Collaboration comes into its own

With normal business operations suspended owing to the lockdown, collaboration tools have finally been given the opportunity to prove their true value to enterprises.

Johannesburg, 20 May 2020
Read time 4min 50sec
Amanda Ellis, Delivery Lead, Mint Group.
Amanda Ellis, Delivery Lead, Mint Group.

Despite the world having gone into lockdown in an attempt to combat the dangers presented by COVID-19, business nonetheless has to continue. To this end, what used to be a mere nice-to-have, namely a suite of collaboration tools, has suddenly become one of the most vital pieces of technology in a company’s armoury. When the lockdown of non-essential businesses was announced in March by the president, it immediately created a massive increase in the demand for collaboration tools that enable people to work remotely but effectively from anywhere, at any time and via any device.

According to Amanda Ellis, Delivery Lead at Mint Group, such tools are vital in maintaining a semblance of normal office operations. These solutions, she adds, must enable true collaboration, by allowing users to share documents, spreadsheets, design and content, or to see one another as if it was a physical meeting and to encourage them to meaningfully cooperate.

“It must be remembered, though, that collaboration tools often host some of your most important information, customer data and innovation ideas in a single space. Therefore, the first consideration when implementing such a tool is to ensure security is inherent in collaboration platforms, presentation software, remote support tools and virtual events,” she says.

She points out there are many benefits to using such collaboration tools, provided the company ensures that whatever solution is chosen, enables employees to do absolutely everything they could do if they were at the office.

“In the lockdown environment, this is especially crucial, as most organisations are unable to work from their offices at present. Video-conferencing can thus play a major role in ensuring you are able to undertake an almost-business-as-usual approach. It is important for staff to be able to see their colleagues, especially in this unique situation the world finds itself in. This - at least - makes it feel as if they are all gathered in the office together.

“More than this, this form of communication happens in real-time, so it is much faster than e-mail, for instance, and as it includes visuals, it is not only more personal and intimate, it also makes it much easier to grasp the nuances of the other attendees’ speech and body language.”

Looking longer term, she suggests the success of such tools is currently demonstrating to businesses that more employees can easily work from home, which may lead to a reduction in the amount of office real estate being used, which can in turn have a significant and positive impact on companies’ expenses.

“Of course, to eliminate office real estate in this manner, management will need to change too. At present, middle management and senior executives are so used to being able to see their people at their desks, that when this is no longer possible, they may struggle to trust employees to remain productive. In fact, one of the biggest hindrances to effective change management in this new environment is managers who don’t trust their people.

“While the current crisis has forced them to allow remote working, most are discovering that the majority of employees are now more productive and happier, because they are being measured on deliverables, rather than the time spent at their desks.”

More pertinently, she continues, under normal circumstances they would leave home a couple of hours before work and fight their way through rush hour traffic, arriving at 08:00 exhausted and stressed. In the current situation, they may get up at the same time, but can instead enjoy a cup of coffee and relax for a while listening to the radio, yet still begin work earlier than normal, and in a completely stress-free manner.

“Apart from reduced stress and improved productivity, working from home also means enormous savings for employees with regard to fuel and related vehicle costs, eliminating the risk of accidents and road deaths, and lowering the company’s carbon footprint – thanks to fewer instances of national or international travel by aircraft being required. I believe that when this crisis ends, a new way of work will be established and the old way of work will be significantly reduced, as the financial, environmental and social benefits of this new approach become apparent. We will also see an increasing number of employee contracts focusing on output delivered, rather than hours in the office.”

After all, once lockdown ends, she suggests, with the right collaboration tools, you should be able to do everything you could do before – from conducting informal chats to sharing documents to signing important contracts – only now you could be on the beach, but still performing at the same level as if you were seated at your desk.

“And it is not only the employees who benefit either. Perhaps the most critical thing about these tools is that, with a huge recession in the offing, every business is going to place cost savings high on the agenda. This means reducing the costs of corporate real estate and saving money in terms of fuel costs and carbon taxes, while at the same time boosting productivity significantly. Collaboration tools are thus vital if enterprises are to grasp the opportunity we have been presented to permanently change the way business is done – for the better,” concludes Ellis.