Collaborating for success - the new frontier of working
Article3min20 February 2018
No longer just a workplace buzz word, collaboration has become an essential ingredient in corporate success.
A comprehensive two-year study published in the Harvard Business Review in 2016 revealed that collaborating activities had more than doubled throughout the study period.
The study also revealed that in most companies, 20 to 35 per cent of collaborating was done by only 3 to 5 per cent of employees.
Paradoxically, that small handful of helpful individuals can become institutional bottlenecks because work doesn’t progress until they’ve weighed in. Worse, they are so overtaxed that they’re no longer personally effective.
Enter collaborative technology
Technology can not only give individuals freedom to be flexible in their location and hours worked, but can help shift the work load too.
“When it comes to finding success for businesses with geographically dispersed workforces, almost all of the respondents we recently surveyed agreed that technology is a key factor in improving relationships and fostering better teamwork,” says Tony Simonsen, managing director of IT firm Polycom’s Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea divisions.
“Also, approximately 80 per cent of those use video collaboration multiple times a day to stay in touch.”
Polycom’s own research has found that nearly two-thirds of the global workforce currently takes advantage of flexible work, which Polycom calls “anywhere working”.
'Anywhere working’ takes off somewhere near you
Polycom’s digital white paper, called ‘The changing world of work’, surveyed just over 25,000 people in 12 countries, asking them about flexible working policies at their workplaces.
“The most popular reported benefits of anywhere working are perceived to be its contribution to a better work-life balance and productivity, which topped the list among respondents,” say the authors.
“The right technology, in particular video collaboration technology, is crucial for successful anywhere working. Three quarters of those surveyed said that they use collaboration technologies regularly to communicate with stakeholders based elsewhere. While there are variations in preferences around how respondents communicate, all countries apart from Japan are using collaboration technology regularly.”
"The most popular reported benefits of ‘anywhere working’ are perceived to be its contribution to a better work-life balance and productivity."
The tech enabler
“For us, the best technologies are those that are easy-to-use, where the technology quite literally disappears,” Simonsen says. “For example, those with intuitive user interfaces like Microsoft Skype for Business, which integrates with familiar tools like Outlook, make it very easy to get up and running, often without needing to involve IT departments.
“Tools like instant messaging, video conferencing software and hardware, and phones with high definition, quality audio are also useful when collaborating, to maintain productivity among geographically dispersed teams.”
MYOB, for example, which has a geographically dispersed workforce in Australia and New Zealand, uses video technology to improve the quality of collaboration within its teams.
“Success in adopting a flexible anywhere working workplace culture, requires a blending of technologies and workspace that shifts the emphasis from ‘how do we wire this building?’ to ‘how do we wire our employees?’’’ Simonsen says.
“It comes back to communication, especially with regards to flexible working arrangements and BYOD (bring your own device). Employers need to set policies and guidelines – then ensure these are communicated effectively to their people.
“More than half of respondents in our survey want companies to provide guidelines on how to manage anywhere working. Furthermore, two thirds believe their company should ensure the same policies are applied to everyone in the business, regardless of seniority or situation.”
Working with individual devices
Video conferencing, which is the best method to engage a dispersed workplace has come a long way since the early days of Skype at the beginning of this century.
Polycom has launched Polycom Pano, a content sharing tool that allows everyone in the room to bring their own device – a Mac, a PC or even a smartphone and view, share and edit easily, says Simonsen.
“It allows you to share files like PowerPoint or Excel documents side by side without the hassle of juggling different cables and connection plugs and the like.”
Polycom has also invested in a proximity sensor with its conference telephones. That means each new attendee no longer has to push a button to turn it on; it senses where you are and automatically switches on.
“There are a lot of things with smart technologies that can make the experience as seamless as possible,” Simonsen says.
The real challenge is ensuring that all this technology eases the workload of the minority who shoulder most of the burden. If it does, companies around the world will embrace IT that makes their workplace and workload systems more efficient and more equitable.
Does all technology benefit the workforce?
According to the Harvard Business Review, companies should leverage technology to make informational and social resources more accessible and transparent.
The magazine highlights that IT software such as Slack and Salesforce.com’s Chatter, with their open discussion threads on various work topics; and Syndio and VoloMetrix (recently acquired by Microsoft), which help individuals assess networks and make informed decisions about collaborative activities.
A study led by Boston University associate professor Stine Grodal documented the detrimental effects of team meetings and email on the development and maintenance of productive helping relationships.
When possible, managers should encourage highly interdependent employees to hold brief and impromptu face-to-face collaborations, resulting in a more efficient exchange of resources, her research stated.
We’re now working in a bewildering mix of styles, and it’s important to realise that different approaches to work suit different people and different jobs. But whatever the company, understanding that technology is an enabler for a wide range of work styles is the key to an efficient, switched on, and motivated workforce.