Alignment of Work with the Environment from a Virtual Perspective

With the world now largely working virtually, how can we align the varied and desirable environmental elements for work to create well-being and positive value for both individuals and businesses?  The clarification of “environment” and “work” takes on added dimension because the design process must now incorporate both physical and virtual elements for virtual workers.

Yvonne and Yoko Snapshot: Yoko drafts an article. Yvonne adds to the draft. Yvonne sets up a calendar and zoom invite and sends it to Yoko. We meet on zoom, work on the article in Google Docs together while Yvonne is sharing her screen. We are both actively writing the article together while we are conversing, sharing ideas, comments, feedback, and asking questions. We can see each other’s facial expressions and the surroundings in each other’s respective backgrounds. 

What are the Work “Environments” when Working Virtually?

The physical elements when working virtually include the room or space you are in. It includes the lighting, air, color, and sound elements as mentioned earlier in the last article. The bridge between the physical and virtual is the physical computer equipment, lights and display settings, and audio equipment to name a few.

The virtual environment consists of the software you are working “in.” Their functionality and limitations, how different applications work in conjunction with each other, and of course security features.

The work "environments" when working virtually includes physical environment, virtual environment, and the bridge between.

Alignment of New “Work” and “Environment

The steps to understanding work will need to take into consideration all of the above and more. Additionally, virtual work-related requirements such as how should communication and collaboration be accomplished or will the work be done synchronously or asynchronously need to be addressed.

As time has passed, we have come to realize that for virtual work to succeed, we need to redefine work to make it fit the virtual environment of individuals as well as the business circumstances. What worked in an office setting does not translate directly or equally in the virtual world. Services and/or delivery of services have to be redesigned to fit the functionality and limitations of applications. Communication is different. Working or collaborating on a task is different.

Alignment of work and the environment cannot be an afterthought, it requires planning from the beginning, not just from the overall business standpoint but from the individuals working virtually.

Steps for Alignment between Work and Environment When Working Virtually

  1. Redesign “work” (Virtualization of work or service)
    • Break down the work into tasks for individuals and teams (as we do in the physical environment)
    • Clarify objectives
    • Identify opportunities or gaps that might exist due to the virtual environment
    • Determine added communication needs
    • Assign tasks to be done virtually or in the physical environment
  2. Determine the correct tools to use for collaboration and communication
    • Video to see your coworker as well hearing them. Applications where you and write/make edits in real-time together, editing software
    • Physical elements to ensure tools work effectively. i.e proper lighting so you are clearly visible and proper audio so that you can be heard
  3. Define protocols of how you will work together
    • Working together agreements: Cameras on, full participation while collaborating, be fully engaged.
Alignment of work and "environments" needs to be addressed early in the business planning process.

Needs for New Planning Process

This needs to be addressed early in the business planning process (similar to the process of designing a new office) and also in the planning of work requirements and deliverables. Businesses need to not only create the virtual environment but also continually update virtualization plans to adapt to changes.

We understand that this requires a greater degree of thought, knowledge, and planning. The process needs to look more closely at virtually working and the conditions that need to be in place for success. 

One of Burton Consulting International’s services includes advising clients on how to virtualize their services.  We assist clients in redesigning their in-person services for the virtual space which includes not only their content but in addition, training them in the tools needed and various engagement strategies

Delivering services virtually requires more upfront planning as well as takes more awareness and energy during the course of the virtual work.  There must be interactive components to keep everyone engaged and alert. Physical or mental exercises for the well-being of participants. All of these elements combined are needed to guarantee a successful virtual experience. By doing the above, it makes the alignment between the work and the virtual environment more seamless.

The collaborations tools that I, Yvonne, use in the course of my work with clients allow me to come as close to in-person as possible but they do not provide exactly the same benefits. In some cases, virtual is lacking and I have been surprised and delighted to find that in some instances, virtual surpasses in-person.

Alignment of work and the environment cannot be an afterthought, it requires planning from the beginning, not just from the overall business standpoint but from the individuals working virtually.

Y. Burton & Y. Kawai

In Summary,

In the physical environment, we define work to align with the environment. In the virtual world, we have the added challenge of redefining the environment and redesigning work to ensure the alignment between the “work” and the “virtual environment”. As a result of this, the physical and virtual environment will better foster the work, the well-being of the people doing the work, and further business goals.

In our next article, we will be discussing mindfulness and the workspace.

(Written n by Yoko Kawai and Yvonne Burton)