In this guest article, Rob Quickenden, CTO, Cisilion takes a look at the importance of collabs in a hybrid/WFH world. Absolutely vital to build team comms and manage projects effectively.
While the world is still embracing hybrid working, it’s essential to recognise that collaborative working is critical to improved productivity. The debate is still raging about whether hybrid work improves or decreases employee productivity. While it might be down to individuals and their psychology, there are ways to help ensure your employees are productive at home or in the office. And effective collaboration is the key.
A Stanford study found that those who work in a collaborative rather than individual setting are 50% more effective at “completing tasks, boosting their intrinsic motivation and helping them become more engaged with their work.” Yet 83% of businesses are still in the same office environment as before the pandemic and cite them as not fit for purpose, i.e., they don’t allow for collaborative work from all locations (2022 YouGov Survey).
So, how can the latest collaboration technology help ensure hybrid workers aren’t isolated and that employees can collaborate wherever they are?
Great collaboration isn’t about a new “fad” technology or product. Many organisations have facilitated (or required) hybrid working for many years and whilst it’s not new, the expectation from employees and the changes to work balance, sustainability, diversity and inclusion are all driving factors that have helped put the hybrid work needle fully in the green.
For hybrid work to be a success, we need a few key ingredients – some technology centric, some process centric and some people centric. What makes effective collaboration is the ability for people to work together on projects regardless of their location with the same level of inclusion, accessibility and content.
The network. With a hybrid workforce, almost every meeting or call features video, screen and app sharing and collaborative working. To do this in real-time and with good quality audio and video, businesses need the right infrastructure to use these collaboration tools effectively. Yet recent research has shown 63% of IT directors are not very confident in their IT estate’s ability to support hybrid working fully. Ensuring your network (wired, wireless, SDWAN and even employees’ home network) is fit for purpose is critical or employees will
have a poor experience which hinders the effectiveness of hybrid work. For example, some networks cannot handle the increase in capacity and minimal latency that video enabled meetings and collaborative working requires.
As collaborative tools become feature rich and the content becomes media heavy, network connectivity needs to adapt. With the acceleration of cloud adoption, combined with the birth of AI powered services such as Microsoft 365 Copilot, connectivity needs to be able to be application aware and optimise network traffic in real-time.
Security isn’t about a product or a new tool. Its about ensuring your whole organisation adopts a Zero Trust approach to security rather than simply protecting the legacy network boundary that existed before. With hybrid working, security boundaries have changed – no one knows where anyone is accessing their network and whether it’s secure.
People work from anywhere, from different and multiple devices, from different countries and even different hours. A zero-trust approach to security across everything ensures that employees have suitable security enabled on their devices, such as two-factor authentication. Employees also need regular training on the latest cybersecurity threats and challenges that is stimulating and fosters employee engagement.
3. Productivity and Collaboration Tools
Many organisations saw an explosion of the use of, and number of productivity and collaboration tools during COVID-19. These have evolved hugely over the past three years to adapt to the continuing changes to the way we work and to keep up with the new era of AI.
We have also seen a coming together between the network, the physical spaces (offices) and the virtual/remote spaces we work in. Many organisations are transforming their traditional offices into intelligent spaces that are more appealing to work from, are more sustainable and promote a collaborative and inclusive environment that is aware and can adapt to how and where people work. These new “employee hubs” use the network to monitor air quality, people flow, and room occupancy whilst delivering secure, end-to-end cloud-managed connectivity supporting the needs of every employee.
With an office that is aware of the day, this means that key environmental controls such as heating, cooling, lighting etc can be adapted based on the use and occupancy of the building on a given day, and integration with facilities management can reduce maintenance and cleaning costs, for example, washrooms on unoccupied floors are not cleaned. Whole floors can even be effectively shut down when occupancy is low.
CNA Hardy, the global speciality insurance company, is typical of many businesses. They had legacy collaboration and meeting room technology that couldn’t provide the high standard of collaboration required for hybrid working. They needed help connecting remote participants and integrating with existing tools, which caused issues around sharing content and reduced collaboration and productivity.
To create a modern, flexible workplace that supports the needs of its people and customers, CNA Hardy deployed meeting room technology powered by Microsoft Teams. This enabled seamless communication and collaboration between teams in different locations. They also refreshed their physical office, incorporating adaptive signage to show things like CO2 consumption per day based on real data and reminders to book a desk for busy days.
CNA Hardy now has state-of-the-art tech and a more attractive workplace which has increased employee satisfaction and benefits staff recruitment and retention. It has also allowed for continued flexible working, which has meant the business has saved money by reducing its London office space.
4. People and Process
Technology alone doesn’t make “hybrid work” work! You can have the best network, great collaboration tools and amazing new energy efficient office spaces equipped with the latest video technology, but without due process for people they amount to nothing.
You need to ensure your people know how to use the right tools and how to get the best from them. This is not simply about training; it’s about embedding a mindset of learning too. If six people are remote and three are in a physical meeting room, does everyone get the best experience? Are cameras on, is content being presented digitally, or is a physical whiteboard being used for notes which remote participants can’t see? Do people work different hours or days than other people, do employees know the best ways to organise meetings and work collaboratively when people speak different languages, work in different time zones, work different hours?
Continuous adaptation of how we work is the role of everyone (not just HR) and organisations need to distil a culture of inclusion and awareness into every person in every role. Technology has a role to play but using it and adapting the ways we work is also critical for hybrid work to succeed.
The latest technology puts collaboration at its heart. For example, digital whiteboards and canvasses (such as Microsoft Loop or Notion) that enable mass collaborative working, multi-screen and camera video conferencing which use AI to transcribe meeting notes, take actions, translate text into different languages and allow people to adjust zoom levels. Contrast and screen reading tools all help to foster inclusive and make hybrid meetings successful.
The right network, the latest collaboration technology, high adoption, and great security make for successful collaboration. The result is a more empowered, happier workforce that is more productive and an organisation that can deliver its core business successfully.