One of the main concerns that people can have about Smart Working is that teams may become fragmented, with people rarely seeing each other, and teamwork and team morale may suffer as a consequence.

At Imperial College, we are not looking to develop a situation where people are working away from each other most of the time. But by working in new ways, for many teams, it is likely that there will be fewer occasions than at the moment when everyone is all together in the same place at the same time.

Smart Working offers new ways for teams to keep in touch and new techniques for teamwork – wherever people are working.

Keep in touch – through all available channels

When people are working in ‘distributed’’ teams, that is working in different geographical locations and maybe at different times, it’s important to ensure that everyone stays in contact with each other. It’s not only down to the manager to do this – it’s down to the team as a whole.

This can involve calls (by phone or Skype), video calls, instant messaging, and through Yammer. Team members should feel free to keep communications going throughout the day, just as if they were sitting at adjacent desks.

However, working remotely also has the advantage of being able to turn off distractions by setting your status to busy, or just having a quick word with colleagues to let them know you need to get your head down (to work, that is!)

Collaborate more effectively on work tasks

It is often assumed that there is a loss by working through technology rather than sitting in the same room. However, there can also be gains to teamwork. For example, having the ability to work collectively on the same ‘live’ document without having a meeting about it.

Similarly having better systems to report progress can also help us be more in tune with what the rest of the team is doing, rather than waiting for an exchange of documents or a meeting.

“Office cover”

Working in a more distributed way can also lead to a rethink of what ‘office cover’ means. It’s sometimes feared that people working away from the workplace will pass on all the tasks involve in-office cover to the people actually in the office.

In most cases, providing the necessary cover can be done by phone or Skype. It’s about having the agreements in place about who is doing what and routing calls to the right place wherever someone is available. And if physical presence is required for cover, making sure there is a rota that works for everyone.

Knowledge sharing and learning

When people are co-located, there is usually a lot of informal knowledge-sharing that goes on as a matter of course.

When working in a more distributed way, it’s worth thinking through how knowledge can be shared with each other. Ways to do this might include:

  • Using part of a team (virtual) meeting for a team member to present an area of specialism
  • Making sure everyone knows who is the ‘go-to’ person for help on particular issues
  • Creating ‘bottom-up’ learning using business social media like Yammer, or shared areas on SharePoint
  • Having arrangements for buddying new recruits and mentoring to help people develop their skills
  • Making videos, presentations or webinars to share the work people are engaged in.

Social interaction

Teamwork and team building are based on social interaction. So it remains important that people do actually all get together at regular intervals or at times of particular importance. As well as working together, it is good if these occasions can also include some free time for getting to know each other better in a relaxed way. Often the office is not the best place for this, and during our manager awareness sessions, we had many creative ideas for meeting places.

The social interaction needs to continue when people are working in different places. So there needs to be a common understanding of how the online collaboration tools can be used for non-work interaction. This also involves the permission to look out for each other’s wellbeing.

Team members should also be encouraged to undertake joint non-work activities, for example, supporting a charity, or the supporting the charitable activities of individual members; sporting or social activities, etc.

Having a Team Agreement in place

Many of these considerations are best incorporated in a Team Agreement which sets out the:

  • The factors determining the place and time of work – and how we decide on this
  • How we work with each other when working in different places and times
  • Rethinking meetings and collaboration
  • How we use and share the range of workspaces in our offices.

Celebration of achievement

There should be regular flagging up of achievements of the team and of the company; for example, how the team has contributed to corporate goals and delivered value to customers, and regular flagging up of achievements of team members, to promote a sense of pride in each other’s success.