As the federal government shifts from an almost entirely remote workforce — due to the COVID-19 pandemic — to a hybrid model, telecommuting tools should be geared toward collaboration, according to a white paper released Thursday. by the Government Business Council, the research arm of GovExec, and underwritten by Bluescape. The study, conducted April 11-29, looked at the public sector in three areas: remote work, collaboration and productivity. He interviewed 200 federal government technology decision makers and influencers in the civilian and defense sectors.
Citing a June 2022 study that found virtual communication hindered creative thinking, today’s study noted that, therefore, “digital collaboration rather than productivity must become the goal”. The white paper defines digital collaboration as “a people-centric concept in which workflows and practices ensure that people can stay in sync and engaged, which ultimately fosters creativity.” This can be achieved through robust collaboration tools that enable “real-time interaction and create a fair environment.”
Respondents in the study had a mix of work arrangements. About a quarter of respondents worked remotely full-time, but many believed they would eventually return to the office at least one day a week. About half of the respondents were hybrid, coming to the office between one and four days a week. The remaining quarter worked full-time or nearly full-time in the office.
The study found that 38% of respondents felt they had lost personal interaction, such as camaraderie and connection with staff and customers, because of remote work. The white paper notes that previous studies have found that workers are more satisfied when they develop relationships at work. However, 20% of respondents do not feel that anything significant has been lost due to remote work.
As noted in the study, data from the Department of Defense, Department of Transportation, and the American Federation of Government Employees suggests that government employees feel equally or more productive working remotely. However, the white paper states that “productivity and collaboration are not the same and are not mutually exclusive. The loss of personal interaction and connection indicates that changes must be made to digital collaboration efforts if the hybrid environment is to be as rewarding and innovative as an all-on-premises environment.
The study found that 70% of respondents said collaboration between in-office and remote workers is difficult with current tools and 56% are only slightly or not very satisfied with the tools they use. Current tools are aimed at productivity, with most respondents using virtual meeting, group messaging and file sharing tools. However, the study indicated that these tools do not promote collaboration and connection.
The study data revealed that the most important feature of collaboration tools is simplicity. A majority of respondents selected the following features as important: ease of use, ease of content sharing, screen sharing, and audio/video quality. According to the study, “the fact that current tools are not truly digital collaboration tools may partly explain why hybrid respondent meetings are not as effective as in-person collaboration.” Respondents expressed concerns about people multitasking during meetings, experiencing latency or connectivity issues, and lacking engagement during meetings. Additionally, ineffective digital collaboration, such as content shared in meetings not being available afterwards and difficulty sharing content, makes it difficult to brainstorm with the group. And using too many platforms, among other things, can get in the way of collaboration, creativity, and connection.
The study found that 61% of respondents found screen sharing to be effective for disseminating information within a team, but not for actively sharing knowledge or collaborating. According to the study, 69% of respondents want true collaboration, not just screen sharing, so users can share content and interact in real time. Additionally, 70% of respondents said their ability to collaborate was difficult and 28% said it was difficult to build relationships or connections virtually.
Productivity and digital collaboration tools also have a different impact on ensuring workers working remotely or in the office have the same experience. Specifically, 65% of respondents agreed that onsite workers have better access to information than remote workers, and 60% said it’s harder to contribute to a hybrid meeting when working remotely. . Office workers were also more likely to find remote meetings unproductive, office workers were also more likely to find remote meetings unproductive, with 29% of those working in person and 15% of those working primarily remote responding this way.
According to the study, “effective digital collaboration tools use a combination of auditory and visual methods to drive real-time engagement.”
The overall findings of the study indicate that digital collaboration tools need to go beyond screen sharing to enable more effective digital collaboration; the study pointed to digital whiteboard tools as a potential solution. Additionally, tools should streamline applications to help workers be more agile and not have to switch between multiple tools to get work done.