Collaboration as a force for change and innovation in the workplace is nothing new. A continuous improvement ‘buzz word’, its benefits are as well documented as its realisation is complicated. Collaboration encourages self-awareness and critical thinking, promotes problem solving and increases efficiency by optimising individual strengths and weaknesses to ensure that more can be achieved with less. It also helps to promote unity through diversity by understanding different perspectives, which can in turn return greater business benefits by exploring new angles and driving creativity. By combining different personalities, perspectives and positions, collaboration can deliver tangible business results.
Yet, collaborating in the workplace is still a hurdle for many organisations. According to an Accenture report, middle managers spend more than a quarter of their time searching for information, 59% miss valuable information as a consequence of poor information distribution and 45% said gathering information about internal activity is challenging . A McKinsey study highlights that the average worker spends 28% of their working week managing emails and 20% searching for information and tracking down colleagues for support . Meanwhile, 86% of respondents in a Salesforce survey cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures .
To add fuel to the fire, the complex inter-connectivity of different business networks has been exacerbated in recent years by globalisation, remote working and specialism / silo based working structures. Working across borders and boundaries has never been more critical, or more challenging. At the same time, 32% of organisations are now designing their business structure to be more agile and team-centric , just as Gen Z, the most digitally connected generation yet, are entering the workplace and promising to shake up organisations’ methods of communication and knowledge-sharing.
So, in light of the overwhelming volume of people heralding the importance of collaboration, and the current and future challenges threatening existing ways of working, what can we do to embrace and cultivate a culture of working together? We’ve put together our top tips for collaboration in the workplace.
There’s a whole host of collaboration-enabling technology out there that isn’t just restricted to the advanced messaging and video conferencing capabilities of Skype for Teams, Yammer and Slack. According to McKinsey, although 72% of companies use social technology in some way to support business processes, very few are fully optimising their capability . This is a huge shame as the same study found that implementing social technologies can raise the productivity of ‘interaction’ workers (high-skill knowledge workers such as managers) by 20 to 25 percent and can reduce the time employees spend searching for company information by as much as 35%.
For now though, some of our favourite collaboration technologies include Collakia, which overlays web search results with comments from employees around the business, XWiki Collaboration suite which creates – as the name suggests – an open source, online internal database of company information and Sharpline, which centrally stores an audit trial of communications to keep all parties in the loop. See here for some more collaboration technologies to try in 2017 .
Celebrate creativity and acknowledge expertise
It’s important to recognise that collaboration and vocalising new ideas comes more easily to some than others. Seeking thoughts from the collective group is business critical in order to gain a balanced view and ensure that you are drawing the best out of each worker. So how do you get everyone on board? The first step is to create an open and non-judgemental working environment where creativity and contribution is not only valued, but encouraged.
This could include optimising different mediums to seek feedback and drive innovation, such as flexible working spaces (see below) to facilitate ‘collision’ meetings, formal ‘blue sky’ thinking workshops across different departments and divisions or an anonymous recommendation box/white board in communal areas. Or why not build collaboration into formal performance objectives? Incentivising working together with recognition programmes will help employees to bridge gaps and encourage even the most insular worker to get involved.
In order to create a genuinely collaborative working environment, it’s essential to acknowledge expertise at all levels. While collaboration inevitably comes from the top down (an open-door policy is a must-have in any collaborative office), an SHRM/Globoforce survey found that peer-to-peer recognition was 35% more likely to have a positive impact on financial results than manager-only recognition . This can easily be facilitated using a social platform that enables employees to give each other recognition online. Enabling employees to take ownership of the recognition process and to take the time to realise each other’s strengths will create a stronger and more cohesive body, where actively engaging and encouraging others to participate is a cultural norm.
Create an agile workspace
From panopticon-style open place offices, through to hot desking, home working, remote working, assigned seats and private offices, it appears the key to collaboration is variety. Google’s award-winning office designs have reinvented the way that organisations think about office space, with three quarters of organisations nowadays offering at least seven types of group space, including 81% offering a café, 51% outdoor space and 43% a game room . That doesn’t mean that you need to equip your workforce with slides and a ping pong table to improve efficiency though. Having the flexibility to suit different styles of working – from private working or 1-2-1s though to small, medium, large or cross-company meetings – will encourage innovation and efficiency by creating ‘zones’ assigned to certain modes of thinking. For instance, quiet booths signal intense, private working whilst communal or lounge areas suggest community and relaxed working. By the same token, ‘fun’ zones (e.g. game rooms) encourage out-of-the-box thinking and scrum rooms denote a collaborative space dedicated to cross-functional experts focused on a specific project. This fluidity of workspace also increases the chance of ‘collisions’ at work (when employees have unplanned interactions) which can spark ideas that might never have been conceived through traditional formats.
A shared corporate culture and common goals
According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report, 82% of respondents believe that company culture is a potential competitive advantage for organisations. A shared corporate culture can be a powerful uniting force for employees and is especially critical in a disparate workplace made up of a blend of different work types (e.g. remote workers, contractors, part-time workers or where there are multiple global sites). Creating a common identity also provides a platform to disseminate information around the business and increase employee engagement by developing a sense of purpose.
Internal newsletters, blogs and a shared intranet all help to keep employees around the business aware and engaged with each other. Meanwhile, regular company events, conferences, competitions and site visits help to keep employees motivated and conscious of the wider business strategy as a cohesive whole. These break-away activities also encourage employees to think outside of their day-to-day role and establish new networks that can support efficiency when it’s back to business-as-usual. With only 40% of employees knowing about their company’s goals, strategies and tactics, the importance of creating a culture of common understanding and purpose cannot be overlooked.
There’s no getting away from the importance of workforce collaboration in today’s diverging, global and digitally enhanced market. As individuals become more autonomous, specialist and remote, so too do we become more aware of our commonalities and critical networks. As a result, somewhat ironically, it is highly likely that as we become more distant, we will become closer, more collaborative, and more conscious. The question is, when that time comes, will you be ready?