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Staying in sync: Effective collaboration strategies for distributed workforces

Workplace collaboration continues to evolve as hybrid work expands its footprint. While both “same-time” and “staggered-time” (or asynchronous) collaboration modes each have their place in the hybrid work environment, organizations and teams sometimes overuse one mode over another. That’s probably because in-person meetings or collaborating in real time have been the default for many organizations, leading to a “same-time” bias, even as new tools make working across time zones and locations seamless. Ultimately, the key for making collaboration scalable and to support employee wellbeing is choosing the right method and tool for the task at hand. With that in mind, here are some ways to get the most out of same-time and staggered-time collaboration in your organization.

Making same-time collaboration more valuable

Historically, many organizations have valued same-time interactions for the fast, direct exchange of information and feedback. They also bring teams together and build human connections. While all these outcomes are powerful and important, same-time collaboration also has some drawbacks — especially in a hybrid environment. 

First, same-time interactions can be difficult to arrange. Coordinating schedules requires advanced planning, especially when employees are distributed across time zones or working outside of traditional business hours. Second, back-to-back scheduling can contribute to meeting fatigue. In our recently commissioned global hybrid work survey with Economist Impact, 72% of respondents acknowledged that virtual meetings improve inclusion and participation. At the same time, 68% said there are too many virtual meetings in general, suggesting that even though employees value same-time collaboration, they want it in moderation.

To address these challenges, organizations should consider the collaboration scenarios in which same-time interactions can make the greatest impact. It’s particularly useful when consensus or immediate action is needed, as in briefings, decision-making, and crisis management. 

For effective same-time collaboration in a hybrid environment, your employees need tools that help them coordinate real-time interactions and minimize time spent switching apps and context. With Google Workspace, teams can create and access a shared agenda or Google Doc inside a Google Calendar invite, helping align expectations and goals before, during, and after scheduled same-time work sessions. And, the more integrated your collaboration tools are, the easier it is for employees to get right to work when inspiration strikes or a quick decision is needed. For example, team members can initiate spontaneous work sessions by starting a Google Meet directly from Docs, Sheets, or Slides.

Jumping into a Meet call directly from a Doc

Additionally, consider how you can bring real-world collaboration activities into virtual environments to enhance same-time collaboration for distributed teams. For instance, digital whiteboard tools, like Jamboard and Miro in Google Meet, allow people to brainstorm, ideate, and problem-solve in real time from anywhere. Interactive solutions like these empower employees to work together in new ways.

Expanding what’s possible with staggered-time collaboration

Widespread adoption of hybrid work has prompted organizations to turn more frequently to staggered-time collaboration — where team members are free to share and respond to information in their own time. A key benefit of staggered collaboration is improving the experience and wellbeing of employees — specifically, by promoting participation across the team and support for flexible work habits. Allowing team members to engage when they’re most productive, or when it doesn’t interfere with their scheduled focus time, supports their wellbeing. It can also help employees feel heard, valued, and empowered. Staggered-time collaboration can also give team members who may feel uncomfortable or vulnerable speaking up in real time, or who just need time to think about their feedback, a more inviting way to share their perspectives.

Staggered-time collaboration can enhance a range of collaboration scenarios, including assigning tasks and action items, knowledge- and resource-sharing, brainstorming, and giving feedback. To make these interactions successful, employees need secure, intuitive tools that give them the information they need to do their jobs from anywhere, at any time. For example, in Spaces, team members can initiate and take part in group chat threads devoted to project- and topic-based discussions, as well as access files and tasks, to stay in the loop whenever they’re able to participate. For people working on a task or project at varied times, creating a dynamic, single source of truth makes all the difference. 

When collaborating on shared documents, a feature like smart canvas enables teammates to assign tasks, build checklists, and share files using @-mentions for easy information access. Meanwhile, automated, built-in summaries in Docs help the team get up to speed without losing focus. Features like these help everyone stay on the same page (literally), even if they’re contributing to a project at different times.

Auto-generated summaries in Docs, driven by Google AI

Flexibility and collaboration are not mutually exclusive 

Helping people know which tasks call for real-time collaboration and which tasks are better done on their own time is critical for sustaining productivity and wellbeing in a hybrid work world. Employees who are empowered to work in ways that complement their needs, preferences, and schedules typically reward their organization for that flexibility. As Holger Reisinger, Paul Sephton, and Dane Fetterer wrote for the Harvard Business Review, “When leaders give employees the freedom to choose where and when they work, it signals they trust them to do the job they were hired to do. The data shows that that trust is then paid back…at a very high rate, building a tight-knit culture of inclusivity and belonging.”

When you create team norms around same-time and staggered-time collaboration, you can help your employees stay productive and connected — to each other and the broader organization. And by giving them tools that support seamless, secure collaboration experiences from anywhere, the impact on productivity, employee wellbeing, and morale can be transformational.

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