Why “Soft Work” Matters, and How to Make it Part of Your Remote Office

When we think of work, it's the daily tasks that generally come to mind. The big project, the complex deal, documents to be written or read, staff meetings and industry conferences.

What we overlook are the moments between those priority items - the favor you do for a staff member in another department, the hallway chats about what's in the pipeline, the idle question that turns out to be fodder for a constructive brainstorming session.

They may happen organically, but this so-called 'soft' work is crucial to your business. And unfortunately, it's one of the hidden casualties of remote working.

Hard work vs. soft work

Despite the name, hard work isn't necessarily difficult. Think of it as the work you're paid to do. That looks different for everyone but, broadly speaking, it could mean researching a client, managing employees, writing up proposals, replying to emails and/or hosting meetings. It's everything you do to fulfill your duties in your particular role.

By comparison, soft work is window dressing. The office activities that don't feel like work but enhance your productivity nonetheless. At its core, soft work is all about communication – chatting with coworkers across all levels and teams to build relationships, improve collaboration and spark new ideas. It's the grist in the mill of creativity, innovation and problem-solving.

The benefits of soft working

The upside of soft working boils down to its impact on company camaraderie. The ability to bounce ideas off colleagues from different teams, and at different levels, is often what gets those tricky tasks past the finish line. Sometimes your best muse is in the next cubicle, ready to give you a quick hit of inspiration that will take what you're working on from satisfactory to great.

According to one study, working together towards a common goal doesn't just make people more productive and creative, it also enhances their enjoyment and boosts morale.

Informal collaboration is particularly helpful in an office context. This casual approach, often characterized as 'playful productivity', encourages bonding between team members and gives them the space to try out new ideas in a nurturing environment. 

Out of office mingles increase collaboration

The more staff mingle, discuss and chat, the more cohesive and creative your company. But what happens when they can't saunter over to the next desk or bump into the boss in the cafeteria?

When pandemic restrictions closed offices, it gave rise to a new era of working. An era in which soft working was relegated to the past, and hard working became the norm.

Microsoft's 2021 Work Trend Index surveyed the company's 160,000 employees worldwide to determine how remote working affected their work, their attitudes and their performance. The research didn't just look at how we work now, but also how we work together.

And it's not great news. Pre-pandemic, offices were a hub of cross-communication. Post-pandemic employees stuck to their own small silos, rarely venturing outside their usual teams.

More worryingly, the Microsoft research tracked staff over several months and found that even close-team collaboration declined over time in a remote working environment.

Is soft work possible in a remote working context?

Over 70% of respondents in the Microsoft survey wanted to continue with their more flexible home office set-up, suggesting that remote working is likely here to stay and employers will have to adapt.

They can do this in several ways, but one of the first steps is building rapport not just within but between teams. Encouraging cross-team relationships benefits all parties and doesn't have to involve a 50-person Zoom call. Instead delegates from each module can schedule weekly chats or monthly check-ins. These don't necessarily have to stick to an agenda, but should operate more as a casual news round-up or informal get-together. You could also make these open to anyone who wants to join - running a Friday afternoon happy hour or a Monday morning coffee group.

There are a variety of tools on the market to help set up your informal conversations. Messaging apps like Slack allow users to create a number of channels where they can post and share memes and funny comments, or just dive into a topic of the day. Meeting apps like Fellow drive engagement via asynchronous meetings – casual discussions that are open-ended and allow contributors to pop in and out, participating as and when they can.

As we pull out of the pandemic, no-one's quite sure what the new work infrastructure will look like. But some things never change, and the importance of collaboration is one of them. There's no downside to building strong linkages within your firm but, in the office of the future, communication will require a little more work.  

You may also want to consider using a productivity intelligence tool like Prodoscore which gives employers and managers a bird's eye view of how teams are working. With this window into your workforce's productivity, you can see at a glance opportunities for deeper collaboration and any issues that quickly need to be addressed. Contact us for a demonstration today.

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