We’ve all heard that two heads are better than one, and nowhere is this more true than in business. Brainstorming innovative ideas, building an amazing company culture, creating a seamless customer experience — it all depends on successful collaboration in the workplace.
But employee collaboration looks different today. It’s been redefined in the new era of remote work ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic. Business leaders had to quickly adapt their collaborative processes and preserve company cultures as the office moved online. They led team huddles on Zoom. They invested in cutting-edge communication tools and wellness programs. They experimented with virtual reality meetings and happy hours.
While it isn’t easy, creating a collaborative environment is absolutely worth the challenge. One Deloitte study found that companies with a strong collaboration strategy were twice as likely to outgrow competitors and four times as likely to grow their bottom line (and you’ll see why shortly).
This guide will explain how collaboration benefits your team, give you tips to cultivate a collaborative workplace, and go over the collaboration software that should be in your toolkit. First, let’s clarify what collaboration is and isn’t.
Collaboration in the workplace is when two or more employees work together to reach a common goal. It isn’t a one-off activity, like a product launch meeting between two teams, although that’s an example of collaboration in action.
From an HR and People Ops perspective, workplace collaboration is the ongoing process of ensuring that employees have the tools, processes, and climate they need to communicate, innovate, solve problems, and bring ideas to fruition together.
A truly collaborative environment is judgment-free. Employees should feel like their unique perspectives are valued — regardless of department or seniority level — so they’re comfortable proposing ideas, sharing feedback, and challenging the status quo, all of which moves the organization forward.
Improving collaboration doesn’t necessarily mean adding more meetings to the calendar. It may be a combination of team-building activities and cross-functional projects, or choosing project management software that allows greater transparency and discussion.
There’s no shortage of benefits to having closely connected employees, from boosting productivity and profitability to raising employee happiness and retention. Let’s take a closer look at what effective collaboration brings to the table and why you should encourage it.
Bringing together different backgrounds, perspectives, knowledge, and talents can spark fresh insights and new approaches — the building blocks of innovation. Teamwork naturally gives your employees a sense of ownership and accountability. Inviting their input on decisions makes them feel connected to the company’s successes and failures, which gives them an incentive to push harder for innovative ideas.
Enabling your team to draw on each others’ strengths can produce a stronger team. By working together, they can pool their skill sets to execute on ideas and generate results faster. Different partnerships and projects will uncover new insights each time.
When members of a team collaborate, they’re often exposed to techniques, programs, or workflows for the first time. For example, a UX copywriter may pick up skills from a graphic designer while working on a new landing page and realize their entire team would benefit from a visual design course.
Collaboration is a golden opportunity for your employees to self-evaluate and discover potential professional development opportunities. These connections are the foundation of employee growth and long-term business innovation.
Collaboration leads to higher productivity levels and swifter solutions. According to GoRemotely, online collaboration tools facilitate a productivity boost of up to 30%. Why is this? Simply put, poor employee communication — and by extension, poor collaboration — kills productivity and delays deadlines.
In a true collaborative environment, employees are empowered to find answers and take action instead of going through gatekeepers or wasting time hunting for key information. For example, rather than asking around for an IT specialist’s email address, employees could use a tool like Pingboard to find it in the employee directory and check whether they’re in office or on vacation in real time.
The data consistently shows that employees need stress-free communication and teamwork to feel and perform their best. In Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work report, remote workers said that their biggest struggles were loneliness and collaboration/communication.
It’s complex work to address the loneliness, anxiety, and disconnection that some employees feel when transitioning to remote-work life. However, one thing is clear: The more a company invests in collaboration, the more likely their employees can experience much-needed camaraderie and human connection.
Every business faces the challenge of breaking down organizational silos. That’s no surprise when individual departments are increasingly building their own universes of key performance indicators (KPIs), data, software tools, and customer information.
Focusing on collaboration helps both employers and employees break out of this cycle and gets everyone aligned on bigger-picture goals. They’ll better understand how their work contributes to each organization-wide objective. And cross-team communication opens the door for a better customer experience from end to end.
As collaboration is redefined and reimagined, figuring out where to focus may feel overwhelming. The good news? There are many ways to promote effective teamwork. Below, we’ll give you concrete strategies to get employees on the same page and build a positive, open environment.
A simple but powerful way to foster communication is to use live organization chart software. With personalized employee profiles, contact info, and a clear window into the company structure, a live org chart unites your entire workforce. Employees can easily know who’s who and who does what, empowering them to take initiative to build new relationships, either on their own time or as part of cross-functional teamwork.
Tip: As you set up your live org chart, use it as an opportunity to evaluate company structure. Are there too many silos or layers? Does any manager have too many direct reports? Does your company have collaboration tools or strategies to allow smooth communication between each team?
To encourage your employees to dive into collaboration wholeheartedly, executives and managers need to lead by example. That means using respectful language and remaining open to ideas, even if there are disagreements about the next direction to take.
