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ID Students Take On Quiet Quitting—And Win the 2024 Rotman Design Challenge

By Aabha Kale (MDes + MBA 2024) and Sanya Shah (MDes + MBA 2024)

June 17, 2024

ID Team Brings Sophisticated Thinking to an Issue of Concern for Executives and Organizations Around the Globe

 Below, Aabha Kale (MDes + MBA 2024) and Sanya Shah (MDes + MBA 2024) write about their award-winning project, created with fellow “Team Opal” members Sai Allena (MDes + MBA 2024), Vanessa Chang (MDes + MBA 2024), Grace Parks Hall (MDes + MBA 2024), and Michael Ho (MDes + MBA 2024). 

ID students emerged victorious for the fourth time at the 2024 Rotman Design Challenge, a prestigious global competition hosted by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management in which top talent from leading business and design schools tackle complex business challenges. Graduate students from schools across North America devised innovative solutions for cultivating engaging work environments in the era of remote and hybrid work—and ID took first place.

We secured first place with our distinct, holistic approach to enhance employee engagement, team interactions, and managerial support in remote work settings.

To ground our solutions in reality, we chose to collaborate with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). We were drawn to TCS’s service industry focus, global team structure, and emphasis on knowledge workers within a significant remote-work culture. This partnership provided invaluable insights, allowing us to tailor our solution effectively.

Meet Team Opal

Team Opal considers the future of the workplace as part of the 2024 Rotman Design Challenge.

Our New Work Cultures

The transition to remote work since 2020, accelerated by global events like the COVID-19 pandemic, has presented myriad challenges for employers and employees. Remote work has its benefits, but now a significant portion of the workforce now finds themselves disengaged, as highlighted by alarming statistics. More than 50 percent of individuals working remotely disengage as soon as the daily catch-up meetings begin. Ninety percent of executives cite engagement and in-person efforts as the biggest factors for promotions. The implications of disengagement on employees’ careers are real.

Even with well-intentioned attempts to boost productivity through incentives like cash bonuses and perks, it’s become evident, through continually dropping engagement numbers, that what truly resonates with employees extends beyond material rewards. Today’s workers crave a deeper connection, a sense of purpose that transcends mere transactional exchanges.

60 %
60 Percent of Remote Workers Are Disengaged
90 %
90 Percent of Executives Cite Engagement at Work as the Most Important Factor for Promotions
50 %
50 Percent of the North American Workforce Admits to Exerting Minimal Effort in Remote Tasks

Adding complexity to this landscape is the presence of a multi-generational workforce, where each generation’s distinct values and communication styles erect barriers to cohesion, further exacerbating the disengagement dilemma. Compounding these challenges is the revelation that half of the North American workforce admits to exerting minimal effort in remote tasks. This lack of engagement is rooted in a fundamental disconnect between meaningful work and individual values, resulting in an unsustainable and uninspiring remote work dynamic.

The issue extends beyond mere logistics; it strikes at the heart of collaboration and engagement in remote work environments. Employees feel disconnected, their contributions diluted by a lack of alignment in values and goals. This disconnect impedes productivity and erodes the sense of purpose and fulfillment crucial for sustained engagement. Moreover, the absence of engaging, meaningful tasks perpetuates a cycle of disengagement and dissatisfaction, leaving teams, employees, and managers disinvested and disillusioned.

Finding Success with Remote and Hybrid Work Models

A diagram that displays the current dynamic of remote teams.

Current Dynamic of Remote Teams

Current Dynamic of Remote Teams

To achieve success in remote work, businesses and employees must cultivate symbiotic partnerships, fostering effective collaboration while balancing personal productivity with overarching company objectives.

Transitions Needed for Sustainable Productivity

Transitioning from a focus solely on competitiveness and task-oriented approaches is essential for fostering sustainable productivity.

Employees’ day-to-day activities and remote collaboration among teams are affected by their relationships with their team members and supervisors. These relationships create the most impact on multiple stakeholders at the same time. This presents a strong leverage point to develop a holistic solution. Team Opal decided to focus on understanding the details of these relationships so that they could enhance them, asking:

How might we reimagine the dynamic between employees, teams, and managers to create sustainable performance that leads to a lasting advantage?

Our pursuit of this question led to our creation of the Remote Revitalization Toolkit.

Introducing the Remote Revitalization Toolkit

The development of the toolkit involved understanding and assimilating various aspects of hybrid work dynamics between employees, teams, and leaders.

Team leads often prioritize competitiveness and the achievement of project deliverables, leading to compressed timelines, fast-tracked projects, exhausted employees, and reduced team productivity. Consequently, the relationship between employees and managers becomes directive, with managers assigning tasks; employees focusing on metrics, objectives, key results (OKRs); teams becoming functional but disjointed; and interactions becoming procedural. This environment leads to teams feeling disconnected from their work, and employees experiencing burnout, which impacts productivity.

Instead, team leads should focus on fostering team growth by building resilience in projects in ways that create positive conditions and mindsets for work, thereby building impact.

Team Opal developed mechanisms to facilitate this approach through ritualized practices and methodologies. Our Remote Revitalization Toolkit includes a set of rituals and frameworks for the workplace that can be used by teams, employees, team leads, and other workplace members. With sections like Re-Engineer Growth, Re-Align Goals, Re-Engage Rituals, and Impact Recognition, this framework offers methods to activate team cohesion, alignment, and motivation while truly focusing on employee growth.

The Remote Revitalization Toolkit

Team Opal introduced this toolkit to activate a new dynamic among remote work teams, and won the 2024 Rotman Design Challenge.

The toolkit can be used by teams, employees, team leads, and other workplace members, and offers approaches for activating team cohesion, alignment, and motivation while truly focusing on employee growth.

This toolkit can be viewed as a plug-in for multiple work channels–mainly built for remote needs in agile, hybrid or digital environments. It’s a way to support remote work and build accountability.
—Vanessa Chang (MDes + MBA 2024)

The toolkit is designed to generate outcomes such as aligning roles based on employee expertise and goals, developing team rituals to enhance connections, and enabling employees to build their goals and expertise through work projects. It was pressure-tested through contextual inquiries and surveys measuring engagement and interest. Feedback from more than eight managers of global and extensively remote teams, employees, and organizational leaders indicated an average interest of 65 percent in adopting these mechanisms in various formats. The framework can be used across projects and supports the co-creation of new methods to enhance team cohesion.

You are creating a toolkit that every team should have in their hands, especially in the digital remote space.
—Ron Martin, Sr. Innovation Consultant at Tata Consultancy Services Partner Client for Rotman Design Challenge Pressure Test

Presented at the finals of the 2024 Rotman Design Challenge—in a hybrid format—the Remote Revitalization Toolkit earned Team Opal first place. This recognition was based on the team’s connected and systematic approach to addressing productivity declines, fostering meaning and growth at work, and creating connections and community, even in remote formats. The project also explored the missing links in today’s workplaces, where employees are often viewed merely as resources without adequate means to establish favorable work conditions or mechanisms for their growth.

By identifying a new contract of value for growth and respecting employees as the strongest resources, companies can co-create a culture of action, belonging, and innovation.
—Michael Ho (MDes + MBA 2024)
The Evolving Model for Remote Teams

The Evolving Model for Remote Teams

The project was developed at the Institute of Design, with support from Peter Zapf and Jeremy Alexis. The students, who are all pursuing dual degrees in Master of Design And Master of Business Administration, focus on approaching business problems with human-centered design to create holistic solutions.

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