If another analysis of how the workplace has evolved, or how collaboration tools have transformed, starts with the pandemic, it’s very likely your brain will implode. Yes, the pandemic changed everything. Yes, the business gets it. The thing is, the sheer scale of this change is remarkable. It’s almost impossible to comprehend how drastically and significantly it has altered the employer/employee dynamic and how magnificently it’s torn the market wide open. Like a disaster movie hero in full muscular swing, this virus has ripped the fabric of the organisation in half.
It’s also finally given technology its shining moment on the global stage. It turns out that the nerds, geeks and technology pundits were right. It’s going to be the only way for the business to thrive in the Age of Information and the era of collaboration. As Forrester points out in its report ‘Gain a competitive advantage through enterprise collaboration’, the ability to efficiently connect employees in the office, from home and around the world has become the ‘table stakes for effective operations’. Gartner’s research found that there’s been an uptick of 44% in the use of collaboration tools since 2019. It also pointed out that collaboration tools have become the core of the workplace as they’re the most effective in ensuring the business can meet the demands of remote and hybrid workers.
The fundamental shift around best practice collaboration is about moving away from a 9-5 clockwatching mentality to one where the focus is on getting a job done.
Rudi Potgieter, Guardian Eye
For PwC, collaboration tools go beyond just clicking that button to get videoconferencing going, or making sure that systems are set up for sharing across multiple locations. It’s about reimagining how work is done. This is perhaps the most pertinent point. Today, in spite of the long lists of statistics that point to the success of the remote or hybrid workforce, many companies are still obsessed with returning to the old ways of work, ways that didn’t necessarily net them the value they can now get from a diverse workforce, and that may lose them talent going forward.
According to Accenture’s Future of Work Study 2021, most employees want the option of a hybrid model as it’s optimal for their own mental health and productivity. Interestingly, 63% of high-growth companies have moved towards this model, and 85% of employees who are given the ability to be productive from anywhere are more likely to stay with that company in the long term. This is a good thing in a market where employees are leaving companies in their droves. The ‘Great Resignation’ is changing the shape of business.
Now is the time to change how the business shapes itself around its people. Accenture advises to design work around the people and invest in the right technology. Gartner reinforces this message by recommending that the business has access to the right collaboration technology to ensure the business is capable of this level of flexibility. And PwC wraps the value of investing in collaborative technology into a neat bow by pointing out that companies that support remote work are the ones that are getting the best results.
So no, remote work is not a phase, hybrid work is not a wishy-washy possibility and the traditional office modality is not going to keep your talent on side. This means that collaboration tools are your new best office friend.
Q&A: The collaboration solution
Brainstorm: How would you define the future of collaboration?
Johann van Niekerk, MD, Outsized South Africa: People think a hybrid workplace just means a mix of remote and on-site working, but the big upcoming change is a mix of permanent employees and independent contractors or consultants. The trend for companies to recruit skilled contractors for a fixed term or for a fixed project allows them to hire new and different skills, and that fresh influx of talent can do wonders for a business.
Matthew McKay, regional director, Sub-Saharan Africa, Citrix: A Wrike and Pulse survey of IT leaders found that 55% are looking for collaborative work management tools for help. Of those, 66% say tool integration is the central feature they lack – and also the one they most need. But with intricacy continuing to rise, the last thing IT leaders want is to lose a tool they have already invested 18 months in, or to force a new one on staff.
Brendan Cuthbertson, head of private sector sales, Cisco: From a simple service that enables audio and video calling, chats and other basic functionality, we’re now looking at collaboration enablers that deliver a multitude of services, from screen-sharing, document-sharing and background-blurring, to real-time translation and transcription because our world has become that much smaller, and everyone deserves a seat at the table.
Kriya Govender, CEO, PRP Solutions: Hybrid working will see the integration of a remote workforce, mobility solutions, and traditional office environments to create a new operational footprint for organisations. Tying all these components together will be collaboration.
Brainstorm: What are the best collaboration tools and technologies, and why?
David Meintjes, CEO, Telviva: Unified and collaboration tools and storing data in the cloud.
Johann van Niekerk, Outsized South Africa: There is a proliferation of tools, and top of the pile are Teams, Zoom and Slack because they facilitate the conversations that previously happened on-site and already have the scale. There are generalist and specialist collaboration tools, and the generalist tools will be dominated by the likes of Microsoft because almost everyone is reliant on them. Thereafter the specialist tools will depend on the industry and needs. One specialist tool we use is Pipedrive, which is a sales tool.
Boyd Chislett, chief business officer, Liquid Intelligent Technologies SA: Microsoft 365 for smarter collaboration and communication solutions and Microsoft Exchange Online, which is an easy online service that provides a professional email service no matter the size of your business.
