Collaboration is vital to the success of all businesses. But, given the size of their teams, it’s even more critical for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Often these firms’ staff base works remotely in different locations as a result of the change in working practices since the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to keep overheads down, as well as the ability to hire the best talent from anywhere in the world, in many cases from a different time zone. That has made it much harder for them to keep track of their employees and ensure they are working as a team effectively.
The move to remote working is only going to accelerate, with nine out of 10 knowledge workers believing that digital collaboration is here to stay, according to Fit Small Business. Mirroring this, by 2024, in-person meetings will only account for 25% of team conversations.
If successfully achieved, online collaboration can result in improved employee engagement, performance, productivity and, above all, company results. It can also benefit workers’ long-term mental and physical health.
When working online in different places, technology is the key to pulling everyone together. It’s also vital to have open communication channels and to reinforce shared team values and goals through a strong company culture.
Before starting out, SMEs must first determine the right tools that they need to collaborate effectively online and what workers need to do the job. The aim is to find solutions which flexibly enable their team to work together and independently on the same projects at the same and different times, and continuously monitor and seek feedback on their effectiveness.
In the main, these include project management software and communication platforms. But the most effective ones are online workspaces, which allow teams to collaborate, communicate and manage all their projects in one space. These are enabled by the cloud – a global network of servers that hosts multiple databases and software, which allows staff to access and work on the same files and applications, regardless of where they are located.
Without communication, collaboration wouldn’t be possible. That’s why SMEs need to make sure that they have the right communication channels in place for their employees to keep in touch.
As a basic, they must have the ability to make and receive phone calls, texts and emails. But they should also have the capability to do video conferencing and client calls. The most effective way to stay in contact is by phone. But if something needs to be quickly checked or confirmed, emails can be quicker and more effective.
Team meetings, whether over the phone or by video, are the best method of collaboration, affording the opportunity to discuss projects, make key decisions and get progress updates. But one-to-ones are also invaluable, particularly when it comes to dealing with confidential or sensitive matters, for example, a line manager checking up on a worker’s wellbeing.
A strong company culture flows from the top and ensures that everyone is pulling in the right direction. It starts with getting the recruitment and retention strategy right and permeates through every working practice and protocol that’s adopted. Once everyone has bought into the same ethos, they will perform better together as a team. This will boost their output, as well as their job satisfaction, morale and loyalty.
Greater collaboration can also be achieved through clearly establishing defined roles and responsibilities so that everyone knows exactly what they should be doing and how it will help to achieve the team’s overall objective. Each team member should be assigned specific tasks that fit their skillsets and expertise.
It’s also essential to create a positive and inclusive workplace that makes every team member welcome, respected and valued. This can be supported through a focus on their professional development and wellbeing, as well as giving them a platform to make their voice heard.
Above all, employees’ efforts need to be recognised at all times, to keep them motivated and making a valuable contribution. This should come in the form of public praise, rewards and incentives, and, wherever possible, celebrated as a team.
All of this, however, requires a significant amount of time and investment. Technology implementation can come at a large upfront cost, while instilling a company culture can be extremely time-consuming.
Then there are the problems associated with technology going wrong. That’s not to mention resistance to change and adoption of the new technology by employees.
But by taking a longer term view and committing to their investment, companies can achieve savings and efficiencies in time. They can also reap the rewards of getting staff to take ownership and drive the process themselves.
The bottom line is that the more included a worker feels, the more engaged and productive they are likely to be in their work. They will also feel better in themselves, both physically and mentally, meaning they are less likely to take time off due to illness.
Wayne Pope, Founder and CTO of award-winning Glasscubes, which specialises in enabling companies to collaborate with people inside or outside their organisation, using a rich set of tools from client portals, online workspaces, intranets and information gathering. Glasscubes helps well over 50,000 users in more than 100 countries to maximise their workforce’s potential through an online secure system.