How Executives Intentionally Create a Culture of Collaboration

John is an average person of the workforce. A 4-year veteran, he has worked at the same company since he moved on from the military and graduated with a bachelor’s degree. Now, with newborn twins at home, John’s priorities have changed. While he remains a professional committed to his career and his employer, he now requires more flexibility in his work schedule.

John is not alone. Many members of today’s workforce are asking for more flexible work schedules. In one study, 45 percent of men want more flexibility in their work arrangements. (Surprisingly, that’s slightly more than the 39 percent of women who want the same thing.)

Adding to the complexity, Microsoft Office observes in their eBook “5 Faces of Today’s Employees” that “you’ll find a variety of employees spanning different work styles, personality types, skillsets, and generations” all working together in one organization. Management nightmare? Only if you’re unprepared.

Because of changing work expectations and longer hours, there’s greater pressure on executives to respond with more modern work practices. Specifically, schedules that allow for employees to have more choice over where they work and when. Google, for example, understands that traffic patterns in the morning aren’t helpful to Dads and Moms who need to drop off the kids to school. Employees can come in after 9am without hassle from management.

Employee work styles range along a continuum of “give me quiet” to “make it loud.” Their expectations of the tools to help them work virtually or in the same space range from using email to the having access to the latest collaboration tool.

The truth is work and non-work demands no longer neatly fall within their supposed boundaries.

The good news is technological collaborative-solutions have made it easier to pair them with business practices. Collaboration has become a fluid interaction, no matter the physical location of the employee.

For many executives, however, the question remains: how do you successfully implement a collaborative solution that satisfies the needs of your employees while also meeting the sometimes competing – even contradictory – needs of the business?

Begin with Understanding Generational Differences

When Work Works, a joint project between SHRM and The Families and Work Institute, found that over 4 out 5 people say work flexibility is a critical factor when considering or taking a new job. Beyond the obvious implications of this finding lies a significant workforce expectation: Employees have a growing need to fit both their personal and professional lives together more neatly. A way to support this growing need is to ease the way teams collaborate—onsite or virtually.

Both Millennials (34%) and Gen X (34%) are the dominant generations in the workplace. Baby Boomers make up 29 percent of the workforce. Be careful, however, to assume that Baby Boomers aren’t as tech savvy or don’t have needs for more flexibility in their work arrangements. Boomers also want flexibility to accommodate the season of their age: being grandparents, taking care of elderly parents, and time off to travel, for example.

Yet, when it comes to Millennials, the first generation born with access to advanced technologies in their youth, expectations are high regarding the use of technologies at work. It’s not enough to enable collaboration for onsite interactions only—meetings, brainstorm sessions, team lunches, etc.

Ubiquitous technologies make it easy to collaborate anytime and anywhere.

Resolve Competing IT Demands

The type of tools referenced above have put IT in a difficult spot. From a 2013 Symantec survey, IT found that 77 percent of businesses have encountered unsupported cloud applications. This exposes the organization to outside threats; the ones that keep executives awake at night: cyber-attacks or confidential data or information exchanged and stored in the cloud.

The unsupported applications, according to Microsoft research, are cloud-based file sharing solutions. The proliferation of rogue cloud applications is an indication of employees finding solutions to meet their needs—needs organizations aren’t meeting fast enough.

CIOs, CTOs, CEOs, and CHROS need to develop a business strategy that introduces collaboration practices AND related technologies that adapts to how employees now want – or need – to work

Tips to Boost Collaboration

  • Find your change champions—those who support or are likely to support the change
  • Develop a list of employees’ needs
  • Clearly define business needs
  • Develop a work flexibility policy that aligns with company values
  • Avoid big-bang technology implementations (break the rollout into phases aiming for quick win that shows that you intend to bring change)
  • Engage middle-managers early in the process
  • Don’t underestimate the emotional side of changed

IT alone can’t drive this type of culture change. And this can’t be a technology-driven change just for the sake of change. To introduce collaboration technology solutions and do it successfully, the business needs must be clear to all stakeholders. The whole organization must work together to co-create the shift in culture change.

Collaboration is a central part of our humanity; it’s how we have always accomplished important outcomes. From our ancestral history where working together meant survival to technology linking humanity across a global, virtual network, collaboration has always been the glue to achieving significant advancements.

Savvy executives recognize that technology plays an essential role to help employees work effectively in a global society.

What’s more, the make-up of those working for your organization is diverse. To cite Microsoft, “More likely than not, you have remote workers, independent contractors, and business partners, all working outside your office walls.” Resisting this current reality is the equivalent of burying one’s head in the sand.

Employees’ demands for greater work place flexibility isn’t a fad. As technology advances and our use of it further integrates into all aspects of our lives, there’s no denying its role in how, where, and when we work. Adopting and adapting to its influences is equivalent to a first-mover advantage. The sooner you move to deliberately change your company culture, the greater lead time you have over those who wait and wait – and wait.

