By the end of this year, 39% of global knowledge workers will work hybrid. This number increased from 37% in 2022, according to Gartner. Given these numbers, it’s easy to understand that collaborative work, which is time spent working with your colleagues using digital tools (like email, IM, phone calls and video conferencing platforms), is increasing. Research shows that collaborative work rose by about 50% between 2011 and 2021 and now consumes 85% or more of our workweeks. But, is it working?
According to Wayne Toms, CEO at Ghost- Draft, in the modern knowledge-based economy, we trade in the supply of ideas and knowledge, not in physical materials. And, unlike physical materials, ideas and knowledge are (at least in theory) limitless. But no one mind can be responsible for coming up with all the new ideas a business needs to stay relevant. After all, innovation is inherently a group activity, he says. “This means that we need to rethink and improve how we collaborate.”
Successful collaboration is the outcome of a few fundamental building blocks, says Nazia Pillay, partner head at SAP Africa. These include deciding on a common goal, establishing well-defined roles and responsibilities, being deliberate about communication and championing good, old-fashioned teamwork. “While all organisations understand this, getting this right is not an easy feat and needs to be built into the business’ DNA.”
Traditionally, there are two things that drive our behaviour in business: company values and KPIs. “Therefore, it’s critically important that these two co-exist,” she says. “If teamwork is a company value, but everyone has individual KPIs, you’re not incentivising people to work together.”
If collaboration tools aren’t integrated into an organisation’s strategy in the right way, and for the right reasons, they’re just wasted expenditure.Richard Firth, MIP Holdings
David Meintjes, CEO at Telviva, believes that successful collaborative thinking is about finding a balance between digital and face-to-face engagements, and ensuring you make the best of both worlds. “Something like not switching on your video during a conference call serves as a prime example of how not using collaboration tools effectively can hamper our ability to create real connections. When people turn their cameras on, engagement increases, because when people see each other, they are more likely to actively participate in the conversation,” Meintjes says.
For Sheldon Davenhill, collaboration and software lead at Westcon-Comstor, Sub-Saharan Africa, the major collaboration stumbling blocks fall into a few categories – from security and infrastructure to training. For example, businesses must ensure that their tech infrastructure supports collaboration tools. They also have to make sure that sharing confidential and sensitive information via collaboration tools does not open the business up to any additional risks. Adoption and training is equally important, he adds. “Resistance to change and limited awareness of products and their capabilities among team members can cause collaboration roadblocks.” He warns against relying solely on collaboration tools and neglecting face-toface interactions because this approach can have a negative effect on company culture.
This is particularly pertinent with the rise of remote work. Prior to 2020, there would have been much debate around the effectiveness of virtual teams. But today, we can safely say that the location of a team member is no longer seen as a stumbling block, says Pillay.
Remote and virtual work only really becomes a problem if collaboration demands that all participants need to meet face-to-face in order to get the work done, says GhostDraft’s Toms. Of course, face-to-face communications will always play an important role, but this cannot be the only model for collaboration because modern workers need to be able to interact at any time, wherever they may be.
Many organisations also struggle to find smart ways to streamline the number of tools they use to collaborate within teams, across departments, throughout the broader business and even with their customers, says Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings. But surely, if one collaboration tool is good, 10 tools are even better? Not exactly. A crowded collaboration environment is distracting, not efficient. Businesses that support too many collaboration tools are often spending money unnecessarily, putting extra pressure on their IT departments to manage all of these solutions and distracting their teams with too many notifications.
This means that we need to rethink and improve how we collaborate.Wayne Toms, GhostDraft
As is the case with any new technology deployment, you need to examine your intentions, says Firth. Businesses must establish if these collaboration solutions will add value, or if investing in them is just jumping on the bandwagon. “If collaboration tools aren’t integrated into an organisation’s strategy in the right way, and for the right reasons, they’re just wasted expenditure,” he says. “While there’s a lot to be said about keeping pace with the latest innovations, unless they are strategically adopted, they will lead to more problems than solutions.”
How do you get better at collaboration?
Wayne Toms, CEO, GhostDraft:
If the goal is rapid innovation, then we need to rethink from the ground up how we collaborate. Many leading innovators have established a ‘SWAT team’, where a small group of people is appointed with a mandate to develop new solutions. By adopting agile practices, these teams can work iteratively – working on delivering early and often – to ensure that there is alignment between the organisation and its customers. These teams generally have more flexibility to stray from formal company policies to get the job done. Such a team will need to have the right tools to support this new way of working.
