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The Power of Serendipity for Remote Teams

Harvard Business Review recently published a fascinating look at how white collar workers are adjusting to working remotely – “The Implications of Working Without an Office”

Every two weeks since the end of March, HBR has surveyed a diverse group of more than 600 U.S.-based white-collar employees to find out how they are faring with remote work. There are so many interesting threads to delve into based on these results, many of which are in line with our own research conducted in early May 2020 (see our full report here, and our analysis). 

One comment stood out (amongst many). Before companies consider staying virtual – a la Twitter, Square, Facebook – HBR cautions:

“One key reason to think twice before going down that path is the loss of unplanned interactions that lead to important outcomes. Physical offices cause people who don’t normally work with each other to connect accidentally – bumping into each other in the hallway or cafeteria – and that interaction sparks new ideas.”

We couldn’t agree more – serendipitous conversations are crucial for remote teams. However, we disagree strongly that facilitating those unplanned interactions remotely isn’t possible. It just requires careful consideration and thoughtfulness – and that responsibility lands on the lap of leaders of remote teams. So how can you maximize the likelihood of these unplanned interactions happening? Or how can you encourage them? 

1) Inclusivity: Open the door while you chat

Okay, you’re remote yes, but you still have a virtual ‘door’ you can either open or close. Have you ever walked by a closed door meeting room and noticed two teammates brainstorming on a topic you’re passionate about? But because the door is closed, you may not be inclined to pop in and say hello or share your thoughts.

But what if that door was open? You’d likely feel more confident knocking on the door frame and asking if you can jump in. So, implement your own open-door policy whenever appropriate. Sometimes there is nothing more powerful than a spur-of-the-moment brainstorm over lunch to crack the code. 

2) Transparency: Show people what you’re working on

Don’t be precious about what you’re working on. Context is king right? We’re not suggesting you screen-share for 8 hours a day. No one needs to see what Spotify playlist you’re listening to. There are so many great tools that you can use now to show what work applications (Github, Figma, Intercom, etc.) you’re actively using. If teammates can see that they’re working out of the same app, perhaps a quick sync could supercharge decision-making. 

3) Productivity: Kill your calendar full of meetings

Okay that’s dramatic, but if your calendar, and your employees’ calendars, are full of back-to-back meetings, how on earth are they supposed to have time for these spontaneous, breakthrough conversations? Of course scheduling meetings every once in a while is necessary, but as HBR says, you have to find the right balance. One respondent said:  

“We have been having virtual meetings and having them more frequently than usual to generate a feeling of company and unity, which has been cutting into the time…[for] my actual work that needs to be done.”

Don’t kill productivity for the sake of face-time. 

At Jamm we’ve done our best to solve this exact problem. With teammate presence, team spaces (aka open-door syncs), active app status and more, teams using Jamm can have those breakthrough hallway conversations that don’t come as easily in scheduled meetings. They are absolutely critical to fostering creativity, culture and happiness while remote. 

So what do you think? How is your team managing to have these spur of the moment conversations that lead to important outcomes?