Optimising wellbeing and performance in a virtual world

by the Southern Cross Team
Monday , 25 May 2020 - 3-4 minute read
Video conference meeting between colleagues

Southern Cross Health Society was one of four organisations involved in a virtual hackathon to explore the question of how to optimise wellbeing and performance in a virtual world. They found that people are more motivated and connected when given the freedom to develop their own ways of working.

Optimising virtual collaboration

vHack2020 was a 24-hour virtual hackathon with people from Southern Cross, Microsoft and Datacom. A hackathon is a time-bound team challenge where people use the latest technology and methodologies to work on, and try to solve, a business challenge.

More than 35 volunteers came together online to collaborate and experiment with ways to maintain and optimise wellbeing and vitality in a virtual working environment.

People are motivated when they’re free to create

vHack2020 organisations observed that people are motivated and connected when they are free to create and optimise their own ways of working. People learned, refined and, above all, adapted quickly when free to create and optimise their ways of working. They were also happier, felt more vital and sustained a higher level of performance for longer.

If it's possible to develop virtual environments that facilitate high vitality, trust, transactive memory and flow, there is a strong challenge to traditional business practices. This event showcased that possibility and shows value in future events for learning more about high performance virtual teams.

The vHack2020 challenge: Create better virtual working environments

Hosted online and facilitated by Datacom, vHack2020 aimed to create better working environments. It used technology and data to help companies maintain physical distancing and introduce new ways of working to improve people in place during and post COVID-19. Each of these organisations see this as being incredibly important.

"The time in lockdown showed maintaining performance and vitality in a virtual world is incredibly important. We experimented to learn and gain critical insights to help accelerate our understanding, together,"

– Kerry Topp, Datacom

Key learnings: 4 ways to create better working environments virtually

1. Connect on purpose, communicate the why

For people to feel connected to the mission and vision of creating "Better Working Environments", they need to understand the ‘why’. Communicating this clearly upfront and regularly should not be overlooked or underestimated.

We found that purpose gives meaning to our work. When we work together with a purpose, we feel more connected and inspired to contribute. Participants derived a sense of fulfilment in the opportunity to give their best.

2. Choose the right tools

Microsoft Teams and Miro were selected as the right virtual collaboration tools for vHack2020. Things like post-it noting, whiteboarding, voting and team brainstorming, were carried out in Miro. Afterwards, teams rated the combination of Miro and Teams positively and for most, there is no going back to the old world of physical post-it notes and butchers’ paper.

3. Make your work accessible

vHack2020 participants loved the Microsoft Team's scheduling, workflow, and recording functions, as well as the persistent team meeting functionality that allowed them to chat face-to-face. They liked that their collaborative work - particularly in Miro - was always available, anywhere and anytime they wanted to work on it.

Show trust and create a safe environment

People collaborating virtually need to see that others in the group care, and that their wellbeing is paramount and protected. Creating trust comes from being credible, reliable, and intimate with your people.

  • Be credible - provide consistency, people won’t need to second-guess you.
  • Be reliable - do what you say you’re going to do and deliver.
  • Intimacy in this context means showing that you care and have peoples’ back, that you create a safe environment for people to be who they are.

3 tips for lifting vitality and performance

From the session we learned ways to lift vitality and performance. What we saw through adopting these approaches over the 24-hours was happier, more motivated and productive people, actively engaged in delivering outcomes that matter.

  1. Get to know the people – both within the teams and through 'water cooler' or social conversations.
  2. Regularly check-in with teams to see how they are going, if they need anything or if anything is blocking them.
  3. Create short working blocks. Virtual collaboration is intense, so it helps to break it down into short sessions spread over a couple of days. From learning prior to vHack2020, participants broke into teams to work on specific problem areas, then once every 3-4 hours, came together to revitalise and check in as a wider group.

Expert analysis

Throughout the Hackathon, teams worked closely with Neuropsychology PhD and Performance Consultant Joe Hall, to test and learn how they optimise performance and vitality. “There is a difference between trying the get the most out of an individual... versus providing the environment for them to get the best out of themselves,” he says.

With surveys throughout the event, Joe looked at how individual vitality, team trust, transactive memory (the ability of teams to locate and apply expertise from within their group efficiently) and individual experiences of flow state were impacted by vHack 2020. Results showed that teams were still able to develop a high level of trust and maintain similar vitality, despite operating in the perceived bottleneck of virtual collaboration.

“It was rewarding to see our people engaged and connected around the common goal and adapting fast to the virtual Hackathon environment. It’s amazing how much they were able to achieve in 24 hours of collaborating virtually.”

– Anna Tarasoff, Head of Data & Analytics Capability at Southern Cross Health Society

A challenge to business leaders in New Zealand

What can your business do to experiment with new ways of working in a virtual and physical world? Who are you engaging to create these new ways of working in a virtual world? We believe you should place great importance on it, and we hope this insight and know-how is useful in your organisational journey to a "Better Working Environment".

Kei runga noa atu | Onwards and upwards

Based on an article by Datacom.

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