media in 2020.

Group messaging apps like Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger or Slack can transform the work kitchen into a “virtual kitchen” chat group. With everyone involved in the conversation, companies are beginning to see positive interaction and collaboration like they’ve never seen before.

In fact, Bob is really starting to like the group chat. He’s connecting with some of his co-workers who he hasn’t really seen or spoken to in weeks, since they’re in a different department and different parts of the office. Bob even finds out that Greg is a Star Wars fan like he is after seeing a Darth Vader poster on Greg’s wall during the last Zoom videoconference call. Team spirit is high. Some might say what happens in the group chat stays in the group chat. 😜 And this is a good thing. Despite having the whole office split up, now kilometers apart from one another, teams are feeling closer than ever.

Bob makes a comment, or shares a funny joke in the office chat group, and rather than just sharing it with one or another person like he would in the office, everyone gets to enjoy it, even if they didn’t hop on the chat till an hour later.

Not only are managers seeing team collaboration improve through team chat groups and videoconferencing during office hours, but they’re also seeing more connectivity over the weekend. What Millennials figured out years ago with staying connected through social media on the weekends with coworkers, Generation X’s and Baby Boomers’s late adopters are now experiencing too.

While the office group chat was intended to keep people connected through the 9 to 5, Monday to Friday grind, it’s keeping coworkers connected after hours and during the weekend as well.

The Coronavirus is forcing people to learn to interact virtually. Since people can’t meet up for social gatherings during this time, everyone is deprived socially. This means interactions with co-workers are on the rise, even on the weekends, which is now easier than ever with chat groups.

(Accelerated) Digital Literacy leading to Transformation

People all across the world are thinking the same thing. “How did we not think of this sooner?”

Not only are many employees loving the ability to work from home by utilizing digital tools like social media, but managers and ownership is benefiting as well. More workers at home means less space utilization. If an entire wing or the whole office doesn’t need to actually be at the office to perform at a high level, then why should businesses lease out pricey office spaces every month?

The COVID-19 outbreak has changed everything. The entire world is experiencing the biggest digital transformation it’s ever seen – even bigger than the dot-com boom (?!). While there’s still quite a large digital learning curve for employees, management, and ownership to grow into this digital world, all parties are reaping the benefits right off the bat.

The next few months and years are going to be detrimental in determining which businesses will lean into the digital transformation and which will resist and bounce back to their old ways.

The question is, are you going to lean in as a digital leader and push the envelope on your organization’s digital aptitude? Or are you going to be left behind? One thing’s for certain: the companies who choose to adjust now will have a much easier time improving workplace communication, effectiveness and productivity in the coming years.

While we all wished the circumstances were different, this crisis has ignited an accelerator of transformation. Digital literacy may be the best investment opportunity for businesses and individuals while we #stayhome. While Bob and his team embrace the new normal, they #staystrong. If Bob can do it, so can you!

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