Many of today’s most forward thinking companies see collaboration as a critical focus for future success. Collaboration has been the buzzword for some time but in practice what does it actually mean for today’s organisations? Collaboration could be defined as the simple process of people working together – which is obviously not a new concept. However, traditionally this also meant physically being together, located in the same place and at the same time. Now, with today’s technological advancements, collaboration is being redefined and there are far more efficient ways for people to work together, share ideas and develop collective solutions.

Historically, the office workplace has always been based on the assumption that each employee has their own workstation, and that their job is carried out most efficiently when sitting at that workstation. In today’s digital era, many businesses have taken a completely different approach and, alongside the new technologies that better replicate and enhance the experience of collaborating in person, many have seen improved productivity and efficiencies and have transformed the way they operate.

Technology may have revolutionised the workplace, however the move to a different style of work requires integrated thinking between three key areas – people, workplaces and technologies. By looking at the psychological, the physical and the virtual, a different set of behaviours can be established, including working collaboratively, with these new processes supported by an innovative infrastructure.

Companies who adopt the following important principles will be able to realise this increase in collaboration, and at the same time become more nimble, produce better products, be faster to the market and achieve a range of cost-benefit advantages.

The agile business

As fewer employees occupy their offices or corporate desks, a new approach is needed, focusing on teams and tasks, rather than departments and functions. There is a growing trend for Activity Based Working that requires a fundamental rethink of several areas – from a detailed understanding of the workforce to mapping out a typical working day and task-based settings, supported by the appropriate enabling technologies. This corporate agility will become one of the key drivers for collaboration – speed to market, speed of decision making between dispersed teams and the ability to remove downtime and make better use of expertise will all drive collaborative best practice.

Companies in the cloud

The growth of the cloud will have a profound impact on collaboration. On-premise systems will migrate to a range of hybrid solutions, usually blending on-premise voice with external software so that people can connect from anywhere. Tomorrow, collaboration systems will be cloud based applications providing SaaS to employees as and when they need it. As dramatic as it sounds, cloud based computing will see office buildings devoid of all infrastructure, software and processing power and employees will only come into the workplace largely to be with, and work with, other people. This will be a collaborative space for teams, training, mentoring and socialising.

Adopting digital flow

Rather surprisingly, an estimated 17 per cent of floor space in today’s offices is still used to store paper. Paper is effectively the antithesis of collaboration, it can’t be shared in the same interactive way as the latest digital tools. Digital flow has changed the rules, now interactive screens have depth with URLs and hover information that cannot be reproduced in two dimensions. People have moved into the digital realm and taken a natural step towards interaction and collaboration between documents being developed in on-line, real-time systems.

Corporate buddies

One of the future drivers of collaboration will be the increasing acceptance of corporate networks, based on the social media model. An emerging new standard called XMPP is set to change this, allowing a ‘buddy’ to be added from another company to internal network lists, for example on Microsoft OCS. Fluid ‘buddy’ lists will provide presence indicators to show the real time availability of people both inside and outside the corporation. This will pave the way for converged communication and collaboration so that these applications function seamlessly across the company.

Collaborative space and behaviours

Creating the right collaborative space that is rich in technology, with flexible infrastructure and versatile settings is a critical factor and will, in turn, encourage the required behaviours for more collaborative work. One of the most important ingredients has to be the desire to collaborate in the first instance. The process of interaction requires trust and openness and a desire to work with other people to achieve the same goal. Change management programmes could be introduced to allow employees to understand and identify new behaviours necessary for successful collaboration.

Armed with the right technology

The latest visual collaboration solutions allow people to collaborate in visual and interactive ways, whether they are in the same room or in workspaces in different parts of the world. Whatever the industry, supplementing a change in working practices with the right technology will streamline the exchange of information and boost productivity. Collaboration solutions will enable every company to make more informed decisions, reduce costs, engage clients and stakeholders and train personnel – all by making it easier to share information and communicate ideas.

By Martin Large, CEO, Steljes