Tip: One way to put this into action is to have your team leaders hold a special meeting about the new collaborative mindset. They should share company-wide expectations around active listening and constructive feedback.
People largely work with the same coworkers day in and day out, and while this can generate results, it can also slow innovation or limit creativity. The power of collaboration lies in assembling a group of people who ideally offer a variety of perspectives, personalities, and know-how. So, look for opportunities to pull talent from across departments, whether it’s a natural goal overlap or a brief experimental project.
Tip: As team members get to know one another and suggest different ideas, there’s potential for conflict. Encourage employees to approach each problem-solving session with open mindedness and think of tactics to build trust and group ownership of the project. The goal isn’t to avoid all disagreements, but to set healthy boundaries so employees feel heard and the best solution wins out.
Positive reinforcement makes a world of difference when you’re introducing more collaboration in the workplace. Rather than pointing out communication breakdowns and missed opportunities, highlight the big wins or small victories that were achieved thanks to an employee team-up. It’s a great morale booster and teaching tool.
Tip: You don’t have to shoulder all the work of recognizing achievements. A peer-to-peer recognition program allows colleagues to publicly give each other positive feedback and encourages more internal engagement.
Without some level of workplace transparency, there’s no trust, and without trust, there are no strong work relationships. Your collaborators won’t succeed if vital company information is kept hidden from them, like current sales obstacles, product news, or past campaign information. Wherever possible, help your employees share ideas and knowledge freely.
Tip: 33% of employees said a lack of open, honest communication had the most negative impact on employee morale. If you don’t already have one, set up a cadence to update teams on important news and choose online communication tools to spread the word quickly and efficiently.
Effective collaboration starts with a strong sense of purpose. To perform their best as a unit, every team member needs to understand what’s expected of them and what to prioritize. Set clear-cut goals, milestones, and touchpoints to keep everyone aligned.
Tip: This step is particularly important for projects with a lot of moving parts or collaborators. Make sure roles are defined and that the “what” and “why” of every goal is clear.
Change takes time. Whether your team is largely in-house or remote, there will be an adjustment period as you implement collaboration initiatives. Allow employees the grace and the space to get acclimated, give feedback, and offer suggestions for improvement.
Tip: Make sure your leadership team is on the same page when it comes to evaluating team performance or KPIs as this process evolves — collaborative efforts are tricky by nature, and every team won’t deliver the same results.
If you’re pushing for a truly collaborative workplace, you’ll need the toolset to back it up. Cloud-based software is one of the best options for modern workforces, allowing employees to develop concepts and share files in real time.
Tip: Keep reading, because in the next section we’ll cover some of the best collaboration platforms on the market.
Employees now spend 50% of their time engaged in collaborative work, and the COVID-19 pandemic kicked this shift into high gear. Companies can’t scrape by with so-so software setups any more — it’s vital that they invest in the right tools to equip their employees to collaborate, especially for dispersed workforces.
The reality is that collaboration is time-consuming and sometimes stressful. It takes patience, energy, and effort from each team member. Collaboration software, however, saves time and eliminates headaches. Some platforms enhance work with gamification, making employees feel more productive.
From social platforms and project management to messaging and file sharing, we’ve rounded up the top software tools to consider.
How it helps: Pingboard promotes cross-team collaboration by giving members a place to connect, collaborate, and celebrate each other’s hard work. Tools like a live org chart, rich employee directory, peer recognition features, out of office statuses, and team-building games create an engaging social hub for your organization that also removes silos.
How it helps: Tools like Asana, Trello, or ClickUp offer a one-stop shop for key project management features like task lists and calendars, reminders, comments, document-sharing and more. Teams can customize their views and filters at the individual level and integrate each tool with hundreds of apps — such as Slack, Google Suite, and Zoom — fostering better, faster collaboration.
How it helps: As virtual communication replaces in-person communication for many companies, instant messaging is a must-have tool. Slack is one of the most popular and comprehensive chat tools available, offering lightning-fast messages (emojis and GIFS optional), file transfers, and in-depth message searches. It also includes a host of integrations as well as custom workflows.
How it helps: Use of video conferencing software like Zoom and Webex skyrocketed in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Both video conference platforms offer intuitive interfaces, app sharing and whiteboard features, and cloud recording to let remote employees and in-office employees brainstorm and present ideas seamlessly. They’re also fantastic platforms for social and cultural events, like virtual trivia nights.
How it helps: Over 6 million businesses rely on Google Workspace (formerly G Suite), to create and store documents and spreadsheets, develop presentations, schedule meetings, and more. It’s extremely easy to set up and add collaborators, and the document-level permissions and sharing make it a solid solution for workforces large and small.
Top-notch organizations invest in collaborative work environments, not only to stay competitive and innovative, but to make sure their employees are happy in their roles and invested in the company overall.
Empower your collaborative workforce to up their efficiency, build strong relationships, and celebrate each team win with Pingboard. Sign up for a free 14-day trial today.