2021 spelled out on a wood floor with face masks

Top 10 Collaboration and Productivity Stories of 2021

December 27, 2021 Collaboration and Productivity
Mike Prokopeak
By Mike Prokopeak

We thought 2020 was a big year for collaboration, as companies pivoted to a remote environment and adopted new work tools and processes. But 2021 turned out to be arguably much more important in that regard, as the return to the office underwent a series of delays and new ways of working became part of daily operations in many organizations.

After nearly two years, it seems like we've now been doing it long enough that those new ways of working have become habits — and new tools are perhaps not so new anymore. Yet, it was still only this year that many organizations learned to adapt to remote and hybrid work, how best to address collaboration and how to get the most out of the tools and technologies intended to boost productivity. 

At the same time, employee well-being made its way to the top of the list of considerations, as workers grappled with fatigue and burnout. The good news? Organizations are finding a way forward. Here's a look back at Reworked's top collaboration and productivity stories for 2021:

1. Why Remote Working Will Not Become the New Work Model

Return-to-office discussions in 2021 were like a never-ending tennis match. Businesses volleyed plans back and forth, from the forecasted return-to-the-office fall schedule that many thought possible in the spring, to remote work becoming the new normal for the foreseeable future once the Delta and Omicron variants emerged. The ongoing pandemic and the rise of COVID variants have, indeed, pushed the game even further out into 2022. In this piece, Reworked contributing editor David Roe took a look at the state of remote work and made the case for heading back to the office, when it's safe to do so. 

2. Can You Create Water Cooler Culture in the Virtual Workplace?

Writer Scott Clark took a sip from the virtual water cooler and found the waters quenched his thirst, even if they could use a little flavor. The bottom line, Scott wrote in this article, is that companies can create virtual alternatives to the water cooler that provide employees ways to collaborate, discuss non-work issues, play games and have fun. Just like the in-office version, they build camaraderie, enhance employee engagement and emotional health, as well as help overcome the sense of isolation and loneliness that is prevalent among remote workers.

3. Are You Getting the Most Out of Microsoft Teams?

2021 was a big year for Microsoft and its Teams collaboration software. Companies that embraced new remote and distributed work models in 2020 found themselves looking for what's next as remote and hybrid work became the de facto operating model for many teams for the foreseeable future. Reworked contributor Dux Raymond Sy took a look at how companies can get more out of their Teams implementations and offered up four tips for better collaboration.

4. Viva Connections vs. SharePoint: A Primer

It's easy to see 2021 as a watershed year for online collaboration and productivity, but it's important to remember many of the tools that we use in the digital workplace, like intranet veteran SharePoint, have been around for quite some time. Contributor Sam Marshall used Microsoft's February announcement of its new Viva Connections employee experience platform as a chance to clarify some of the basics around Viva Connections, including how to prepare for it, what the app does and some of the pros and cons compared to a SharePoint-only intranet.

5. A Step-by-Step Guide to Asynchronous Collaboration

Collaboration overload entered our vocabulary in 2021, as hybrid and remote-working teams started to feel the effects of too many meetings, increasing invasions of personal time and late-night Slack pings. Collaboration is supposed to be one of the most enjoyable parts of work, writes contributor Jen Dennard, where we get to discuss ideas and see our work come to life. But managers and teammates often find themselves defending their calendar against yet another meeting while the system stays the same. It doesn’t have to be this exhausting, Jen writes, and offers up a guide to asynchronous collaboration to answer the challenge.

6. Making Collaboration Work in the Hybrid Workplace

While people successfully adapted digital tools to support working from home, the efforts didn't always translate into the most productive or seamless of processes at the organizational level, said Reworked contributor Dux Raymond Sy. When he asked folks on LinkedIn to predict where they would be working in Q3 of 2021, one-third of more than 300 reported they would most likely be engaged in a hybrid workplace. With that in mind, he offered up five ways organizations can ensure collaboration is seamless in the hybrid-office world.

7. How to Stay Sane While Working Remotely

Remote work has its perks for both employers and employees, but it has drawbacks, too. Isolation can affect the mental health of both workers and managers, writes Kaya Ismail in this piece. He takes a look at why remote work is such a drag on people's mental health and what companies can do to help workers stay productive while working remotely. Things like setting boundaries and taking time to be less transactional in work processes feature among his four tips for more productive and healthy remote work.

8. 6 Zoom Hacks for Remote Workers

Staying on the remote theme, Zoom further cemented its status as the go-to tool for many businesses due to its ease of use and simplified controls. But remote workers can do a lot more with the communications platform than most users are aware, writes Kaya Ismail in this article from last February. He presents his six favorite Zoom hacks to boost productivity.

9. Zoom Fatigue Is Killing Productivity

It's hard to imagine that just a couple of years ago, many of us didn't even know what Zoom was, let alone the now-popular expression "Zoom fatigue." In a surprise to no one but the narcissistic minority, it turns out that staring at your own face on a computer screen can be exhausting. And it's not just Zoom. It's Microsoft Teams and Google Meet, too. These platforms have made video-based face time a feature of our daily work. The rise of so-called Zoom fatigue proves that companies need to be thoughtful about how they use the technology, writes Sarah Fister Gale, and that they may want to rethink their video conference policies and culture.

10. Will Chat Replace Email?

The good news? Email usage is going down. The bad news? Chat is going up. So, writes Reworked contributor Laurence Lock Lee in this August piece on the state of internal communications. As we move into a more permanent state of hybrid work, the competition for our digital attention will only become more intense, and we will likely need to work longer hours. We now have a whole portfolio of digital tools at our disposal, but if we get the balance wrong, hybrid work could prove a disaster, both personally and organizationally.

Bonus: Two Podcast Episodes on Collaboration

Rob Cross on How Collaboration Is Killing Innovation

Before COVID-19 pushed many workers into remote work, collaboration consumed as much as 85 percent of people's work time. In the pandemic world, it's gone even higher, adding five to eight hours to the average workweek. We're collaborating more, which is a good thing, but we've entered overload territory. Rob Cross, professor of global leadership at Babson College and author of "Beyond Collaboration Overload," talks about what that means and how companies can make sure they're collaborating in the right ways. Hint: Understanding internal networks and identifying your organizational super-collaborators is critically important to getting it right.

Angela Ashenden on Why Collaboration Is Complicated at Your Company

From established tools like Slack, enterprise giants Microsoft Teams and Google Workspace, as well as emerging whiteboard tools like Mural, we now have more ways to collaborate at work than ever before. But that doesn't mean we've got it all figured out. Angela Ashenden, principal analyst in the workplace transformation practice at research and advisory firm CCS Insight, shares why the technology is important but it's the human element that is perhaps the trickiest in the new world of collaboration.

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