This is a Microsoft Office sponsored post.

A version of this was first posted on

24/7 Employee Engagement (Megatrend Remotra Vs. Godzilla)

“History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of men.”

—Blue Öyster Cult, “Godzilla”

The floor beneath me cracked open when the cable guy knocked on the door. My youngest daughter Bryce shrieked with joy. My conference call had just started and I put myself on mute.

The crack under my feet widened. Sulfurous smoke billowed up and I heard a low, guttural rumbling, like an animal trapped in a cage. The house shook. Bryce howled with laughter. Somebody on the conference call asked me a question and I quickly unmuted.

“Um…yes,” I answered.

Silence on the cell phone. I jumped over the growing hole in my living room to open the door.

“Bryce, stay away from the hole,” I said. I opened the door, “C’mon in.”

The cable guy wrinkled his nose. He gave me a forced smile and asked, “Everything all right?”

The house shook. The guttural rumbling grew to a rolling growl. Bryce hung upside down from the couch with her head on the ground and giggled.

Another person addressed me on the call. I took my phone off mute and coughed. Silence followed. I thought I heard someone whispering. I muted the phone again.

“So, did any of my tech calls get documented for you?” I asked the cable guy.

He smirked and shook his head. “Nope, but I’m sure I can give you a hand.”

A blast of artic wind whooshed from the chasm in my floor. Bryce flipped over feet first and ran round and round the hole, laughing hysterically.

“Bryce, stop it.”

I explained everything to the cable guy. The fact that my wife – who had to visit a patient sooner than she thought and our childcare wasn’t coming until after she left, which was why I was watching our preschooler – was in the cable store the day before last to exchange one of our digital cable boxes, and the nice lady who helped her recommended we upgrade to the latest internet modem complete with built-in router. So we did, and ever since we had nothing but inconsistent connectivity and cycling bandwidth heartache. I told him I had already spent over three hours on the phone with four different people in tech support, falling woefully behind on work, deadlines looming and being remote puts that much more pressure to deliver, and each time I had to painfully reconstruct every single friggin’ thing that had happened since we installed the piece of cable modem shit.

He chuckled at that last sentiment and held up the modem. “I hear you. This thing is a first-generation piece of crap. I’ll get you set up with a new modem and you can use the router you have. It’s a lot better anyway. I’ve got to outside just for a minute and work on your line coming in. I may have to cut your cable for a few.”

“Thank you!”

Bryce had stopped running around the freezing smoky crater and was watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Nick Toons. Then the TV went off. Bryce cried out.

“Honey, it’ll only be out for a few minutes.”

She cried out again and ran around the hole some more. Another growl shot from the ground.

“Wait, Bryce! Stop!”

Then in my earpiece, someone was yelling at me, trying to desperately get my attention. I refocused.

“Get out of the house!”

Wait, what?!?

That’s when the beast rose from the open ground in the middle of my living room breathing a freezing cold fire.

And I was that beast. A victim of circumstance maybe, or a “megatrend,” but a beast nonetheless. What got me thinking about the soft white underbelly of working remotely was Mark Royal’s discussion on the TalentCulture #TChat Show about the various global trends impacting employee engagement today. Mark is a Senior Principal at Hay Group, a global management consulting firm.

Their recent research paper titled The New Rules of Engagement “predicts that by the end of 2018 almost a quarter (23.4 percent) of people worldwide will have changed jobs. That’s some 192 million workers due to hand in their notice over the next four years.”

This isn’t necessarily new information, but they frame it nicely and underscore the fact that the world is undergoing unprecedented change, driven by these six global megatrends:

  • Globalization 2.0
  • The environmental crisis
  • Demographic change
  • Individualism
  • Digitization
  • Technological convergence

These are monstrous megatrends that come with profound implications for how companies will be organized and led. But if leaders (and individual contributors) don’t adjust their approaches to employee engagement now, they will be unable to attract and retain talent through these major shifts.

Hay Group surveyed 300 heads of employee engagement from FTSE 250 and Fortune 500 companies, and over three-quarters (84 percent) believe that companies must engage their workforces differently if they are to succeed in the future. Yet less than a third (30 percent) believe their organizations are doing enough to adapt appropriately to the changes that lie ahead.

Let’s dig in deeper to one of them. Individualism, something that many others and myself live and breathe everyday. The entire makeup of the workforce has changed dramatically and the “I” in individual is quite prominent. We’re done with the tired old bait-and-switch work environment, where money drives motivation, or tries to. Where we’re only reviewed once a year and told what we’ve done right or wrong, with little guidance on where and how to improve.

Instead we’d prefer (and progressive organizations are adapting and delivering) more tailored career development programs, more continuous recognition and feedback, flexibility in the office and out (which of course is still highly dependent on what you do and what industry you’re in). This includes an open and regular two-way dialogue between employee and manager, the primary driver of ongoing engagement and the new age of performance management.

