VirtualCollaborationThe office is certainly the meeting place where personal exchange allows projects to progress faster than working alone in one’s own four walls. After all, it is the culture and the mood that promote creative cooperation, innovative ideas, and effective decisions. In other words, innovation needs personal encounters and face-to-face time. Hence, an office infrastructure should be in place that supports this, explaining the trend towards activity-based working right now, which means providing the most suitable work environment for every requirement.

For instance, ‘serendipity’ describes the perception of something that was not originally sought, but which turns out to be a surprising discovery. This is the case when we happen to receive a thought impulse that gives us a new idea during a conversation with others while strolling around in the office. In virtual collaboration, this social randomness often comes to a complete standstill.

For companies that depend on innovation, it is therefore not enough to simply put employees back in their old offices. Rather it is important to increase the probability of meeting each other actively. This means figuring out how different areas can be brought together and how the design and arrangement of the office space can contribute to this. Especially, since researchers today are forced to specialize intensively but at the same time work closer together due to the increasing complexity of knowledge.

The challenges lie in the intersection of the disciplines and certainly do not apply to science only but practically every branch of the economy. It is about receiving other perspectives and approaches in an appreciative way—with arms and brains wide open—and using them to create solutions and innovations together. This of course requires discipline from the individual to be more openminded and constantly on the lookout for exchange of thoughts.

Awareness of the workspace reduces the effort involved in coordinating tasks and resources, helps to move between individual and collective activities, provides a context in which one can interpret the statements of others, and enables the anticipation of the actions of others to be foreseen. And this is exactly what is missing when working at a distance: teams begin to lose the feeling for one another.

To counteract this, offices are digitally simulated for collaboration at a distance. The team members are represented using photos or simple avatars and VR glasses even go one step further: team members can use the whiteboard together in a virtual meeting room or stick post-its on the wall. The realization of telepresence calls with holograms is more likely to lie a little further in the future but it is already on its way.

Like a friendship at a distance, maintaining the relationship in virtual collaboration is the be-all and end-all. From a distance, it is much easier to break off a relationship or to let a contact fizzle out. The break on the part of the employee does not have to result in a termination. Already the slightest feeling of a lack of belonging depresses motivation and leads to less commitment. Anyone who wants to maintain a relationship has to think very carefully about how to nourish the emotional basis. Above all, this requires an interest in others and a willingness to engage in genuine exchange.

So, put yourself in the shoes of your conversation partner and convey your own feelings emotionally. Trust me, in the highly digital environment, emotional intelligence will experience a renaissance.

By Daniela La Marca