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How can we maintain spontaneous meetings while working from home?

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock
Working from home or from a cabin has become quite common. But how can IT developers and other teams collaborate most effectively when their workdays are not tied to a single location?

That’s the question a research team from SINTEF has explored post-pandemic. For highly specialized workers, there’s also a high degree of autonomy. Many still prefer to work remotely, with their boss’s approval.

But how does this affect collaboration? What do successful development teams do to collaborate closely, even when they are physically apart?

The results of this research have now been published in the prestigious journal IEEE Software.

- This is quite exciting; it’s a well-respected journal that caters to the IT industry and software developers, says researcher Tor Sporsem.

Unplanned meetings are most effective

So far, research indicates that spontaneous, unplanned meetings are more effective than scheduled ones when solving problems and making decisions. These meetings occur naturally when the need arises.

The likelihood of unplanned meetings is higher when people are in the same location and have recently met face-to-face. How can we maintain such meetings when working in a hybrid mode, both from the office and occasionally from home?

- We have studied how two teams of software developers at NAV and Entur AS have found strategies to keep these unplanned meetings and spontaneity alive, says the SINTEF researcher.

He believes that others can learn from the work routines of IT specialists, especially in industries where working independently from any location is possible, such as design, IT development, or media.

A fly on the wall

After studying four teams at NAV and the IT company Entur through observations and interviews, researchers conclude that there are three key factors that enable seamless collaboration among developers, despite their different locations:

1. Use of Various Apps for Virtual Spaces: The teams utilized different apps like Discord and Zoom to create virtual spaces. This concept is akin to constructing an avatar of their surroundings. The purpose was to provide more precise signals to each other regarding availability, beyond the typical red or green dots commonly seen in Teams and calendars.

- This naturally requires a certain level of competence. Not everyone can create a digital room, but many tools offer this functionality, and the teams we studied were aware of it. These digital spaces allow us to see who is in the social zone, who is engaged in one-on-one or group conversations, and who prefers not to be disturbed, explains the researcher.

- Previously, we knew that people are considerate and want to avoid disturbing their colleagues. With just a “red dot,” you can’t tell if a colleague is attending a funeral or simply on a phone call, elaborates Sporsem.

2. Psychological Safety in Digital Teamwork: Researchers found that psychological safety is crucial in digital teamwork. Smaller channels with fewer participants encouraged team members to lower the barrier for asking questions:

- There’s a social cost to asking questions. It’s easy to feel foolish. Knowing each other and feeling secure within the team turned out to be essential. We observed that many chose to use Slack, a communication app preferred by software developers, which can be compared to Teams that most others use. In summary, the smaller the ‘channel,’ the safer it is.

3. Freedom to Experiment with Collaboration Platforms: Teams that had the freedom, time, and resources to experiment with different digital collaboration platforms were successful in maintaining effective unplanned meetings.

- People often know best what they need for their job. After all, they are experts in their field. If they have time to experiment with different tools and work methods, they often find something that works well. However, this also requires knowledge of the available tools and how to adapt them to their needs.

- In our study, we observed that several participants had experience from the gaming world, where digital collaboration is essential for solving complex tasks. Gamers set up virtual spaces similar to what they were accustomed to in gaming environments. They then adjusted the solution as they worked and based on their team’s needs, says researcher Tor Sporsem at SINTEF.

In addition to Sporsem, the research team included Geir Hanssen from SINTEF, with contributions from Audun Strand at NAV.

  • You can find the published article here: Unscheduled Meetings in Hybrid Work (
  • The study involved two software teams from NAV and two from Entur. The research was funded by the Research Council of Norway and Knowit. The tools used by the teams included Slack, Zoom, Discord and Mural.

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