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Virtual Collaboration: 10 Ways to Get There


Done right, virtual collaboration results in a more effective global workforce, better response times and an optimized knowledge base.

You already know this, but it's worth repeating: Virtual collaboration has changed. Email, conference calls and intranets are no longer enough.

Today, collaboration means overcoming the boundaries of space and time between contributors who may never meet in person. It means leveraging the "wisdom of crowds," wherever individuals may be, so that more stakeholders connect to accelerate decision making. And it requires a new rewards system, where ideation, task completion and expertise are digitally recognized, accredited and gamified.

This isn't your grandfather's virtual collaboration. When built upon ubiquitous mobile apps, stable business clouds, OS independence and telepresence technologies, the benefits of modern collaboration are undeniably real. Here are 10 drivers to help you get there:

Telepresence Systems: Almost as Good as Being There

Test the water with a pilot program.

Becoming a location-agnostic company takes time. As such, small projects with already geographically dispersed teams are the best place to start. Popular guinea pigs include sales, marketing or customer support teams. Wherever you pilot virtual collaboration, the goal is to achieve increased engagement.

Assign an ambassador.

To generate enthusiasm, it's important to assign an individual to communicate successes, publish results and encourage use of the new collaboration tools. This can be anyone, from a project evangelist to a senior leader. The key is that it must be an individual who commands respect and is an active participant in ongoing collaboration.

Invest in "three-layer" collaboration technology.

To build upon traditional collaboration tools such as e-mail, conference calls and document-sharing, you'll need to upgrade your technology infrastructure with three key additions: A Facebook-like social computing platform for your stakeholders, mobile collaboration tools and apps that are OS independent and the brains behind it all; an access-from-anywhere enterprise cloud.

Consider smart back-end systems.

ERPs and CRMs are great. But to increase the number of qualified contributors to sales cycles, problem solving and other business challenges, you'll want to employ ERPs and CRMs that integrate with your social collaboration platform of choice. For example, when an opportunity is created in a social-compatible CRM, the event should also trigger a micro-blog or participatory notification to allow others to contribute to its success.

Embrace virtual face time.

Seeing someone deliver a message — instead of just reading it — is a powerful collaboration tool. But it's also harder to achieve when teams are virtual. To overcome this, forward-thinking companies are incorporating telepresence and other video tools into their daily operations. Not only do these technologies preserve in-person productivity and non-verbal communication, they dramatically reduce travel costs.

Enable social ideation.

Increased ideation is one of the greatest benefits of modern collaboration. Since countless ideas within your organization go unnoticed, however, you'll want to enlist a two-way digital suggestion box for everything and everyone. Managers, employees, partners, stakeholders, customers. The more you ask, the more you'll know. The more you know, the fewer mistakes you'll make.

Boost participation with gamification.

Humans like to be recognized. They like to be rewarded, even with something as simple as an upgraded title or status level. That's why gamification works. Making an achievement-based or leaderboard "game" of your collaboration process is proven to increase participation. For instance, heavy users may gain "senior contributor" status or earn points they can cash in for real-world prizes. This new kind of rewards system will be vital to your collaborative success. (See also: Gamification: It's all About Process)

Socialize your customer and partner feedback.

In the pecking order of feeling heard, partners and end-customers are often and misguidedly rock-bottom for many companies, below even low-level employees. As you boost collaboration between your workforce, you'd also do well to include partners and customers into your social collaboration discussion, Toyota is a notable example. To enhance its knowledge base, the auto manufacturer recently developed a private social network for customers to connect with dealerships, Toyota itself and even select cars. 

Secure buy-in from the top.

For virtual collaboration to thrive, it needs to be driven by top management. Otherwise it will fail. More specifically, senior management needs to understand the impact of unleashing evolutionary forces in the workplace, not to mention managing the changes expected of staff. And workers need to accept the new realities of working in a more collaborative and engaged way. Securing this buy-in will be a battle, but it's one worth fighting for.

Blend your work policies.

With more and more people of all ages relying on their mobile devices, it's only natural that they would blend both work and personal activities on their smartphones. You can resist this reality or embrace it. If you choose the latter, you'll need to adopt flexible "bring your own device" policies and you'll be required to favor results-oriented work over time-in-the office. Doing so will not only increase productivity, it will better prepare your organization for the next-generation of workers. (See also: Making BYOD Work for Your Organization).

As dramatic as your eventual transformation will be to virtual collaboration, there is still time to get ahead of it. Part of the challenge will be cultural change; part will be business change; and part will be technological change.

For more information, read our white paper on virtual collaboration (pdf), get inspired by our enabler series, learn more about the Future of Work or visit Cognizant Business Consulting.

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Virtual Collaboration: 10 Ways to Get There