Advocates of greater collaboration in the workplace face a number of challenges. First, they are hampered by 25 years of archaic file-based desktop PC working throughout the enterprise.
This is not fit for today’s workplace. Different teams within an organisation are responsible for entirely different outputs – but need to work together for the same common goal. Total visibility of work being done across the company is essential.
However, within many businesses the organisational and communicational structures mean that teams naturally tend to create ‘silos’ that separate their work from other teams, with work authored offline and then shared afterwards. Working this way means that one teams’ work cannot be seen until after it’s authored and shared. This can lead to misunderstandings, missed deadlines and wasted efforts.
Start with selfishness
Collaboration might be easy for one team sitting around a table, but it is much harder for businesses with multiple teams in different offices, spread across multiple sites and countries. It’s not enough for one team to collaborate; the whole business needs to work together. Achieving this requires businesses to appeal to their employees’ most selfish instincts.
Selfish collaboration sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s not. The promise of personal success is the most effective driver for change. People are unlikely to use collaboration tools unless they see a personal benefit.
Before they change their behaviour, most individuals want to know what’s in it for them. Businesses therefore need to promote the benefits of collaborative tools not just for the group, but also for individuals. Start by highlighting how these tools can make each person’s workload easier, make them more productive and showcase their personal successes.
Forget about the file
The workplace needs to reflect the world it operates in. Internet connectivity and speed have improved significantly, paving the way for on-demand content services and cloud storage. On-demand firms like Spotify have smashed Apple's iTunes dominance of the music market by negating the need to download a music file.
Employees now expect an application to export their work directly to the appropriate people. Imagine having to write a Facebook update, upload it, notify people that it is available and then send them a link to go and read it – who would bother? Workers want a ‘followable’ environment with automatic, seamless and real-time information sharing.
Looking at the common processes that enterprise teams rely on every day, such as spreadsheet-based work and tasks currently sent via email – and understanding how they can be improved by redeploying them in a cloud-based solution – is key to genuine enterprise collaboration.
For common activities like these, the use of MS Office documents actively discourages collaborative behaviour. The material is authored in silos and then socialised in attachments or placed in a cloud content collaboration portal. Even then, the file still needs to be opened (often downloaded) and responded to. If the information and process could be freed from the file and placed directly in a collaborative environment, teams could synchronously work together, removing version control issues and delays.
Share actions, not words
Businesses need to realise that collaboration is a means to an end – not an end in itself. Different teams working within the same business are interdependent and ‘cc’ emails are a very blunt tool for keeping everyone up to date on what has been done and, more importantly, what needs to be done.
This method of communication is often misused (and over-used), leaving some employees left out of the loop and others buried under a deluge of unnecessary emails. Next in this inefficient process is the ‘team meeting’, which tends to focus on what the team has been doing, rather than what they are doing.
Effective collaboration removes this lag as it shows what is happening right now. It has the knock-on effect of making it much easier to measure performance. It’s nearly impossible to measure productivity and effectiveness accurately when work is only being shared after it is completed. If work is being measured and evaluated in real-time, within a cloud-base working environment, it is very easy to gain useful and actionable business intelligence.
The main benefit of this approach is that more work gets done instead of just being talked about. Immediate access to different teams’ knowledge, progress and work makes it possible to create a truly dynamic workforce on a global scale. Businesses that are ready, willing and able to adopt this approach to collaboration will flourish in the years ahead.
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