Many workers were forced to go into remote-only environments due to the Pandemic. The Department of Energy national laboratories and other computational science employers are learning from the lessons of the imposed shift.

When it was not possible to travel for in-person meetings, large teams learned to remain connected. The online panels called Strategies for Working Remotely were led by Elaine Raybourn of Sandia National Laboratories.

A by-now-familiar sight in many workplaces. Credit: Elaine Raybourn, Sandia National Laboratories

Raybourn, a social science researcher in the Applied Information Sciences Center, has been curious about technology for teams and learning across media for a long time. My interest in virtuality is what connects my experience with the working remotely topic. I wanted to be in two places at the same time when I was small. I was told that you can’t do that. I never accepted that.

She is studying how teams can extend and blend experiences between real and virtual spaces to create a future that isn’t bound by walls.

One of the hundred ECP research groups is an institutional principal investigator for the design ofIDEAS. There are teams of teams, software developer productivity and software sustainable.

Even for a mostly virtual organization like ECP, it was a shock. Teams had the organization and tools to do many things remotely in distributed groups but through early 2020 they still relied heavily on face-to-face meetings. Teams moved to electronic communication channels after the option to travel and meet was no longer available. The overall experience was eroded due to the use of those tools.

We have to learn new skills.

Project leaders realized that in shifting to all-remote work, people felt a loss of control and faced a lot of challenges. Raybourn was able to see what was about to happen. We will need to learn new skills. We are going to unlearn old habits and old ways of thinking in order to better understand our expectations for productivity.

A month into the shutdown, ECP software technology leaders Mike Heroux and Lois McInnes and ECP training and productivity leader Ashley Barker organized a panel featuring speakers who had spent most of their careers working from home. She mentioned the communication gap that she had noticed after speaking. The teams lacked an informal communication outlet to build and sustain working relationships since face-to-face meetings were gone.

Building the larger working-remotely panel series was a natural extension of her existing ECP charter: to promote team productivity with fostering remote informal communication as a key element. In order to help the teams be more productive, we need to provide an outlet where they could have informal dialogue, where they could hear from individual scientists about how they got the science done, about information that normally doesn’t get shared.”

The series has grown over the past two years to 13 panels each carefully designed to be timely and to anticipate the needs of the ECP community. Initially, they focused on individual skills such as establishing a workspace. Teams, mentoring and how to bring in new employees were some of the topics that evolved. They studied organizational change and hybrid approaches to work.

There were panels that covered creativity. The concern has been that we would not be able to maintain the level of innovation that we need as national labs. Many scientists were frustrated without a whiteboard Some scientists brought whiteboards home and tried to use them during virtual meetings or in the background, which caused the topic to arise in several panels. My theory is that it is not the whiteboard that scientists miss. We have the experience at the whiteboard. She says that the digital whiteboard application is not widely used.

The convergence of the pandemic, remote work and a wave of social justice protests has offered an opportunity to rethink workplace diversity, equity and inclusion. People are more aware than ever of how face-to-face interactions benefit some people and not others. We need to think about who is being marginalized when and how we can help so that everyone has that experience of feeling included.

Unconscious bias, racism, stereotyping, inappropriate language and microaggressions still occur in the workplace, and one’s experience or awareness of any of the above can differ depending on the communication channel In a virtual environment, I may not notice a microaggression the same way I might in a co-located setting, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

We have to do something about it if it is there. We have an opportunity to unlearn habits that may be harmful to others and be more intentional with our communication as we learn more about how technology helps us.

ASCR Discovery was the source.