Bailey Kropman, chief of staff, Bash:
I believe improving collaboration fundamentally involves fostering a culture that believes it is important. Collaboration is not just working together; it’s building a solution that is better than a single individual’s initial thought or idea. If you have passion for the mission, trust that your team wants the best for the business and that you can learn from others, then you have the recipe.
What technologies should businesses use to boost collaboration and why?
Richard Firth, CEO, MIP Holdings:
WhatsApp is becoming a game changer. WhatsApp’s API makes it easy for companies to broadcast messages to unlimited people, add multiple users to handle chats, generate advanced analytical reports and build a chatbot to support customers, generate leads, collect feedback and so on.
Sheldon Davenhill, collaboration and software lead, Comstor Sub-Saharan Africa:
To enhance collaboration, we leverage collaboration solutions offered by our vendors, such as Array, Cisco, Microsoft, NetApp data management, and cloud security offerings tailored for collaboration platforms. These tools enable seamless communication, storage and secure sharing of information.
Bailey Kropman, Bash:
At Bash, we employ a range of technologies to enhance collaboration. We utilise project management tools such as Monday.com, Notion and Jira to structure our work processes and align our teams and partners. To further facilitate alignment, we make our metrics available through QlikView and Google Sheets. These are also visible on various dashboards. Monthly updates from our product and engineering teams serve as the foundation of our communications, as these teams build towards our product vision that enables our operations and customer-facing teams. Slack is our primary communication tool, while Small Improvements is a recent addition for realtime feedback.
Wayne Toms, GhostDraft:
Many businesses today are already using technologies designed to improve collaboration (Teams / Zoom / Slack), but these focus on replicating the face-to-face synchronous collaboration models of the past. Recently, we’ve also seen the emergence of tools that offer more flexible collaboration components stitched into them. For example, if a business wants to get new products to market fast, then it needs design tools that provide an online repository for ideas, built-in tools to capture additional input and reviews and workflow to provide just the right amount of “railway lines” to allow creative exchange while still enforcing process disciplines and timelines. What role does cloud play in enabling collaboration?
Bailey Kropman, Bash:
Cloud technology plays a critical role in modern workforce collaboration by facilitating real-time data-sharing and simultaneous project engagement, regardless of location. It allows access to essential information and tools at any time, fostering efficient decision-making and problemsolving. The cloud supports the myriad collaboration tools we use at Bash and it’s indispensable for promoting a connected and cohesive work environment, vital for agile businesses like ours.
Richard Firth, MIP Holdings:
There’s no doubt that the cloud has become an essential tool in enabling today’s remote and hybrid workforces, but it has also become a double-edged sword. For all the companies that are using cloud-based solutions because they are fulfilling an important role, there are the same amount that have integrated them into their strategies because their competitors are doing it, or because analysts predict that a certain technology will become essential five years from now. This isn’t to say that cloud isn’t essential, but businesses must first establish if smomething adds value to the business before investing in them.
THE COLLABORATION WORKSHOP
Workshop17 offers fully serviced office space, flexible co-working options and meeting rooms in Cape Town and Johannesburg. According to Paul Keursten, CEO and co-founder of Workshop17, the idea behind the business was to create communities where ideas can transform into action. And their community has only grown with the rise in remote work and the fact that traditional office spaces are falling out of favour. “Before the pandemic, flexible workspaces were a niche offering for small, innovative companies and entrepreneurs. Since Covid, it’s for everyone,” he says. Instead of sharing an office with people from your own company, or even with your own team, now you can share the space with people from different companies, from different professions and from different backgrounds.
“This grows the ‘resources’ one has access to and opens you up to new perspectives and insights and creates new connections. At Workshop17, we currently have close to 5 000 members. If anyone is looking for an idea, a solution or access to a particular market, chances are high that one of these 5 000 can help.”
What do these workspaces need to attract hybrid workers? Reliable connectivity and member benefits top Keursten’s list. Workshop17 provides its members with service partnerships that aim to make their lives easier and support their entrepreneurial journey. Things like an iStore partnership, which provides members with onsite tech support, preferential rates and access to their own iStore consultant, are drawcards. The brand’s eBucks partnership allows members to pay their invoices and top up their credits.
* Article first published on brainstorm.itweb.co.za