Collaborating Virtually Is Challenging…Norms Can Help!

The COVID pandemic has created a new reality for many of us…working from home, isolated physically from our colleagues and stakeholders, and connecting only through the magic of video conferencing. Effective collaboration with others has always been important to the success of our work, but it has taken on even greater significance as we collectively adjust to the “new (virtual) normal” of our workdays. How do we ensure our collaboration is as productive as possible when we can’t sit across the table from one another? How do we create trust and understanding in a group when members can’t read each other’s body language?

Creating and applying group and meeting norms, or expected standards of behavior, can help address these challenges. What are norms of collaboration? We have all participated in meetings, in person or virtually, where the group dynamics were positive, participants listened to and respected all voices, and the group took concrete actions to move a project forward. However, all of us probably can recall meetings we’ve attended that do not match this description! The difference, in many cases, is the establishment of and commitment to use group norms of collaboration. Creating and applying norms of behavior for collaborative groups can, among other things, set forth clear expectations for participation, ensure everyone is “on the same page” about the work, acknowledge all voices and perspectives, and help groups prepare for and accomplish the work ahead. Agreeing to certain norms of collaborating is especially critical when participants are working in a virtual space, particularly because some of the feedback we often subconsciously monitor when meeting in person (e.g., body language, different nuances of attending to what others are saying) is harder to track in a virtual setting.

IDC’s webinar, Norms of Collaboration: Strategies for Working Together Effectively in Person and Virtually, provided an opportunity for participants to explore norms of collaboration to deepen trust, understanding, and respect among collaborators. During the webinar, presenters shared seven norms of collaboration that can contribute to greater group productivity during in-person and virtual group meetings. Participants reflected on how well their own group habits align with these seven norms of collaboration and on how they can apply the norms to improve the quality of their interactions. Presenters also offered facilitation strategies and considerations for working in a virtual environment. It was a great discussion and we hope to continue to explore these topics with you and hear your stories for shaping positive, productive collaboration experiences!

Susan Hayes