How are you nurturing deep collaboration in a Pandemic world?

Joseph Reifel
Joseph Reifel Founding Member | Scholar ✭✭

I hope that some of you have found some sort of magical elixir for what I'll call "deep collaboration" during a Pandemic. For context, I'm the TSIA Collaboration Champion for our company, but I'm also a New Product Introduction Engineer in Global Services, and I'm an Agile Team Member, which is to say that I'm an individual contributor. My job, primarily, is to assimilate all of the known technical information for a new product and turn it into something that's digestible by our workforce in Support. Day to day that means that I'm looking at the bleeding edge (sometimes it's still slashing) of everything that's being created, with an eye toward what an administrator or their customers will encounter, so that I can prepare knowledge articles and training modules in advance.

I'm also a long-time-full-time home office worker, I've been doing it for almost five years, and I have privately hoped to see a day when all workers could have the option of working from home.

All that said, the Pandemic wasn't exactly what I had in mind, and now I'm able to understand that that everybody working from home isn't a panacea when it comes to collaboration.

I did a Google search and found this recently written MIT article, and the nature of my work puts me in category 3 (non-routine and highly collaborative knowledge work):

Probably like most of you.

The two recommendations from the article made a lot of sense: (1) deploy technology that encourages serendipitous encounters, and (2) design the job for chance encounters.

One of the "chance encounter" opportunities I'm missing the most right now are the conferences. Kubecon, AWS Summit, TSW, and my company's internal tech summit (and, sadly, the Christmas Conference in Vegas) - I can now see how conferences are unparalleled opportunities to immerse yourself with like-minded people, and so much innovation comes from these forced-chance-encounters.

Are any of you making in-roads in this type of collaboration? Would you care to share what's working? How are you creating and nurturing chance encounters for your knowledge workers?

I will say that our company is doing great with what we have thought of so far - I have access to hundreds of hours of recorded demos, I've got instant contact with any employee I need to talk to, our company has made an Agile transformation, and the big room planning meetings still occur via video conference - but most of these are deliberate, typically unidirectional encounters, even if time is given for Q&A. People ask different questions to an audience of 100 than they ask in a 1:1 with the presenter.

If we imagine the effects of the Pandemic lasting indefinitely, then somehow we're going to need to find a solution for the forced-chance-encounters that nurture rapid innovation. Are any of you having any luck with this?


  • StevenForth
    StevenForth Founding Partner | Expert ✭✭✭

    This is an important theme at Ibbaka as well. Thank you for expressing it so well.

    The forced chance encounters is something we have been researching as it is relevant in so many context. One thing we are looking at is the role of chance, or serendipity, to career paths. We are in the design research phase for a new module for our skill management platform. Skills and career paths are closely connect, especially when you add in potential skills. But we don't want our approach to be too programmatic or algorithm driven. In our interviews many people have told us about the role of chance in their own career development. We don't want to squeeze that out, but rather to encourage it. This is emerging as a design goal for this work.

    In a different example, in late June I was at the AGM for an angel fund that I invest through. This is an event I look forward to as they generally have good speakers, good analysis and presentations by the CEOs of investees.One of these just hit a billion dollar valuation, which was kind of exciting. But to be honest, what I most enjoy at these AGMs is the chance to socialize and meet new people, and I was not expecting that to happen in a virtual meeting.

    What they did worked well. At the end of the formal part of the meeting we spent thirty minutes getting randomly sorted into groups for five minute chats and exchanges of ideas. This worked surprisingly well. In one group was a good friend whose company has been severely hurt by the pandemic (it is a SaaS platform used in a segment of the travel business).I got to have an update and trade some ideas with other people on things he could do to change the service. I also got to meet several new people that I would not have met otherwise that I have had follow up conversations with. One I may even hire. Chance at work.

    The TSIA could consider this for one of its own events!

  • Joseph Reifel
    Joseph Reifel Founding Member | Scholar ✭✭

    "At the end of the formal part of the meeting we spent thirty minutes getting randomly sorted into groups for five minute chats and exchanges of ideas. This worked surprisingly well."

    This sort of thing is appealing to me, especially if there's a magical way to get the "shy" (mildly engaged) people out of the corner and into a meaningful discussion. How did they accomplish the random sorting? Was it a moderator facilitated activity to sign people up? Was it something that was enabled by technology? Or was it truly random?

  • StevenForth
    StevenForth Founding Partner | Expert ✭✭✭

    I am not sure of the actual mechanism but can acquire. There was a facilitator for the meeting who seemed to handle this. The groups only had three to five people and we all got to talk and exchange ideas. It was very good for those 'mildly engaged' people, who had valuable things to add but were drowned out in a crowd.