Working from home is working. While each person has unique circumstances, most Australian office workers are saying that remote work has made them more productive, more able to balance work and life commitments, and less bogged down by costly, time-consuming commuting.
Many of these employees have been working from home for the better part of 2020, but the bigger picture is that when it comes to remote and hybrid working, these are early days. Enterprises are still evaluating pain points, inefficiencies and ways to pre-empt challenges without sacrificing new benefits. In other words, despite the positive side of remote work, there’s still a lot of room to improve.
Above all else, 2020 has taught us that the world is not static. On a technical level, you can bank on collaboration tools continuing to evolve. As features expand, IT leaders will need to continuously assess the practical requirements and employee training needed to support seamless experiences.
To understand the biggest lessons that came out of the mass shift to remote working in 2020, as well as what business leaders should be prioritising going forward, we partnered with Picnic Customer Intelligence for our Telstra Workplace Collaboration Report 2020. Based on insights from 1,000 Australian office workers, expert interviews with IT managers and views from industry analysts, the report takes a deep dive into challenges and advice for the “new workplace.”
Put simply, we found that organisations’ ability to improve at-home employee experiences and anticipate future needs depends on IT leaders driving a cross-functional collaboration strategy centred on digital workflows and seamless user experiences. But what do the nuts and bolts look like? Here are three highlights to keep in mind when considering your collaboration strategies for 2021 and beyond.
1. Clunky experiences risk driving users to apps you didn’t endorse.
Workers don’t always have smooth experiences with software – only 38% of workers said they have a seamless, productive experience almost all the time.1 While that’s not ideal for a lot of reasons, it also opens the possibility that employees will turn to apps that they think will offer a better experience.
For instance, WhatsApp is used by 28% of workers for messaging or calls. However, only half of those using WhatsApp said it’s been endorsed or recommended by their IT team. Aside from potential security risks, this sort of “shadow IT” can have negative impacts on workflows and culture as collaboration ecosystems expand and fragment.
Providing employees with a similar or better experience is the most obvious and beneficial way to pre-empt this issue – of course, that’s easier said than done. Start by auditing current platforms in your organisation – including those you didn’t endorse – and any pain points during the user experience. With more digital work comes more data, so create a solid base of evidence by tying measurements like employee survey results to collaboration platform usage data. While capturing workers’ challenges is crucial, you’ll also want to capture all the benefits of working from home and any ROI so you can flesh out a business case for the right tools and systems.
Once you have a bird’s eye view of your collaboration environment, it’s much easier to define priorities, build business cases and identify where to get the support you need in next steps.
2. Organisations need to understand the importance of social connection and how to foster it remotely.
Most office workers surveyed for the Telstra Workplace Collaboration Report said that remote work made them more productive and gave them a better ability to balance work and life commitments. The flip side, however, is an erosion of social connection – 47% said their social connections with colleagues had suffered as a result of remote work, while only 20% said it had improved.
This can cause practical issues, especially when it comes to collaboration or brainstorming across large groups. Face-to-face, organic interactions or “watercooler moments” can make a big difference when it comes to fostering working relationships and knowledge sharing. But the challenges run much deeper, including mental wellbeing and concerns about job security. Some IT managers reported greater challenges around different work styles and personalities, with shy workers “getting shyer.”
While remote work and digitised processes might be fueling this challenge, they can also offer some solutions. For example, applications that make work more visible and collaborative can keep colleagues feeling connected. For instance, applications like Microsoft Teams can bring together large groups virtually and keep workstreams visible, while its integration with applications like Sharepoint, Yammer and Telstra Calling make it easier for individuals to connect and collaborate quickly. Knowledge management systems should similarly be given more consideration as organisations settle into hybrid working styles, with searchable, sharable solutions becoming more important for both efficiency and a feeling of connection.
Distance also offers a new opportunity to restructure teams, bringing different people together. Previously, successful collaboration was often limited to teams who shared physical proximity. Remote work dissolves geographic differences and helps leaders link workers based on the task at hand, skill sets or even individual working and communication styles. As digital skills improve and measures of success become more outcome-focused than ever, leaders will have greater latitude to strategically assemble teams – provided those teams are equipped with the right tools.
The merits of virtual collaboration go beyond team restructures, with unified communications and collaboration offering new and creative outlets for connecting socially, beyond typical office or pub settings, such as virtual trivia nights, group yoga sessions or cooking challenges. Just as these tools can help leaders bring together new teams, it can also help workers connect more easily based on their interests and hobbies rather than their physical locations. There’s also greater opportunity to connect with new people altogether – our report found that some organisations are now scheduling virtual events with their vendors, especially those in other countries.
The key is to ensure there are structured, widely communicated opportunities. Organic connections are great but, with many workers isolated at home, preserving a sense of social connection will require greater, more proactive teamwork between IT and HR functions.
3. It’s not just up to IT teams; organisations will need to drive a cross-functional collaboration movement.
Successful remote work depends on intuitive, user-friendly experiences, and those experiences are fundamentally a human question. Are people feeling equipped with integrated tools and know-how? Do they feel connected with one another even from afar? These are questions where technology and data can help you find the answer but resolving issues will still depend on expertise that isn’t just technical. A huge portion of collaboration solutions and remote work improvements depend on functions like communications or HR.
As an example, the big productivity boosts reported by workers can be jeopardised if there aren’t clear processes for multiple platforms. Workers need easily accessible, visible policies that help them know which platform to use when initiating different interactions. This is where other departments can help map out processes and policies and communicate these with appropriate training to ensure employee confidence and adoption.
Technology can’t create seamless experiences by itself – employee know-how and digital skills will determine a major part of their experience using applications and any new changes. A lot of pain points can be alleviated or even pre-empted if staff are kept across updates and changes to tools. This requires close collaboration with the functions who can help you ensure workers are informed and ready for any system changes.
Still, because tech and networking strategies are so foundational to so many collaboration strategies, IT leaders are often in the best position to drive a “collaboration movement.” The more IT leaders engage across functions, the more they can establish themselves as the go-to communications and collaboration gurus, not just a reactive team for technical fixes. And the more that smart IT strategies inform your collaboration solutions, the better your chances of creating even more productive, more integrated and more socially connected remote work experiences in 2021.
For full insights and recommendations, download the Telstra Workplace Collaboration Report 2020.
1 Picnic Customer Intelligence (2020), survey with 1000 Australian workers.