From sending your partner a quick ‘What’s for dinner?’ message to video calling a colleague in another office, in today’s modern world culture we are constantly communicating in both our private and working lives. Contributor Mary Good, Chief People Officer – Fuze.
Quick, user-friendly communication applications have their roots in consumer technology, but the same applications are now gaining popularity in a business setting and are making their way into workplaces around the world.
Alongside this technological change, modern working styles are also evolving. The traditional nine-to-five desk job is no longer the norm, with people working flexibly around other commitments – from family responsibilities to activities that promote their personal wellbeing.
In an office environment, whether it’s working closely with a colleague sitting opposite you or joining forces with a team on the other side of the world, effective communication is essential. Whether or not team members are in the same office, or even the same country, the culture of working as part of a team needs to overcome geographical boundaries.
So, how can businesses create and nurture a culture of collaboration on an international stage? And how can technology support the role of open and transparent communication in this ever-changing environment?
Culture and collaboration
In our social lives, we can instantly contact anyone from anywhere. Social media and virtual correspondence with family and friends have made communication faster and more direct than ever before. As a result of this change in our personal lives, there is now an expectation for workers to be connected to their colleagues in the same way.
With worker populations so geographically dispersed, technology that enables quick and easy collaboration makes absolute sense from a communications standpoint. But it also has a key role to play in uniting the workforce and enabling a collaborative culture.
The workforce of tomorrow will be the first to have grown up in a totally digital world. As these young, tech-savvy workers take their place in the business world, they will bring with them new ways of working and expectations about how, where and when to work. These might well differ vastly from the current views of the existing workforce, so unity in how the workforce considers and approaches work is vital. To unify these differences, businesses need to encourage a mindset of collaboration and provide the technology that can underpin this ethos.
On an individual level, workers want to operate in a way that matches their individual needs.
Our Workforce Futures research study shows that, for 89% of today’s workers, being able to work flexibly isn’t a ‘benefit’, but instead an expected requirement of working life. The term “flexible working” may seem over-used in today’s business landscape, but it’s more than just a business buzzword. At its heart, it’s about a building an employee-centric culture that promotes individual choice and creates opportunities for people to do their best work.
Alongside this choice, the workers of today – regardless of age – also want to be presented with opportunities to learn, grow their skills and take on new challenges in their roles. Companies that want to continuously improve must nurture open, transparent communication across departments and job levels. By asking every worker routine questions and implementing new ways of doing things based on the feedback received, an environment of trust and appreciation will develop organically. Everyone from junior team members to the CEO will feel empowered and valued.
Breaking down such organisational silos and building cross-company collaboration will foster a culture of communication and opportunity, while driving productivity and performance. New communications tools will be essential in aiding this effort.
Modes and frequency of communication
In a highly collaborative environment, the seamlessness of communications tools can either support or obstruct collaboration. The more seamlessly these tools integrate into the working lives of the users, the more likely workers will be to adopt them and encourage others to do the same.
Modern companies consist of a broad range of people across varying backgrounds, abilities, age groups and time zones. In a matrixed environment, where workers tend to work in teams that are created based on skill set or job level, the more integrated and hassle-free the tools are, the more effective they become in driving collaboration.
Think about the last brainstorm you set up. In a matrixed organisation, you have to think hard about who to include and whether their particular set of skills or background would add to the conversation. With today’s technology, you can send out a quick message via chat and immediately establish who is available and which members of staff would add the most value to the conversation.
Being able to see a colleague’s body language and spontaneously jump in with questions adds another layer of transparency to this form of communication, which is particularly helpful in complex organisations. If this type of conversation can be set up by anyone, at any time, issues can be worked through in a much more effective and timely manner without the need for an endless back and forth over email.
Organisations using a matrix need to provide tools that facilitate quick, seamless and transparent communication for everyone in the company.
Rewards and recognition
Setting personalised targets that are tailored to individual workers is a well-known practice to aid their development and progress. Yet there is an argument against this method of working. When collaborating within a larger business, workers often focus too doggedly on their individual role, rather than concentrating on what their contribution means to the wider company.
When setting goals, the emphasis should be placed on achieving a milestone for the greater good of, not only themselves, but the whole organisation. Not only does this help break down siloed working, where workers focus on driving their individual part forward, it also encourages a collaborative culture, with everyone working towards the same goals while thinking of the importance of their role within the company engine.
Once these goals are in place, and the right collaborative tools exist to support them, businesses need to ensure their staff are being incentivised and rewarded for collaborating, across teams, time zones and boundaries. This needs to be done in a public, positive way to promote and encourage the behaviour that the business wants to see.
While improved collaboration has a major impact on the productivity of the workforce, businesses should not ignore the similarly positive impact that it can have among management and the most senior members of staff. To create and encourage a true culture of openness, managers and business leaders must be bought into the idea. There’s no point having a completely streamlined and collaborative workforce if this collaboration stops the second it reaches management’s door.
For businesses to maximize the value of collaboration, senior leaders need to communicate openly and champion a culture of collaboration among their workforces. From a management perspective, this could include providing workers with the right tools and technologies to communicate, redesigning the office with collaboration in mind, or simply coaching middle management to provide more open and honest feedback.
The benefits of such openness are widespread, not only helping to motivate staff and make them feel valued, but also helping to stimulate ideas. Those businesses that fail to encourage collaboration will miss out on numerous ideas from across the business, with staff members either not receiving the opportunity to share their ideas, or simply not feeling comfortable doing so in the current workplace environment.
As this culture relaxes, and improvements in technology encourage greater collaboration, managers will quickly see the benefits that come from hearing a wide variety of different views. Over time, this attitude will become the norm, further flattening hierarchies and breaking down silos across the business.
Driving behaviour to drive business goals
As the workforce diversifies and transforms, a people-centric approach will future-proof a business and help workers bond via a shared philosophy and culture, driven by empowered leaders.
This philosophy creates an atmosphere that is collegial, supportive, and non-hierarchical. By giving team members the confidence and motivation to enhance their abilities, supported by the best tools, leaders can help create a culture where learning is encouraged and embraced.
You can do everything else right, but without effective leaders who drive the whole engine forward, businesses are missing the “secret sauce”. At the same time, technologies that improve productivity and increase collaboration can help to drive this important culture change and give each employee the opportunity to deliver their best work. Every worker, no matter their age, background, or working experiences, can feel respected, informed and trusted, while being given the tools and the motivation to get involved and to grow. Only then can the company as a whole do the same.