Experts discuss the lost collaboration opportunity now that COVID has people working from home. They mention the good old days when people would gather around the kitchen, the water cooler, or the coffee machine to chat, share, test ideas, and collaborate. Mostly, staff would catch up on how the weekend was, what was happening with the family, what people were watching on Netflix, or any other streaming platform. While the catch up might not touch on workplace issues, the benefit of the chat was getting to know co-workers on a more personal level and developing a relationship. It is the development of the relationship that makes for easier collaboration.
Why is collaboration necessary? Because of niche expertise. Our knowledge base is becoming more specialized, and we need partners in developing solutions, so collaboration becomes the means of doing this.
According to a 2014 Deloitte report on collaboration in Australia, there are three levers for successful collaboration: workspace redesign, technological tools, and governance and culture.
Organizations have used different ways to encourage collaboration. Initially the focus was on physical layout. The assumption was that by making more shared spaces, collaboration would improve. As a result, workplaces were redesigned with more open spaces and areas for people to meet. Office walls were removed in favour of cubicles. Cubicle hubs of 2, 4, 6 ,or more people replaced individual cubicles or offices to encourage teamwork.
Then technology came along with tools to help workplaces collaborate more easily online, whether it was in real time, or by improving online accessibility for teams. This allowed people to work at their own convenience and pace.
Still missing a piece of the puzzle, organizations realized that culture played a role in encouraging collaboration.
The Collaboration Levers
Lever 1: Physical Layout
Many organizations have moved away from individual offices to sharing or open spaces.
After investing time and money to redesign the workplace does it pay off? Is there more collaboration?
In 2018, two field studies examined if redesigned open concept workspace resulted in increased face-to-face interactions. In these studies, the researchers used digital data from wearable devices (think Fitbit or iWatch) and electronic communication servers to capture the information. They found that face-to-face interaction decreased by 70%, while electronic interactions increased.
A Scandinavian study found a higher number of sick days in open concept offices than those in a single person office.
Compared to a single person in an office:
- those with 2 person offices, had 50% more sick days
- 3-6 person offices, had 35% more sick days, and
- those in open plan offices, had 62% more sick days
The authors were unable to provide any reasons why sick days increased. They suggested that ventilation, exposure to higher levels of noise, exposure to viruses, lack of privacy, and lack of autonomy may play a role.
They also speculated that perhaps the absence of boundaries might increase the likelihood that co-workers and leaders would visit more often, and interfere with the employees’ discretion and freedom to work. As a result, the employees would experience evaluation apprehension (feeling anxious that they were being evaluated) which would lead to sick day absences.
On the other hand, 33% of millennials want a collaborative workspace.
Lever 2: Online Collaboration
Online collaboration tools or applications that allow real-time collaboration include:
- Document sharing and writing
- Document tracking
- Intranet applications that are hosted on the cloud
- Project/Task Management Software
- Instant messaging applications
- Online video and audio-conferencing platforms
Real time Collaboration: An independent consulting firm surveyed Google Workspace users about real-time collaboration. They found that 92% of the users wrote documents and slides together, tracked a project in a chat room, or shared feedback via chat and video. They indicated that this is the norm.
Asynchronous online collaboration: Asynchronous communication is any type of communication where the involved parties contribute at different times. There are tools available for asynchronous online collaboration, such as Wiki pages, shared inboxes, audio, video, and screen recordings to provide updates, showcase work, walk through a product demonstration, or give step-by-step instructions.
Does access to online tools make a difference to collaboration?
Communication is key to keeping a team cohesive and creating or reinforcing a bond and encouraging collaboration.
Research about online tools, showed that personal contact, e-mail, telephone contact, and file sharing applications are considered the most important tools to maintain good communication among members.
Online collaboration has been shown to improve productivity, transparency, communication quality, and morale. Employees working in organizations that provide effective collaboration tools are 22 % more likely to believe that their organization cares about their morale.
The benefits of collaboration tools include:
- An easier way to work across geographic locations
- A faster way to work across teams and departments
- Clear and precise delegation of work
- Increased productivity
- Better tracking and reporting
- Better organization of workplace documents
There is general agreement that collaboration tools are valuable. They have been found to be very good for organizations from a profit, efficiency, and worker satisfaction point of view.
However, there is still some controversy about whether the physical environment redesign is a help or a hindrance.
What types of workplace design or online tools work well in your organization? Let me know!
Part two of this series will discuss culture and governance as a lever to improve collaboration. Stay tuned for it!
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