couple facing each other working on laptops
The growth in remote working, among other factors, means having a strong collaboration strategy in place is more important than ever PHOTO: CGP Grey

The growing number of remote workers means it's more important than ever before to get collaboration right. 

Creating seamless communications across offices and departments — regardless of employees’ locations — is critical to identifying and achieving common business goals and objectives.

Strong Collaboration Strategies: The Solution to Today's Workplace Demands

Workplace environments have changed dramatically in recent years, especially with millennials making up more and more of the workforce. 

A 2015 Deloitte analysis found millennials had officially taken over the largest share in the labor market, and the 2016 survey discovered forty-four percent of millennials would leave their employers due to a perceived lack of work/life balance and a desire for flexibility. 

Beyond the millennial workplace presence, remote employees of all ages are also changing the business environment — a Gallup survey demonstrated remote working is on the rise with 2016 statistics showing that 43 percent of employees work away from their team members some of the time, compared to 39 percent in 2012. 

As workplaces look to adapt to these circumstances, strong collaboration strategies are the avenue to create longer lasting and more effective communication.

The Secret of High Performing Companies

A recent study surveying 4,100 executives and employees around the world found the highest-performing companies have distinct collaboration habits and best practices in place. These companies are those who adjusted their corporate strategy to focus on interactivity and feedback — incentivizing employees to share their voices across the organization. 

Putting a strategy in place that ensures business users have the opportunity to share and discuss projects in-real time, brainstorm in open forums, connect on key KPIs and more is key, as is encouraging employees to not only chat, but work simultaneously on projects even while remote. 

These tactics are breaking down the barriers of information sharing, creating synchronicity amongst all employees.

Choosing the Right Tools for the Job

Instant messaging (a.k.a. "chat") tools that allow employees to “ping” each other throughout the day work well for when small numbers of business users want to communicate in real-time. However, for larger, more critical conversations, such as next steps on a co-orchestrated project, necessary edits on a report or high-priority news to share with a larger group of employees, chat alone can introduce inefficiencies by putting communications into siloes. 

A broader structure is needed to capture the discussion and decision making, and correctly inform sources at a larger level when communicating with a wider team.

Lead With Employee Tool Requirements

To ensure the right tools are implemented for employees to accomplish their work, companies need to truly understand employee requirements and ensure they get an overall view of their tasks at hand. Oftentimes, the corporate approach has been “solution first” before understanding the problem. 

Companies must work with business leaders, teams, departments and even a select number of employees to identify where they are having the greatest issues in accomplishing work. Ask them what tools they currently use and what the perceived use-gaps are with these platforms. 

Additionally, companies should work with employees to identify what tools could be useful but don’t currently work well, and what the common actions and interactions they typically need are. Employers may even choose to ask their teams to describe a typical “day in the life” to gather a clear visual of where and which tools can support their typical tasks. 

By identifying core group experiences, companies can avoid obtaining biased views based on personal preferences of applications employees individually want to use versus that which serves the needs of the collective organization.

Along the way, companies should ask themselves what they are looking for from these conversations in a bigger picture perspective. What areas do they want to improve or accelerate that naturally require tools to connect employees to their colleagues, partners and customers?

Learn From the Competition

After a company has the information from their internal “employee tool requirements” gathering, it is crucial for them to identify what other high performing companies are currently doing, and what tools they are using.  

If a company already knows what problems they are trying to solve, seeing how others in the space have already faced the same challenges may help them realize some solutions may also work for them. Most importantly, getting a sense of how others successfully apply these solutions is key. 

Once a company has identified other industry leaders to learn from, seeing what has worked from them, their “lessons learned” and potential pitfalls will help them narrow down which solution meets the needs of their own company. There are always downsides to every approach, so the key is understanding these so you are prepared to manage them.

Create Guidelines for Use

We hear a common complaint from customers and their employees that they don’t know what tool to use and for what purpose. As a result, most of the tools go unused and companies are unable to realize the benefits of having them in the first place.  

If a company is clear on their business requirements and has identified the right set of tools to use in their landscape, they need to have clear guidelines on what tools should be used, by whom and for what reason. If there are some overlaps in capabilities between the seemingly similar but different tools, having clear guidelines or even eliminating certain functions to avoid confusion, will help balance out the dangers of tool or information overload.            

Collaboration Succeeds When Management Leads By Example

Leaders in the workplace, from executive management teams to supervisors, should be working to champion and drive requirements for successful collaboration practices. Call it a “trickle-down” approach. These individuals should start the implementation process of successful collaboration practices by reviewing the desired improvements to the workplace environment, along with the needs of employees, in order to define which collaboration strategies are the best fit for their business scenarios. 

In order to increase organizational adoption, where employees are contributing to shared knowledge over these networks, upper management must first lead by example.

As digital communication becomes increasingly ubiquitous to the workplace, leadership must set priorities for tool development and promote the benefits of utilization. In order to reap the benefits of a centralized information source, all employees must be willing to participate. As such, business leaders must first demonstrate the power of these technologies — showcasing how they not only support digital advancement internally, but also reinforce the widespread workplace environment.