The idea of collaboration in the workplace isn’t new. In the past, teams came together to work and share knowledge, but the tools they had at their disposal were quite different. Working together often meant face-to-face interactions with people who typically worked out of the same office. Attending an off-site leadership strategy session to discuss business objectives may have been a way people accomplished goals. Prior to the digital age, stakeholders who were absent from the session would have missed an important opportunity to provide feedback and shape the results.
The nature of collaboration today has changed, due in part to an entirely new working environment called the digital workplace. The digital workplace allows the location of where work gets done to transcend the confines of a traditional office space. The technology that supports this virtual work environment can be anything from email, instant messaging, and HR systems to document management software and of course, intranets.
A useful definition for “collaboration”
Over the years, the word “collaboration” has transitioned from an over-hyped buzzword to an adjective that describes an essential element of a productive workplace. While research reveals several interpretations of the concept floating around in cyberspace, what it really boils down to is two or more people working together towards a shared goal. It’s a working definition that can help examine collaboration from a historical and current perspective.
With more companies going global and social interaction becoming a vital part of our everyday lives, organizations are introducing ways to help people work anywhere, anytime. However, implementing new tools alone doesn’t necessarily mean people will use them. It’s a good idea to know your audience and their unique needs before choosing and implementing any digital solutions. Identifying reasons for using them (“what’s in it for me”) will ensure a smoother cultural transition to a digital workplace.
Pinpointing a purpose
It’s important to define a clear purpose, aside from the need to increase or improve collaboration. Why? A study conducted by Gartner found that the primary cause of failure in the majority of social collaboration initiatives is a lack of purpose. People need to understand why working with others towards a common goal is beneficial, especially given the growing introduction of digital workplace systems.
Workplace collaboration in action
The digital workplace has given rise to many options for helping people communicate, collaborate, and connect in richer and more personalized ways. Today, people in one or many locations team up, often using technology such as social intranet software with built in collaboration tools (discussion forums, document management tools, blogs, videos, wikis and other group pages). And, there’s always the option to work together face-to-face, although it may not be the most viable option in a digitally-focused workplace.
Intranets and the digital workplace
Below are three real-world examples of clients who used social intranet software to help put collaboration at the centre of their digital workplace. By implementing the right system, these organizations were able to increase productivity and inspire a sense of community, all while solving unique business challenges.
Scenario #1: Cross-functional departments working together
It’s critical for professionals in diverse roles within global organizations to have a central location for sharing knowledge and resources with other business areas. A social intranet with networking features like group pages and discussion forums can help dispersed project teams communicate more effectively to meet their targets and solve business problems. Document management capabilities available on most social intranets provide project teams with a place to share and update information online, reducing duplicated effort. Using online file sharing systems can also reduce the IT department’s workload in managing data storage resources and overloaded enterprise servers. And, social software that includes a translation feature can be useful for providing teams dispersed throughout different countries with a common language to accomplish goals.
University Research Co. LLC (URC-CHS) makes optimal use of the collaboration tools available on their ThoughtFarmer intranet by helping their public health, social services and education professionals connect with far-off colleagues, identify people with rich skills for projects and manage project documents online. They also use the translation functionality to overcome language barriers, creating a unified and productive working environment for their humanitarian efforts.
Scenario #2: Communities form to bridge physical distances
People working in customer service roles are usually spread out in the field, selling products, and building important client relationships. This can make it difficult to stay connected with colleagues in other parts of the organization. A designated group page on an organization’s social intranet can function as a community of practice for customer service reps spread across many locations. It can function as an area for file sharing and document management, reducing confusion around version history, and multiple email attachments. It also encourages people to learn from one another, share experiences, and form a supportive community that can positively impact an organization’s bottom line.
MEC increased collaboration and engagement by tailoring their ThoughtFarmer intranet to meet the needs of their dispersed sales-focused workforce.
Scenario #3: A central place for project teamwork
Launching a social intranet can involve a pilot initiative to test out features and iron out unexpected issues. Engaging participants with different skills and backgrounds can enrich the experience and elicit more well-rounded feedback. Some social intranets have expertise locators to help source out folks that can make valuable contributions to a project. Enabling social features, like a discussion forum or creating a group page designated for the pilot means people won’t have to rely on email to share their feedback. It saves the project team time by reducing group emails so news and announcements can be shared and referenced at any time.
Penn State Outreach encouraged cross-campus participants to collaborate during a pilot prior to launching their ThoughtFarmer intranet. Their overall project goal statement, which focused on encouraging collaboration and knowledge-sharing, helped their audience (who in some cases were a bit technology shy), understand their overall purpose and the benefits of using social software in their workplace.
The cultural shift towards digital teamwork
Collaboration starts with people and identifying a purpose for their interaction. With careful planning and implementation, social software can help drive the transition to a dynamic workplace centered around effective, digitally-focused work processes and relationships that successfully achieve organizational goals.
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