From smartphone-based features to digital conferencing options, collaborative tools are helping streamline and improve a wide variety of business-critical processes – with increased productivity and better innovation at the heart of it all.
There was a time when the only way for teams to work collaboratively would be to get them in the same office. These days, whether it’s WhatsApp, Yammer, Skype, Webex or Google Drive, collaborative tools are changing the way we work.
These tools mean companies of all sizes can share best practice and evidence-based improvements across. Gone are days when internal communication consisted of management informing employees about events and forthcoming plans. Increasingly, business leaders are realising that not only does a genuine two-way conversation improve employee engagement but employees, even those at the most junior level, have something to contribute.
Making it work
Internal communications should be available to employees to use as and when they want. This might mean contributing to a forum during a lunchbreak or joining in a WhatsApp conversation at home or on the road.
The rise of cloud computing means that companies can enable collaborative tools for working for employees wherever they are at a particular moment. Staff can gain access to large amounts of data and documents as well as the skills and knowledge of their colleagues.
Technology can now create environments for collaboration that go beyond the desktop, tablet or smartphone. Inmarsat, a provider of mobile satellite communications for businesses and governments, was looking for collaborative tools that would enable its teams around the world to interact both virtually and physically to connect with clients and share evidence-based improvements.
Based in Old Street, London, the company, which was founded in 1979, has what it calls an iMPACT room to demonstrate its technologies to customers and employees and to enable collaborative working between the two. The aim is to create an environment that provides access to data and content while allowing all stakeholders to edit and annotate documents in real time.
“We were looking for dynamic new technologies to help us showcase Inmarsat in a truly innovative way, which would help our customers visualise how we can solve their problems,” said Jose Pereira, interactive developer at Inmarsat. “We wanted exciting and engaging technology which would help us to ‘jump into the future’ and enable us to show Inmarsat’s solutions in a really stimulating way. We also recognised that, when working in a high-tech environment, it would be exceptionally important to communicate to our customers in a high-tech way.”
They chose technology called Mezzanine, provided by Oblong – a company that creates dynamic collaboration tools. The result is a wall display of monitors that provide space for employees and others to share ideas and content, from video footage to live data feeds. Using what is called an “intuitive gestural wand”, users can move content, video and images around any of the screens, zoom in and expand crucial elements in an intuitive way.
Claromentis, which provides collaboration tools to company, naturally uses them itself. “Businesses can struggle to find measurable metrics that are genuinely useful and that can lead to positive change,” said founder Nigel Davies. “One of the things we’re measuring is employee engagement based on interaction with our internal social media feeds. We know now that peer-to-peer appreciation drives the biggest response, and that employee-generated content does more to engage than anything produced by the management.”
Davies believes that the rapid expansion of collaboration tools such as Slack, Trello and Google Hangouts means that many organisations lack consistency and coordination in approaches – with different departments using different technologies. Claromentis uses one system across the company.
“We also know that keeping all our communication and collaboration tools in one place, and accessible through a single platform, significantly slashes – by around a third – staff time wasted on searching for information, documents and content,” revealed Davies.
Having a range of technology and applications is counterproductive when it comes to improving collaboration, he warned. “When those teams try to talk to each other, they either have problems or they switch to a different and unfamiliar app, which makes searching for content or documents slower, and so people become less efficient. Time is wasted and business productivity dips.”
Davies added: “The digital workplace evolved from the office intranet, but the functionality is far richer, it’s more social and it’s all about enabling search and collaboration. In short, it’s a place to call home. Employees come back to it because they need it to do everything – to book annual leave, take an online training course, catch up on news in the company-wide or departmental social media feed, check on the progress of a project or add a calendar entry.”
As with any innovation, employees need to be persuaded that it really will help them. Business leaders must demonstrate there are benefits to individuals as well as the company as a whole when it comes to using collaborative tools. Simplicity and ease of use are also essential. Employees expect work-based collaboration technology to be as intuitive as systems they use to keep in touch with family and friends – such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. Many will have no need for more complex, extensive tools.
As remote working becomes more widespread, collaborative tools should be easily accessible both within and outside the workplace. Employees should also be able to create documents and spreadsheets and respond to those created by others quickly and easily by sharing, commenting and editing without the need for extensive technical knowledge and training. These systems should also be easy to update and upgrade so that employees are can benefit from the latest technology without the need for extensive training – and to be ready to drive their businesses forward.