Brendan Cuthbertson, Cisco: There are many tools and technologies enabling the basics, but those that are addressing the human elements are the innovations to keep an eye on. We’re talking about collaboration services that bring people insights to the business visualising relationships between teams and employees, showing them how to work smarter and more inclusively.
Brainstorm: How can the business inventively mash up different collaboration tools and systems to meet its needs?
Boyd Chislett, Liquid Intelligent Technologies SA: Assigning responsibility as per the expertise of the team will create a more efficient and effective way of working as everyone will have a definitive scope of work, and ensuring everyone has access to the full scope of the project through cloud storage and file-sharing software.
We’ve been doing remote working and collaboration all along, and the past two years really proved we were doing the right thing, as our team is now 95% remote.
Alen Ribic, SweepSouth
Matthew McKay, Citrix: Partners can build microapps to help employees drive actions and easily create new tasks or projects, notify someone that a task or project has been assigned to them, and act on pending approvals, all without ever having to leave the workspace environment.
Hepsy Mkhungo, CEO, One Linkage: Due to the remote work approach, policies, procedures, and terms of employment have been revised to accommodate the need to make some structural changes to accommodate the new norm. A more democratic approach towards finding what works best will differ from company to company, depending on size, technology capability, and preferences.
Bradley Pulford, MD, HP Africa: A successful collaboration takes a holistic integrated approach and addresses questions such as how to empower and trust employees to work anywhere and connect with customers and partners alike, how HR can retain top talent, how organisations can retrain skills and bring innovation, and how robotics and cognitive computing can augment the future workforce.
Alex Pryor, head, Digital Innovation, iOCO: You’ll get the greatest payoff from online collaboration if you make use of an eclectic range of collaboration tools that support a diversity of working and communication styles. Mix online PowerPoint presentations with collaborative written docs in Google Drive; use virtual mindmapping tools like Lucidchart and Mindmeister to encourage contributions from people who think visually; and use online project management tools like Basecamp to support team members who need clear tasks and milestones.
Rudi Potgieter, executive head, Guardian Eye: The fundamental shift around best practice collaboration is about moving away from a 9-5 clockwatching mentality to one where the focus is on getting a job done. Technology will play a pivotal role in this workforce engagement and getting employees to collaborate more efficiently online.
A clean connection
Sweeping into the home, garden and office building with tech and collaboration designed to connect people and providers.
SweepSouth is the brainchild of Aisha Pandor and Alen Ribic, a wife and husband team that collaborated with tech and genius to create a platform that connects clients to on-demand domestic cleaning services. The platform has grown considerably since it started out and is now operating in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and soon Egypt as well. The platform is all about connections, and about collaboration between multiple people and teams to ensure that everything runs smoothly, regardless of time zone or country.
“From inception, even when it was just the two of us, we deployed Slack as it felt like the right starting point,” says Ribic, the company’s CTO. “We knew we could add team members easily and that this was a simple way to cut out a ton of unnecessary emails.”
Today, Slack has become integral to the business, providing collaboration and connection tools to 60 people – soon to be 90. It has become central to the company’s ability to share ideas and the recently added Huddle functionality has allowed for teams to quickly huddle together, as they would in an office, to bounce ideas off each other.
“It cuts through a lot of stuff that would have resulted in meetings and emails – two highly unproductive things,” says Ribic. “This, plus the app’s integration into other tools, makes Slack really powerful. It helps us to collaborate more effectively and gain visibility into the business. It’s not just chatting and cutting out emails, the entire platform is integrated into our systems.”
In 2016, Ribic wrote a bot that could connect to Slack and measure sentiment on keywords. It would take messages and analyse what people were talking about and then classify the sentiment as either good or bad. If it was good, it got a cute emoticon next to it, and if it was negative, it got the fire emoticon. This information was then pulled into a Slack channel that the entire company could observe.
“It meant that people weren’t just seeing the positive messages, they were also exposed to the problems,” says Ribic. “They had access to real-time information about the brand that could then be fed into the engineering and creative engines of SweepSouth to improve products and services.”
Another tool the company uses for collaboration is the Miro Whiteboard Tool. It integrates with Slack to enable whiteboarding and commenting and is used in meetings to take notes and gain a visual picture of the insights gathered.
“When the session ends, we can create a board with relationships between the things mentioned and what needs to be done, and then we further integrate this with ClickUp, a project collaboration tool that helps set defined projects, milestones and associated tasks,” adds Ribic. “This helps us keep track of what matters while still keeping things simple.”
SweepSouth uses these tools throughout the business and encourages flexibility in operations and working – allowing for people to work when they are most productive, be it day or night, and ensuring that everyone is on top of their tasks and the business as a whole.
“We’ve been doing remote working and collaboration all along, and the past two years really proved we were doing the right thing, as our team is now 95% remote,” says Ribic.
Read the article on BrainStormMag