The challenges of the pandemic have highlighted just how important a positive collaborative culture is to the success and smooth operation of any business. While many employees were able to get their normal day-to-day work done from home, it became much harder for teams and departments to work together and build relationships without face-to-face interaction.
As flexible work becomes more and more commonplace in the longer term, developing a collaborative culture should be considered a core part of any flexible work strategy. But with different people working in different places on different days, how can this be achieved?
While every business is different, there are three questions all organizations should answer in discovering the best way forward. This blog explores those questions in turn, and the practical steps businesses can take to get it right.
What does collaboration mean in the workplace?
Collaboration is all about working together in order to achieve the same goals.
Why is collaboration important?
- Good for problem solving
- Brings people and companies closer together
- Strengthens communication and opens up new channels
- People can learn from one another and develop further
- Boosts morale
- Can help with staff retention
What role can the office play in collaboration?
The pandemic underlined that, while working from home has its upsides, there are some parts of working life that just can’t be replicated to the same degree through virtual means. Three in particular stand out:
- Training: conducting training virtually may allow an employee to take in the subject matter, but the sense of detachment makes it far more difficult for them to engage with the topic, and with the person delivering the training
- Organic learning: many employees, especially younger and less experienced ones, pick up much of their expertise through ad hoc conversations with co-workers, and witnessing the experiences of those around them. These can’t be replicated in a more formal and structured video call, where conversation can’t flow as easily.
- Socializing: strong personal and professional relationships can be vital to the success of any group of people, and this requires face-to-face contact away from the normal work setting
Offices therefore stand in a unique position to help businesses address all three of these challenges; they can be used as collaboration hubs where people can come together for these specific purposes, as well as for normal meetings where it’s felt that in-person discussions may be more beneficial.
How can workplace design affect collaboration?
So, how can workplace design affect collaboration? Addressing the above challenges means that the demands on the workplace will change significantly. A ‘traditional’ office environment, with rows of desks assigned to individual employees and a suite of relatively similar meeting rooms is unlikely to be fit for purpose for these needs. Therefore, a rethink and reshaping of the workplace is needed, including a change in the provision of different kinds of workspaces.
Considerations in this area could include:
- Workstations: with more employees working from home some of the time, is it efficient to have desks assigned to each employee? Can the number of workstations be reduced, and made bookable for specific times through a workspace booking system?
- Open plan co-working: when employees book a workstation, can they search for bookings their co-workers have made, so that they can book a space nearby for easier collaboration?
- Meeting rooms: can the characteristics of each meeting space (e.g. capacity, installed audio visual equipment, etc.) be highlighted within a booking platform, so that employees can easily book a space that perfectly complements their needs?
- Informal meeting spaces: can the space saved by reducing workstation count be used to develop more informal and relaxed spaces that are ideal for socializing and team-building?
How to improve collaboration
Invest in tech that brings people together
Focus on making communication easier than ever with technology. Messaging apps, employee experience hubs, survey platforms, online document editors, video calling software. Communication can be a big problem for collaboration – make sure you’re not holding yourself back in any way.
Help teams form bonds
Open and honest communication is not only key to efficient and productive work, but also when getting along with teammates. It’s important for people to feel an affiliation with one another; high-performing teams feel more able to voice opinions, share ideas and collaborate.
Make sure remote/hybrid/flexible employees aren’t excluded
Utilize tech where you can but don’t underestimate the value of face-to-face meetings. Find a system that works for you all.
Give feedback often
Managers need to encourage and celebrate achievements regularly, make sure this doesn’t fall through the cracks. Praise them publicly in channels or provide feedback in the moment when face to face.
How can people really connect with each other?
Of course, the likely reality of flexible work is that employees will be distributed across many different locations each day, and who is working where will change from one day to the next. But at the same time, employees need to be able to get hold of each other quickly and reliably, wherever they may be.
The key enabler in this area is to integrate employee schedules into the same platform that they use to book workspaces for their days in the office. That way, from one place, employees can check the plans of their co-workers, find a mutually suitable date and time for collaboration, and make a booking for an appropriate space. This whole process can be carried out in a matter of moments, without any need for the time-consuming routine of contacting someone to ask about their availability.