The idea of collaboration has been around for a long time. The word is derived from the Latin work collaborare, which meant to work together, even more basically com (meaning together) and laborare (meaning as you would expect work.) It has both positive and negative meanings. In war time being a collaborator is not considered to be a good thing and could result in the forfeit of your life. Today however collaboration has become a necessary exercise and a highly desired ability in the workforce. Companies are spending money, time and effort to increase employees’ ability and opportunity to engage in effective collaboration.
Technology expands collaboration
Earlier efforts to make workplaces collaborative involved designing office space that put people in proximity to each other. We ended up with “open” work spaces in order to enhance communication and idea sharing. The limitation of this idea was temporal and spatial. Everyone collaborating had to be in the same space at the same time. Even documents had to be stored on hard drives that could be physically shared. Remote workers had a difficult time in participating. Technology helped solve that problem.
Initially email allowed the transmittal of documents. Software allowed people to take a document and work on it, tracking their contributions, then emailing it back to others and allowing their input. Then came the “cloud” and programs like Drop Box that eliminated the need to email documents. Cloud sharing facilitated global teams working on projects together. Today there are additional options, such as Box, that bring the ability to work across multiple platforms.
More than just sharing documents
Today collaboration is more than just working on the same documents and noting each other’s contribution. With the emphasis on teamwork and the power of the collective, we have discovered that there still has to be a social component to collaboration. The days of having the team in one room, where they could talk to each other, are long gone in many organizations with the advent of telecommuting and global workers. Social today is taking many different forms.
Video capabilities have certainly allowed more effective collaboration. Initially video collaboration required sophisticated equipment and still involved people sitting in a conference room, albeit perhaps in multiple locations. The word “expensive” was closely associated with these systems and they were only available to organizations with deep pockets.
Today however, video is much easier and is available on smart phones. Tools like Cisco Spark, combined with a tool like Slack, allows team member to text, share documents, and see each other face to face from any location where they have sufficient Internet access in real time.
What do companies gain from this type of collaboration?
What do companies gain from this new way of working? There are a number of benefits that include:
- Shared intelligence
- Increased communication
- Improved creativity
- Employee engagement
- Perhaps even higher security due to less email usage
- Improved leadership
What do employees gain from this type of collaboration?
I think employees gain a great deal from this type of collaboration. These include:
- Increased satisfaction
- Intellectual stimulation
- Opportunities to learn
- More transparency
- Huge flexibility the ability to work from multiple locations. (Starbucks conference call anyone?)
- Inclusion on important projects
- Increased democratization in the workplace. Your voice can count.
The next five years
Futurists of many sorts see collaboration as a major workplace development. James Canton, Jacob Morgan and Meister and Willyerd all foresee highly collaborative and hyper-connected work places as being the norm by 2020. Are you preparing, training and equipping your workforces to be able to work in this coming environment? It will be necessary to remain competitive in a fast paced, global world with distributed teams. If you want your job and your company to be around in 10 years then you need to be adapting today.
Photo credit: Kittisak