The convergence of technological advancements and generational shifts are rapidly transforming the way people work.
From mobile and machine learning to analytics and automation, different technologies are taking over the workplace and drastically altering the capability requirements of the existing workforce. At the same time, the composition of the workforce is evolving: networks of contractors, partnerships and freelance contributors are intermingling with traditional full-time employees. Making this shift even more interesting are the digital automation tools that are further changing what work is done.
Traditional organizational structures from decades ago are ill-suited for how work actually gets done today and will be done in the future. This is because work is no longer a function of command-and-control hierarchical structures. Rather, most work today, regardless of your formal structure, is getting done in organic networks.
Though empowering, the digital age is confusing. As a result, employees have counterproductively adopted an assortment of different tools out of necessity for collaboration. If organizations leave employees on their own to answer the complex questions posed by the digital age, then not only can business performance suffer, but also talent will likely flee.
Doing nothing isn’t an option. The best talent won’t stay long where collaboration is weak. Leaders must evaluate how the company interacts with potential talent, current employees and the work itself to create a new environment where workers intentionally collaborate. Collaboration is a mix of virtual and physical participation and cooperation for a common overarching cause. Accordingly, as digital solutions drive an increase in employee and customer expectations, being intentionally collaborative is critical to aligning how work gets done across technologies, people and boundaries. When leaders are asked if their people collaborate, they usually answer “yes,” but if you ask if they are intentional in creating or fostering collaboration, they will usually respond “sometimes” or “no,” leaving their companies’ collaboration efforts to be inconsistent and largely left to chance.
Research published in 2017 by professional services firm Deloitte on how to create an organization where talent wants to be has found that meaningful work, supportive management, a positive work environment, growth opportunities and trust in leadership are key ingredients, while cross-organization collaboration and communication tie it together to make the organization “simply irresistible.”
What do the new ways of effective collaboration look like in practice?
Consider the story of one of our clients, an international bank with more than 100,000 employees. Unifying its global workforce had grown difficult. However, the bank’s new collaborative system is proving to be an impactful tool because it gives employees the ability to opt-in to forums and groups they want to be part of, rather than being on the receiving end of email distribution with irrelevant information for many employees. Leading collaboration tools are designed to create network-based groups that reduce the perceived distance between employees and foster collaboration. Moreover, these tools extend collaboration beyond the borders of the organization to include customers, suppliers and partners. Thus, having a collaboration platform provides a differentiated way of connecting and working across workforce generations, geographies and levels.
Another recent example is a large technology company working to define what collaboration means for its employees, what the right tools to use are and how to deploy them in the most effective manner. In its initial attempts to foster collaboration across its various sources of talent, the company placed an emphasis on geographic proximity. However, merely providing an area for the different types of workers to physically come together didn’t have an immediate business impact because the company was thinking about it more from a communications perspective rather than a collaboration perspective focused on fostering new ways of working. Workers who collaborate have figured out how to cross geographies, silos, hierarchies and cultures to create more innovative and effective work.
Aside from deploying a new collaboration tool or creating a geographic collaboration zone, what other tangible actions can an organization take to improve their talent through an intentionally collaborative culture?
Below are just a few of the multiple minimum viable changes that can help generate momentum:
- Start staff meetings with a “collaboration moment” with employees sharing unique ways they are collaborating across silos, hierarchies, geographies and even with customers.
- Establish a Collaboration Center of Excellence to help employees use collaboration zones, collaboration tools and work collaboratively across organizational boundaries.
- Conduct an Organization Network Analysis, known as an ONA, to understand who, how and why certain people are connecting to generate more impactful work.
Doing Nothing Isn’t an Option
The future of work has arrived, and companies can’t afford to ignore it. Substantial changes in workplace technology, workforce demographics and worker preferences have drastically altered how talent is sourced, operates and is managed. Work across business and talent ecosystems is becoming increasingly complex and requires collaboration to be intentional not incidental. Not only do the majority of employees want to work for digitally enabled organizations, but also they perceive working for less digitally mature organizations as potentially harmful to their careers. By cultivating more effective collaboration, companies can fundamentally alter the way they work to find new ways to solve complex business problems, innovate and improve the overall employee experience.
Erica Volini is the U.S. human capital leader for Deloitte Consulting LLP. Garth Andrus is a human capital leader in Deloitte Digital and Deloitte Consulting LLP. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.