Companies are changing faster than ever as the world of business is transformed. For employees, this means new ways of working – and doing so in digitally reimagined workplaces. 

Long gone are the days where teams shared the same office space working on longer duration projects. Today they are not just as likely to be made up of people based around the globe,  employees are expected to get used to working in rapidly assembled cross-functional teams, develop an ability to make faster decisions with limited information, improve the knowledge flow amongst themselves and across the organization, and yet be involved in deep individual work while upskilling themselves. It’s exciting and challenging. 

But how can you build an effective team with shared goals, able to innovate and develop solutions fast, when its members may be in different time zones and at times working on more than one project? Even more importantly, how can you avoid the risk that communication issues in such a team could slow things down? 

The answer is a combination of technology and creating the right culture. In fact, the two elements go hand in hand. Technology can help enable the collaboration that businesses need to succeed in the super-fast competitive world of Business 4.0.

Source: Shutterstock

Stay connected

Think of an employee working in a major city. They are part of a team spread across the world including people from different parts of the business and some external partners. In the past, they would have expected to keep in touch with colleagues by email and video. But in today’s world, that’s just not fast enough.

Social collaboration platforms help teams and employees across the organisation interact in real time. The employee can easily share ideas and receive feedback. Open communication helps spark new ideas and sharing with the wider group means ideation becomes a natural part of the job. 

If something new is encountered, a chatbot can either suggest how to resolve the issue or point to digital resources that show how to do it. Continuous innovation is supported by continuous learning. In addition, virtual assistants can vastly improve an employee onboarding experience. 

And this technology is not just being used for process issues. A leading healthcare group recently introduced a chatbot to provide employees with self-service HR information about issues such as leave policies and insurance. 

Let’s talk, in context

Conversational engagement is not restricted to chatbots either. Increasingly, intranets are being designed so that employees can find information by engaging with the platform rather than just reading a page on screen. 

An Asia-based airline recently boosted engagement among its 14,000 global employees by building a mobile-first intranet, underscoring how helpful a design thinking-led approach can be.

Driving all these developments is personalization. The tools team members use can now be tailored to their individual needs, enhancing the employee experience while encouraging agile collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Today’s teams are not only globally distributed, but they are multidisciplinary. Team members may be office, home or field based. The technology needs to work intuitively for them if it is to be a game-changer. 

Using social technology, which is already part of people’s lives, is a great way to engage them. But not everyone may be willing to take part. 

Human nature is to stick with who and what you know, according to Deepak Sundararajan, who leads MBU – Digital Workplace, Europe at Tata Consultancy Services. “Collaboration does not work if people do not show enough engagement,” he says. “People are more comfortable with people in their home team or locations and don’t explore beyond their existing network.”

Chatbots can be used to suggest how to resolve various issues within a business. Source: Shutterstock

Let’s play, while we work

To overcome this natural reluctance to step outside comfort zones, Deepak argues gamification and timely nudges can enhance the knowledge-sharing process. One multinational organization found stimulating competition between employees by awarding points for contributing ideas drove up engagement levels dramatically.

The only hitch was that while the quantity of contributions rose the quality did not. So to encourage people to engage with others with different backgrounds and perspectives, additional points could be scored by initiating conversations outside employees’ home locations and teams.

Gamification proved to be the catalyst, not only for people to seek new ideas, but also to look at themselves and see how they could improve.  

“It’s about discovering the talent across the distributed workforce,” says Deepak. “You need to draw out the expertise within the group and you can only do that by getting people intrinsically engaged. That will lead to collaboration and knowledge sharing.”

What’s in it for me?

Deepak emphasizes the importance of leadership teams setting clear expectations for the culture they want to build. But it’s vital that change works for employees too. They must be able to see what’s in it for them. 

One tangible benefit of improving collaboration is that people can see how they fit in to the bigger picture. Realizing you are making a difference is a powerful motivator, as is empowerment – giving people the ability to take their ideas from concept to a proof of concept.

In all of this, technology is the key enabler. Choosing the right tools, personalizing them, adding persuasion with playfulness and giving people access to digital training are the keys to a corporate culture that supports continuous innovation.

One global organization addressed the need to improve digital dexterity by creating an internal ecosystem of learning and innovation. While the leadership stressed the need to learn and innovate, employees were presented with a clear picture of how their contribution was essential to the organization objectives and helped them in their career path. 

Employees also had access to a gamified learning platform which benchmarked their digital dexterity in relation to that of the organization. It nudged them to improve their position and acted as the stage for hackathons to encourage participation and co-creation.

“It’s about giving people the ability to make faster and better decisions at work,” says Deepak. “Once people are able to see the success, they buy into the change very quickly.”