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The Need for Tailored Collaboration We play tokenism with fundamentals such as diversity and collaboration, not realizing that they are needed for basic survival and not mere projection in annual reports and jazzy corporate collaterals

By Swati Sudhakaran

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We ushered 2020 and unwittingly COVID-19 into our lives which also meant welcoming a period of ceremonious pause and introspection on the prevailing order of things—whether personal development or career progression. For years, certain traits and characteristics have been hyped as the "it' skills to possess, in order to rise up the career ladder. Corporate firms have valued certain hero qualities in employees such as a high sense of distinct individualization and almost irrational self-dependence, for far too long now. Corporates have been on an eternal drive to find someone who has all the answers in an environment bustling with queries.

Covid-19's wild card entry has left everyone fumbling for the books.

Dueling with unprecedented times like COVID-19, heroes come under an unfair amount of scrutiny and pressure to rise to the occasion. This often isolates them from reaching out to the larger community for help, should it ruin the optics of them not sufficing to take charge. The balance of responsibility, accountability and cohesion with the workplace fades for many employees who feel excluded from this elite core group of resources prancing about in their corporate capes.

We play tokenism with fundamentals such as diversity and collaboration, not realizing that they are needed for basic survival and not mere projection in annual reports and jazzy corporate collaterals.

Tailored Collaboration

Times of unprecedented peril such as the current pandemic has forced people to leave their comfort zones and strategize on building a new cohesive work culture which places humans as the fulcrum point. The need of the hour is pay heed towards tailored collaboration—a collated effort in bringing everyone on the same page while addressing their individual fears, apprehensions and customizing community ventures to address the same.

Communities help nurture various narratives, success and failure stories; as well as leadership strategies. The most important feature of communities that it lends to the modern workplace, is the acceptance of the fact that humans need help from each other to thrive. It opens spaces to showcase vulnerability, achievements and share emotions.

Some of the main elements that need to be factored in are:

Tech Can be Dehumanizing

COVID-19 presents a duality where we are all feeling intensely isolated yet "on the spot'. The anxiety and tediousness of Zoom calls, Zoom fatigue, is surfacing in a series of research reports which highlights how social anxiety is seeing a spike. The idea that we are all chained in a static environment and seeing colleagues shuffle in and out of the virtual meetings is taxing on our sensory aids. In-person interactions are less challenging as they function on a very different set of verbal and physical cues—for example, we don't stare at eight faces up close together in gallery view.

Technology can be dehumanizing. Chatbots as assistants can vomit data on COVID-19 and offer stoic therapy lessons but there is an obvious lack of heart in them. For the older demographic of the workforce especially, some of the easier thought aspects of tech-enabled communication can be daunting. Maybe from the bunch of one million webinars being scheduled, some could focus on stories about failures, sense of loss and confusion. Talking about some of the disasters or bloopers that others have faced with their tech advents would help ease our usage of tech and not expect perfect results every time.

Corporate communication strategies never talk about emotions or the emotional tone explicitly. This could breed miscommunication very easily in the digital workspace where comments can be taken as directives and vice-versa.

Generally considered a trivial addition to language, emojis and other forms of graphic communication can help us set a context and verbalize sensitive and at times confusing messages. A Swedish not-for-profit, BRIS, had released an app with range of images and emojis that depicted bad feelings and illustrated mistreatment of children. These helped the victims of child abuse identify their situation as one and seek help.

Tailored Communication Strategy

Now that the COVID-19 regime has floated the memo on over-communication, most corporates have deviated from the basic principle of communication—establishing and maintaining a two-way street. A tailored approach would always give out two-three options for any measure to be implemented. Instead of over-communication leading to team calls that never end and where the 20 people involved cannot each voice out their concerns, more time can be spent on internal governance where team leaders can fix daily calls or check-ins twice a week as per the needs of the team.

Volatility is at its peak currently, where no two stakeholders are processing the uncertainty of the COVID-19 times in a similar way. Hence it helps to restructure communication keeping in mind what specific pain points have to be addressed. Communication phases can be tailored out as:

Resistance: Resistance to any new piece of information that threatens status quo should be addressed with pure facts and not speculation. Safety measures on the nature of the crisis should be communicated.

Internalizing: In the second stage, internalizing, there is realization of how expansive and impactful the situation is and hence the communication should revolve around building clarity on long-term plans, spreading positive stories and opening up portals to establish connection.

Adapting: The third bucket should incorporate both a plan to move ahead in the uncertain times while addressing the sense of loss that may also prevail.

Leadership examples: Satya Nadella's leadership has always been a stellar example of stitching community values at Microsoft and how the tech giant made a semantic shift from a culture of know-it-alls to one of learn-it-alls. His stellar initiative at Microsoft called One-Week brought together everyone in a three-day hackathon to innovate, learn and unlearn. It did away with the mental siloes of junior and seniors and opened-up a thriving attitude of inter-dependence for success. It is a deep reveal that what corporates look for from heroes can actually be derived from communities, which offer vires in numerous, i.e., they can project the strength of numbers and open up a pool of connections, resources, influences and support system.

Anand Mahindra tweets are a brilliant case-in-point about his tailored communication and leadership skills. He effectively uses the platform to incorporate business ideas from Twitterati. The most recent one where he got a suggestion from a retired journalist, Padma Ramnath on Mahindra canteens using banana leaves as plates, noting that it would help struggling banana farmers who were having trouble selling their produce during the COVID lockdown. Needless to say, Mahindra canteens proactively adopted the change. On the lighter side, Mahindra was also one of the few leaders to discuss his work-from-home attire on his Twitter handle, thus pegging himself as just another Mahindra employee trying to make sense of the new changes thrust upon all of them. He also came across as a leader who shows no ego when it comes to apologizing over a flawed assessment. His praise over usage of leaf masks received flak on the platform since they had no scientific rationale behind their success. The fact that he noted the erroneous statement and acted to rectify it, reflects deeply on his collaborative style of leadership.

The post-COVID economy will require the presence of collaborators who can tie in different community channels and maintain a high Tailor Quotient in them, i.e. allowing them to breathe and reinvent the rules that bind them organically. This helps keep an active tab on flushing out whatever hinders team performance while appreciating the tactics that work. There is a growing recognition in opening the spectrum of new and evolving skills in the workforce and we need leaders who can tie cultural, social and economic disparities to facilitate the team in its ventures towards success.

Swati Sudhakaran

Public Policy and Corporate Affairs Consultant

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