Is cross-collaboration the key to driving innovation when we get back into the office?

The UK has been working from home for over a year, and now with the success of the vaccine rollout, organizations are looking to head back into the office. Over 66 percent of business leaders are planning on reimagining the previous working model, by offering hybrid solutions for employees to work in the office and remotely. Navigating this new hybrid working model will be a challenge and companies will need to innovate in order to stand out from the crowd. 

Collaboration brings together colleagues with different views and life experiences, wherever they may be working, to spark new and creative ideas. Through effective knowledge sharing and communication, collaboration efforts can result in innovation at great speeds. 

In order to drive innovation, departments and project teams will need to collaborate effectively both internally and externally. Intra-organizational collaboration is the ability for teams or departments to work together effectively. Whereas, inter-organizational collaboration refers to the process of collaboration between different organizations such as partners, vendors, or customers. Successful collaboration increases innovation and leads to improved deliveries and outcomes, reducing errors and inefficiencies, as well as improving employee relationships and satisfaction. 

From experience, I have worked with hundreds of organizations to digitize their workspaces, many of which have only just grasped the ability to effectively collaborate remotely. As we head back to the office and organizations face a new challenge of working in a hybrid format, employers must learn how to collaborate both internally and externally, in order to innovate and thrive.

For organizations to collaborate across multiple locations and teams, it’s imperative they have the right digital strategies to do so when we return to the office. A hybrid workforce’s success will be synonymous with their collaboration efforts, and in order to do this a digital workspace will be needed. 

A digital workspace is more than just an intranet or comms platform, but a singular space where everything is stored in one centralized location, giving employees the ability to break down barriers to knowledge, connect silos of data and access the right people. Effective digital workspaces will enable greater access to knowledge and people, two pain points that many organizations have struggled with over the last year, dampening their collaboration efforts.

Preventing exclusion in the hybrid model

Ensuring teams have regularly scheduled meetings and catch-ups arranged is vital in the hybrid working environment. For employees who are in the office, it will be easy to have natural catch-ups with others, but for those working remotely they could begin to feel left out. 

Throughout the pandemic, many organizations have used technologies to enhance communication between colleagues, ensuring team members remain connected and are able to collaborate. 

For many, this has been a slow process and still an issue working remotely. When we head back to the office within a hybrid working format, it’s likely that these issues will only be exacerbated with a two-tier system – those working in the office will have greater access to the knowledge shared in person, while those still remaining at home are likely to be excluded. It’s vital these communication processes are continued, and are established virtually and digitally to ensure that the workforce can continue to collaborate effectively. Some organizations have even taken a remote-first approach. Simply put, it means that remote employees are not an afterthought. Processes are focused on the assumption that not everyone is working face-to-face, or even in the same time zone.

Implementing these processes through the use of technology will promote strong individual performance and collaborative behavior, helping to increase innovative thinking.

 Knowledge sharing 

The premise of effective collaboration is knowledge sharing. Organizations will need the right technology to implement better knowledge sharing, as well as giving employees the time to share internal best practices and lessons learned. 

Firstly, organizations need to implement a digital workspace to enhance the knowledge-sharing process and make things easy for employees. By increasing knowledge sharing, employees will have the ability to easily access the right information, through the use of search tools and the ability to identify colleagues that hold relevant knowledge and experience. Increased knowledge sharing will also prevent knowledge hoarding, which has been found to dampen collaboration, and therefore hamper the company’s ability to innovate. 

In addition to this, for organizations to excel in knowledge sharing they should devote specific time to it. When we return to the office, staff may be busier, so organic knowledge sharing will be limited. Implementing designated knowledge sessions and incentives will encourage knowledge-sharing internally. By investing in programs that capture knowledge and by motivating employees to share it, the organization will leverage more of its own capabilities and increase innovation.

Onboarding for collaboration

Another important area for intra-organizational collaboration investment is onboarding. Companies need to make sure their onboarding program is effective and gets employees up to speed as quickly as possible. If all employees are welcomed and connected to the right tools and insights they will be much better equipped.

Training is also essential and upskilling employees in communication, team working, decision-making, and similar courses, will help them work more collaboratively.

Leading a team in a hybrid environment

To remain competitive, unleash the full potential of the organization, and continue to innovate by developing new internal processes or enhancing new areas of business in the hybrid workforce, leaders need to focus on becoming a visionary. Leaders will need to be capable of articulating a compelling vision for the hybrid working environment, where they can inspire their employees.  

Secondly, leaders need to be willing to position the organization for long-term growth and invest in collaboration efforts accordingly. For instance, using incentive and reward plans for those who collaborate, as well as implementing the right technology so people have dedicated time for this, will help encourage long-term habits and processes.

Collaboration between organizations

Similar to intra-organizational collaboration, collaboration across organizations will be synergistic if a written agreement is created detailing the vision, roles, procedures, expectations and frequent ‘accountability check-ups’ to assess whether expectations are being met. 

Trust is also important in any working relationship, especially when involving new bonds and collaboration efforts. Onboarding can be extended to project teams working with external parties. Teams should spend time at the beginning of working together to do some team building and discussing how they will collaborate. This may take extra time but helps to reduce inefficiencies later on.

Organizations should use the right technology, allowing employees to communicate between each organization, regularly and with transparency. By communicating regularly this will help to foster a culture of trust and help employees to collaborate effectively, innovating together in the process. 

Ultimately, as we head back to the office, and the hybrid working environment begins, organizations will be walking down an untrodden path. For organizations to stand out against competition it is important that they implement the appropriate technology and practises, bringing long-term success and the ability to sustain innovation in the hybrid working environment.

Katya Linossi, co-founder and CEO, ClearPeople

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