Seizing Opportunities in the Virtually Collaborative Workplace
Contributed by Alain Pirard, Rob Konterman
Social and virtual ways of working can dissolve the temporal and structural barriers that block the advance of individual and collective business performance.
Amid the prolonged global economic downturn, organizations are emphasizing cost containment initiatives that create new operational efficiencies without hampering their overall productivity. Luckily, a swath of new cloud powered technology is enabling many organizations to create a “new workplace” that will help the business work more effectively and efficiently. In this new workplace, employees no longer need to toil exclusively in the office but can collaborate virtually wherever they want, inside and outside the organization, with a greater number of individuals than ever before.
The New Workplace
This virtually collaborative workplace clearly has much to offer businesses and individuals. At the societal level, its emergence is helping to ease traffic jams, reduce the carbon footprint and save money spent on infrastructure and energy. At the individual employee level, studies show it is improving work/life balance and job satisfaction.1 At the company level, the new workplace is contributing to elevated business continuity, greater cost savings (e.g., on office space), wider access to a global talent pool and increased worker productivity.
But with every step forward, C-suite leaders are worried that overall worker productivity, and the business's collective operational performance, could suffer in the near term.2 Senior executives, particularly those who experienced the dyspepsia caused by previous new waves of technologies (i.e., Web 2.0 and client/server computing) are especially concerned. Many wonder if the influence of new cloud-powered technologies, in concert with ever-increasing globalization and process virtualization, as well as changing employee demographics (as embodied by the rise of the millennial generation), will cause workplace interruptions and information overload.
How to Create a Virtually Collaborative Workplace
Given the challenges, how can organizations enable remote workers to be more productive? Fortunately, there are ample examples of organizations and individuals who do this quite effectively. They structure their information flows, create efficient work environments, lead effective project teams and deploy mass collaboration tools in a manner in which the productivity benefits significantly outweigh the potential disruptive elements. The challenge for other organizations is to adopt these best practices and discover how to best apply key learnings to their own enterprises.
To survive in what is now referred to as the “Petabyte Age,” organizations need new information management tools and processes that more effectively manage workflow. One solution to the constant torrent of distractions (suggested by collaboration expert Jason Fried) is to artificially create long stretches of uninterrupted “thinking time.” Intel kicked off a pilot project in 2008 to test this approach by having 300 employees deactivate their email boxes, turn off IM, route phones to voicemail, avoid meetings and place “Do Not Disturb” signs near their desks every Tuesday morning. Intel program managers reported enhanced “effectiveness, efficiency and quality of life for numerous employees,” and on top of this, 71% of employees recommended the pilot project be expanded.3
On an individual level, employees can counter information overload by creating a system that filters, sorts and organizes information and presents it in bite-size chunks. Although scientific proof is scarce, great success has been achieved by wellknown timemanagement methodologies, such as David Allen's “Getting Things Done” (GTD). 4 Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project (a company that helps organizations bolster their productivity), promotes working in intense 90minute bursts (and napping after lunch) to maintain focus and creativity throughout the work day. The Internet is littered with anecdotal success stories of people employing these methodologies for personal productivity gains, and the authors of this paper can testify to their potential personally.
Businesses are at an important “shift point,” a time where key megatrends are reshaping marketplace rules, how work is conducted and value is created. To truly reap the benefits from the increasingly virtual and collaborative workplace, smart business leaders will need to rethink their operational models, reinvent their workforces and rewire their operations to enhance organizational productivity and extend competitive advantage.
We suggest a multipronged approach that requires the following actions:
- Ensure employees are outfitted with the right collaboration tools and devices
- Set communications ethics and train the workforce in handling information overload
- Stimulate regular face-time between knowledge workers
- Reallocate context tasks so knowledge workers can focus on high-value activities.
- Manage the workforce based on results achieved rather than by time present
The new workplace can benefit employees and employers alike. Organizations are slowly becoming more aware of the pitfalls that prevent them from achieving greater productivity, higher job satisfaction and lower attrition rates. Unshackle your employees from their context tasks; equip them with the tools they need to unleash their potential; and ensure they have the right mindset to handle ever increasing levels of virtual collaboration across the extended enterprise anytime, anywhere and from their smart devices of choice.
To learn more, read the complete white paper, Seizing Opportunities, Overcoming Productivity Challenges in the Virtually Collaborative Workplace (PDF).
1 “ New World of Work Creates Better Work-Life Balance,” Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, Nov. 9, 2010.
2 “ Next-Generation CIOs: Change Agents for the Global Virtual Workplace,” Cognizant Technology Solutions, 2010.
3 Robert Sutton, “ Managing Yourself: The Boss as Human Shield,” September 2010.
4 For more information on The GTD methodology, see www.gtdtimes.com or www.davidco.com.