A team of people helping each other climb over a wall - workplace challenges concept

Collaboration clearly improves productivity according to many research organizations, including Gartner. While there are many obstacles to collaboration, both technology and strategic, even in ideal conditions, with the current health crisis, the problems are getting worse. It also remains to be seen whether now, with a large and sudden increase in the number of people working from home, existing collaboration tools and platforms can keep up with the demand. 

“At most organizations [at the moment] scenario planning focuses on the necessary operational responses to ensure business continuity. Few of these plans address the ability or bandwidth of employees to focus on their work,” says Brian Kropp, Gartner research vice president said in a recent statement. 

Technology plays a key role in enabling communication and remote work, but 54% of HR leaders in a snap poll indicated that poor technology and/or infrastructure for remote working is the biggest barrier to effective remote working in their organization, and this was at the beginning of the global outbreak. 

Peter Jackson is CEO of  San Carlos, Calif.-based Bluescape, a software company that enables enterprises to collaborate on mission critical projects from any location and on any device, while integrating collaboration technologies such as Webex, Zoom, Slack, Google Docs, and more. 

He told us that with the sudden transition to remote work, businesses are facing the challenge of keeping employees productive in a new environment. But if companies handle these new obstacles in the right way, they can emerge stronger and better prepared for a future of work that will favor remote work as a mainstay option. He identified two main obstacles:

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1. Tech Fragmentation

In a rush to set up a reliable remote work infrastructure, organizations often implement fragmented tools and apps that don’t work together and can result in huge setbacks for businesses later. Tech fragmentation stalls productivity, leaving employees frustrated and stressed as they try to transition to remote work at scale. While employees are all trying to get on the “same page,” businesses toss around files, photos, and videos that are literally all on different pages. Running a constellation of separate applications is a patchwork approach that fails to provide a common operating picture. 

2. Loneliness as a Pain Point 

Even with all the technology working well, the main pain point that Jackson sees is nothing to do with apps, but to do with human interactions. Working from home isn't for everyone. Those that are new to remote work can be hit hard by the sudden drop-off in social interaction, which can lead to a break-down in collaboration.  

During this time, managers and team leaders must establish strong communication practices and protocols, and implement the right technology that brings people together, rather than drives them apart. Keep team members in the loop in the middle of changing work schedules and responsibilities. There’s no such thing as too much information, especially in the early stages of remote work.

Rafael Solis, COO Mill Valley, Calif.-based Braidio also stresses the importance of managing the feelings of isolation that many workers will experience. “It is important to consider how the social isolation can make your teams feel, such as loneliness or feeling disconnected from the organization, thus it is important to work on finding ways to create greater engagement,” he said. 

3. Office Culture Disconnect 

Solis also said that while face-to-face meetings in the office may jump straight into work-related topics, team leaders can use the start of each virtual meeting to catch up and talk about personal matters with their teammates. Employees that feel connected to their teams will communicate and collaborate more effectively with their teammates.

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4. Trust 

To deal with these issues to keep workers productive Solis says that trust and trusting workers to act appropriately is key. “You have to trust your team. This is probably the single most important thing needed,” he said. Remote work becomes significantly more challenging if there is no trust.   

5. Workflow Automation 

Another often overlooked essential is finding a few workflow automation tools which may be specific to departments or types of work being conducted. Workflow automation platforms often aid in providing teams more fluid access to information and to streamline some parts of work. Access to information is critical, one of the primary challenges when first setting up your remote teams is giving them access to the information needed to execute work, for largerorganizations this often presents even greater challenges.  

6. Technical Support

Of course, with so many people now remote working the strain on infrastructure is huge. Sabry Tozin, vice president of engineering at San Francisco-based LinkedIn says that supporting the infrastructure is going to be much more difficult that it has been previously. One of the areas they have found to be critical, but also most challenging, is how to scale and communicate support across multiple regions, platforms and channels. As more employees begin working remotely, the support structures they rely on become more critical. “This is an area where we’ve had to pivot quickly, shifting our strategy from in-person support as a primary method for those in our offices to completely virtual help desks, running from Marketing, to Sales, and finally Support,” he said. 

The result is that they have had to remain agile in our approach — shifting tools we use to communicate where employees can find resources, identifying where a discussion board may make sense over a real-time chat channel, and finding ways to scale our own help team to prevent them from feeling the strain of supporting a workforce that’s new to being predominantly remote. 

7. Ecosystem Collaboration

In addition to facilitating teamwork, collaboration with the ecosystem — including clients, vendors and partners — will also become an urgent business necessity, said Ravi Kumar President U.S.at Infosys U.S.. A video-first unified platform that can create an intimate interface connecting speakers, sponsors and attendees will serve well to replicate much of the face-to-face interaction that we associate with large format events, and even enterprise-scale leadership addresses. The anywhere and any device imperative must of course be tackled. 

8. Operating Models 

The time and effort it'll take enterprises to rewire operating models, workspaces and even talent models and policies to create the landscapes in which technology can deliver for the enterprise, will be significant.Kumar added that these bottlenecks must be unclogged, before our software-powered personal tools can also make our enterprises hyper-productive. Cloud-powered virtualization of almost everything will play a pivotal role here. 

9. Flexible Data Access 

Making business-critical information available securely, on-demand for decisions on-the-go or even orchestrating a renewed talent supply chain for onboarding, training and deployment in the world of new-habits, are some examples. If business and operational policies do not support the flexibility and resilience that remote working mandates, then they must be revised to support the new normal.