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Thought Leadership

Collaboration is everyone's business

You need to ensure everyone is on board, if you really want to make it happen.


Collab 7

Collaboration is everyone's business

You need to ensure everyone is on board, if you really want to make it happen.

Employee experience and collaboration are highly relevant and important subjects for Softcat’s customers, such that they are a key focus for our Digital Workspace IT Priority. To both widen and add to our own perspectives, for this Fluent article we have asked one of our Alliance Partners, Microsoft, to contribute their perspective. Now, more than ever, businesses are looking for new ways to improve the way employees work productively together. Innovative technologies continue to bring everybody closer. People in the most disparate, remote locations can achieve great things with colleagues and clients in real-time. However, all the intelligent, impressive solutions in the world won’t enhance collaboration unless those involved want to make it happen themselves. As such, the real driving force behind collaboration is employee experience – and it’s vital to your future success.

Productivity is a team effort

It’s no secret that effective collaboration can benefit businesses in all sorts of ways. And with people today working across different time zones and devices, in a wide range of locations, the need for organisations to enable that collaboration is more vital than ever.

The scope and extent to which a flexible approach that meets individual needs is possible, depends on the cultural values and operating habits of each particular organisation. Some are more comfortable with people working from home or managing flexible diaries. Some welcome change while others may shy away from it. Really, it’s down to trust and creativity: how much they want to set corporate boundaries for collaboration, versus how open they are to employees finding their own way.

There is no right or wrong way to creating a collaborative environment. But one crucial factor which increasingly makes a big difference is employee experience. Because in reality, you can put all the processes and innovations in the world in place to improve collaboration – if your employees aren’t motivated by or actively engaged in it, it won’t happen.

So, as a business, it’s important to focus on fostering that engagement by enabling a positive experience for every individual involved. Home working isn’t for everyone, and many people desperately want to feel connected (or re-connected) to their jobs, their colleagues, their ‘office’ life.

This isn’t just about work, either. We also miss those little moments that make a big difference – chats in the kitchen, catch-ups round the water cooler, conversations in corridors… they all help create that sense of belonging and team spirit.

Recreating these connections is really important. A productive workforce is a very powerful thing. It drives the business and creates happier customers, a strong sense of culture and greater profits. So, as leaders we’re looking hard at new and effective ways to motivate and develop our employees by giving them better experiences. If we can reinforce and reinvigorate that connection, that shared identity, it will benefit everybody.

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...with many moving parts

Responsibility for creating this positive atmosphere lies with several key business functions. Unsurprisingly, HR plays a central role, supported by a strong Internal Communications strategy and brought to life in the hands and devices of employees themselves via a reliable, responsive IT environment.

At Microsoft, our route to a successful employee experience for our customers is best reached through like-minded partnerships. Our relationship with Softcat is a perfect example. It’s about bringing these key stakeholders together and drawing on our collective strengths to make life better for employees and help all of us meet our collective objectives. That way, everyone wins.

Yes, our intuitive technology platform and user-friendly tools play their part. However, we still rely heavily on our partners to help advise customers on how to use them best, to get the best out of our workforce and create a culture that our people believe in and buy into. It’s this thinking that led to us launching Microsoft Viva, which draws on valuable data and capabilities from third-party sources to shape our customised employee experience platform for communications, well-being, learning and knowledge. It’s all part of our commitment to enabling people.

Predict, plan... Then put into practice

First, get to know your people better. Study the different personas across your business, then determine the different success criteria they consider valuable to be satisfied. There are always some differences, however discreet. For example, frontline sales and marketing teams will have different needs and priorities than back-office finance and administration teams. It’s worth taking the time to distinguish them.

Technology can increasingly be your friend here. Tools like AI and Predictive Analytics can help you understand the ways people feel and respond in certain situations, so you can accurately cater for different personas by observing their behaviour over time. Once you have a clear view of their preferences and principles, you can connect more confidently with them and take the steps you think will enrich their working lives.

 When it comes to communication tools, we must consider employee preference across both their personal and professional lives, for convenience if nothing else. Whilst shadow IT and social media channels open up challenges to truly creating a connected workforce, the possible experience implications should be considered. Our approach is to provide a platform that is loved by employees and trusted by IT.

Once all that is confirmed, it’s time to spread the word about the change. Actually, ‘change’ might not be the best term to use here, as rather than providing employees with a sudden list of actions (“we’re going to do this, then this, followed by this…”), it’s much better to set the wheels in motion for a gradual shift, backed up by continuous effort and steady progress to get where you want to be.

Some best practice change management principles will be useful here. You’ll certainly need sponsorship. This evolution will need to be driven from the top of your organisation down, and through a steering committee approach to keep everything on track. At Microsoft, we practice what we preach in this regard – or as many of us say, we “drink our own champagne”. There are extremely high and visible levels of support with championing employee experience from our own leaders – together with relevant activities and a shared desire to bring everyone on the journey.

Think about nominating some specialist ‘change agents’ within your organisation too. Internal advocates are also powerful. They show people the way through their own example and are well-placed to pass on information and guidance. A well-executed communication program also plays a big part in sharing, explaining and following up on the key actions, especially if it connects and engages directly with the employees involved.

 Inevitably, some people will come with you more easily – and quickly – than others. Everyone is different, after all. Some personalities will warm to these new opportunities, while others will fear change or adapt less fluidly. Accept these nuances as a natural part of the process – and don’t force things. Again, learn from the experience as you go along. Lean on your analytics and your AI to try and shape activities to inspire all employees, including the less willing ones.

Success will be self-evident

Considering the gradual nature of change and individual nuances, measures of success will need to be multi-layered. If you have completed these steps and feel confident you have acknowledged and addressed the specific personality types inside your organisation to an extent that you can begin effecting the change itself… then congratulations, because that’s a big achievement in its own right.

Over time, as new seeds are sown and the processes gather pace, you should get a fairly clear indicator of how well things are going, simply from the way your people respond. It’s worth piloting impactful ideas to get a flavour of how they will be received by your workforce, as well as gauging the mood from leaders and colleagues.

Ultimately, though, the benchmark will be set by the way people react and respond, in their innovation and performance. The greatest evidence you’ll get is likely to be found in the anecdotes about the way employees go about their daily business: how they find and use new ways to work together, their collective approach to collaboration and willingness to embrace new methods, as well as any new habits they’ve introduced across their teams. These are a wonderful way to showcase successful experiences.