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What Drives Effective Collaboration in the Hybrid Workplace?

September 10, 2021 Collaboration and Productivity
Christian Buckley
By Christian Buckley

Over the last decade, organizations went from locked down, process-driven corporate portals that provided a digital version of the collection of binders on the shelves within most cubicles, to an ad hoc collaboration mecca. Employees can now pick their own devices, which apps to install and data might come from a server under their desk, in a building across the street, or from a data mart sitting half way around the world. The point is, organizations have options when it comes to building a collaborative enterprise. These choices will help them pick the right set of features for their corporate culture, and to align their social and collaborative activities with their business objectives.

Guidelines for Collaboration in Hybrid Settings

A recent article by my fellow Microsoft MVP and colleague, Dux Raymond Sy, "Making Collaboration Work in the Hybrid Workplace," outlined five ways organizations can ensure their collaboration efforts are seamless when working under a hybrid model:

  • Hybrid Office Does Not Mean Hybrid IT Systems — In other words, organizations need to move their systems and data to the cloud, which, in the long-term, can provide for both your on-premises and online needs, and any hybrid scenarios in-between.
  • Empower Asynchronous Collaboration — If your organization relies on in-person or synchronous collaboration to operate, you may struggle to adapt in a hybrid model where employees are geographically dispersed, and working hours tend to be flexible.
  • Encourage Serendipitous Collision — This is all about supporting, and sometimes creating, opportunities for people to come together and connect and talk. A structured meeting rarely leaves time for people to explore new ideas, so organizations need to carve out specific time and encourage participation.
  • Bring IT into the Talent Strategy — For many organizations, IT is focused almost exclusively on delivering tools and solutions and then providing ongoing support. But how much does your IT team understand the real-life business scenarios? When IT participates in creating the end-to-end employee experience, you will see tighter alignment with the technology.
  • Focus on the Employee Experience — Most organizations should spend more time requesting and listening to employee feedback.

Some excellent guidance, for sure. As I thought about my own experiences working as a remote employee and running product and project teams in remote locations for many years, I thought of what I would add to this guidance.

The Elements of Collaboration Success: Focus, Alignment, Governance and Transparency

What is clear from the examples above is the problems with most collaboration solutions have little to do with the underlying technology. That isn't to say the technology is perfect, but that the real issues businesses face with collaboration platforms has more to do with the underlying business planning around four key areas:

1. Focus First on End User Adoption and Engagement

The purpose of your collaboration platform is to enable end users to work more efficiently and effectively with each other. The key to getting users to adopt your platform is to lower the barriers to collaboration. The more rules you put in place, the less likely employees are to use the platform. You need to consider compliance and security issues, for sure — but you should design your system with the end user in mind, working closely with your “power users” to identify the system must-haves and to test key end user scenarios. The more you involved your end users, the more likely they are to accept the end result.

Related Article: 4 Phrases That Show Your Employee Experience Needs Work

2. Ensure You Have Business Alignment

The tools you deploy should help you improve upon key business processes. Your platform should support quicker, more detailed collaboration between co-workers, partners and customers, allowing you to do more, and do it better and more accurately. This also goes back to end user adoption: the better and more clearly you can align how your platform works to how your business works, the happier your employees will be. Good collaboration streamlines business, through things like workflow and process automation, forms and wizards to walk you step-by-step through data entry and by putting social activities at the center of everything you do, so that your content has better context, and is more searchable, more findable.

3. Manage the Sprawl with Intentional Governance

The more difficult it is to manage a platform, the less likely your leadership team will support the expansion of the platform. Be clear on what you need to measure (data retention, permissions, usage patterns), how these metrics are captured, and the management roles and responsibilities at each level (leadership, administrators, team leads, etc). Your initial governance model doesn’t need to be perfect, but include a solid change management process and your model will evolve and improve as you learn from the system activity.

Related Article: You Rolled Out Your Remote Workplace in Record Time. Now Let's Talk Governance

4. Enforce Transparency in Your Change Management

One of the key benefits of a collaborative platform is in helping teams connect and share content and activities where before there had been data and work stream silos. How you manage your collaboration platform — from engineering activities, to risk management and compliance audits, to the overall change management and IT ticket prioritization — is essential to your ongoing success. People don’t like to be left in the dark. Share what is happening within the platform so that people have a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t and share their feedback and experiences. What a crazy idea! Use your collaboration platform to improve the quality and performance of your collaboration platform!

In my experience, successful collaboration and productivity in a hybrid environment boils down to 4 keywords: Focus, Alignment, Governance and Transparency.

Your collaboration platform is (or should be) the hub for how your information workers connect, share and get work done. Planning is the key to success, and having a strategy for each of the above issues will help ensure your collaboration environment is secure and well-architected, that it meets and beats your desired business outcomes, and that it continues to support your growing needs.

About the Author

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director (RD) and Office Apps and Services MVP, internationally-recognized collaboration expert, and the Microsoft GTM Director for AvePoint. Christian runs the community-focused CollabTalk TweetJam and Podcast, and is based in Lehi, Utah (Silicon Slopes).

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