In fact, according to Hay Group’s World’s Most Admired Companies research, the best leaders spend as much as 30% of their time understanding others’ needs, and coaching and developing team members. But it’s a reciprocal relationship that needs simultaneous autonomy and specific boundaries to deliver business outcomes on all levels.

But out of all the megatrends listed above and analyzed in depth, one that wasn’t listed is the megatrend of remoteness (hence my Japanese monster movie name “Remotra” in the title), the whole point of the article’s opening.

If you haven’t seen it, even if you’re not a fan of The Oatmeal, check out Why Working from Home Is Both Awesome And Horrible. Hopefully you’re not that easily offended, although it’s not too bad. But for those of us who do work remotely, it will resonate painfully. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You may even pass out a little.

Ah, the virtual life…

The social awkwardness of being on conference calls and your teammates are joking about things you don’t understand — because you’re not in the office — and you never get the inside scoop.

The digital awkwardness of being online — all the time — working — and yet never feeling like you’re getting anything done or being acknowledged for what you do get done. 

The technical awkwardness of being at the mercy of your own IT department when battling with ISPs, computer problems, you name it.

The hygienic awkwardness of showering much less frequently, and then being captured in perpetuity with a video conference call.

The familial awkwardness of your kids screaming inside or out while you’re on a conference call that you have to fully participate in. Add to that the moment you have to step in and actually take care of them while your spouse is away.

Ah, the frustration isolation…

So, if you’re interested, as a way to reframe your own Godzilla and remote work-life megatrend, you could revisit my simple two-step approaching to working virtually here.

Even though the isolated battles between my inner Godzilla and Megatrend Remotra will undoubtedly continue, staying engaged is a 24/7 job no matter where you work. Because it’s all about what you deliver in the end, and how motivated you are to deliver it, not where you deliver it from.

Nature always points out the folly of man either way.

photo credit: umezy12 via photopin cc

Telecommuting: 5 Ways Companies Benefit

Last year, when Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer banned telecommuting for her employees, the decision stirred a vigorous debate about whether it’s valid for any business to let employees work from home.

As I see it, any organization can boost the personal and professional productivity of its workforce through telecommuting. And the more widely it is embraced, the better for the company.

Therefore, it’s a smart move to integrate technologies that make the work-from-home process smoother and more seamless.

Telecommuting Success: It’s More Than Technology

However, simply putting new technology into place and allowing your workforce to telecommute won’t make your business productive. Successful virtual work initiatives still require effective management. Leaders need to engage team members (as if they were physically at the office) and make sure they are kept in the loop, so they remain psychologically and socially connected, even when they don’t share a physical office space.

5 Key Business Benefits

But that said, when virtual work options are implemented appropriately, the advantages are abundant. For example, here are five major ways companies can benefit:

1) Morale: Happier employees get more done. In many cities, employees deal with a grinding commute, only to sit in an office where they interact very little with their coworkers. Whether the telecommuting arrangement is permanent or just a weekly flex day, the reduced travel and stress can provide a tremendous boost in employee morale.

2) Talent Acquisition: This can be a significant advantage in both large and small markets, because the best talent isn’t always within driving distance. This is certainly affected by the scope of the position, but businesses that don’t require day-to-day physical access to a shared office can benefit by finding the best candidates, regardless of physical location. Telecommuting lets companies choose from a much larger talent pool when it’s time to recruit for open positions.

3) Productivity: If you have ever worked remotely you probably know that you can accomplish much more when the conditions are right. At many offices, constant distractions mean less work gets done than the company desires. While face-to-face camaraderie may help employees build relationships, beyond small talk, there isn’t much that can be accomplished sitting in a meeting room that can’t be accomplished from a distance, using collaboration tools.

4) Flexibility: Trying to bring teams together in the same space and time isn’t necessarily easier because everyone travels to a central office. The technology that companies adopt to enable telecommuting allows teams to collaborate in real time from anywhere members are located. Participants can access teleconferencing, web conferencing and telepresence from almost anywhere. So when people can’t be in the same physical place, the meeting will still go on.

5) Adoption: I have said this for as long as I can remember: ”Eat your own dog food!” Any business that considers itself a high-tech organization should adopt tools, structures and processes required for successful telecommuting. What’s more, these capabilities should be  promoted as a way the workforce can achieve maximum productivity and work-life balance. Using this technology day in and day out can truly bring the organization closer. And the value of that connection can be priceless, as it translates to better selling, delivery and support of the solutions your customers need.

What other ways can organizations benefit from telecommuting? Does your company allow telecommuting? If not, why? Share your opinions and ideas in the comments below.

(Editor’s Note: This post was adapted with permission from an article written for and published in Commercial Integrator Magazine and republished by Millennial CEO.)

(Also Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events each Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at events, or join our ongoing Twitter conversation anytime. Learn more…)

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