2014 will be the year when true enterprise collaboration takes off in large and midsize corporations. To make it happen, companies will need to adopt a new approach when implementing technologies for information workers, focusing on simplifying the digital work environment for their employees and other contributors, and creating virtual proximity.
Enterprise Collaboration Is No Longer an Option
Facing increasing competition on the global arena, corporations operating in more traditional industries are being forced to launch enterprise-wide change initiatives. These initiatives fall in different areas in order to deal with the negative consequences of organizational silos such as sub-optimization, inefficiencies and inability to adapt to new market conditions. Doing so, corporations soon understand that enterprise collaboration powered by social, mobile and cloud technologies will be a key enabler to succeed with any such initiative.
The next insight is often that their current intranets and collaboration solutions are insufficient for their demands, and that changing attitudes and behaviors among information workers to allow collaboration to happen naturally across the enterprise is a completely different ball game than simply implementing new collaboration technologies.
The Concept of the Digital Workplace Gains Traction
According to my own observations, there is a rapidly growing interest in concepts such as social collaboration and the Digital Workplace. The technology-centric approach that has been used so far when introducing collaboration and communication tools in organizations has increased complexity for individuals, making them less prone to change their ways of working simply because they lack the time, energy and support to do so.
Something obviously needs to be done to make people adopt the new tools and new ways of working that promise to make collaboration across locations and organizations a natural thing to do. Executives and decision makers will need to start asking questions such as "How do we simplify the everyday work for our co-workers?" and "How do we make it easier for them to communicate and collaborate virtually, creating virtual proximity?"
The answer isn’t to implement SharePoint or to consolidate multiple intranets into one single intranet. The answer is to remove all obstacles to communicating and collaborating across an enterprise -- be it physical distance, organizational silos, lack of standard ways of working or a fragmented digital workplace.
Virtual Collaboration Will Soon Become the Norm
Only when virtual collaboration has become the norm, the default way of working, will it be possible to talk about TRUE enterprise collaboration. You know that virtual collaboration is still an exception when people schedule virtual meetings only when they can't meet face-to-face, or when they have most of their informal conversations with people in their close proximity, and not on an online social networking platform.
It is hard to find large corporations that don’t want to become more agile, innovative, productive and responsive to changes in their business environment, such as changing customer preferences and behaviors. It is also a well-known fact that small companies are more innovative, more agile and more responsive to customer needs, and, most important of all, that collaboration happens naturally in small companies (as this research from 2009 by Intuit shows).
Is it possible for a large and distributed corporation to use digital technology to bring the workforce together so that it can operate more like a small company? Perhaps not entirely, but it sure can become more like a small company if it helps to create virtual proximity. Then, eventually, virtual collaboration will become the norm.
I believe that we are closer to the tipping point than we might think. We have been in the transition from the old physical working paradigm to the new virtual working paradigm for over a decade, and for many organizations the tipping point will happen during 2014.
Title image courtesy of Wassana Mathipikhai (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: This isn't the first time that Oscar wrote about the digital workplace and we hope it won't be the last. Read more from him in The 6 Pillars of Social Business