The digital workplace: Why are we still not collaborating effectively?

What tools are you using to communicate and collaborate in your organization? If you are like me and many others, you have at some point turned to unofficial channels, even though you have several official tools at your disposal.

Jonathan Phillips

Jonathan Phillips

Blog interview by Martin Paludan

This is far from breaking news, but many organizations still haven’t found a way to handle it. I called digital strategy consultant, founder of ClarityDW and Boye18 conference speaker Jonathan Phillips for an interview on our challenges with collaboration in the modern workplace:

“Every channel that employees use to communicate and collaborate is part of the digital workplace. Whether we think of them as such or not. If people are communicating outside the organization’s official channels, it’s a sign that something is missing. That something might very well turn out to be a strategy”

The digital workplace experience
On a personal note, I have used Messenger to communicate with colleagues countless times. Often it just seemed easier than sending an email (does anyone enjoy emailing?).

And Jonathan understands my point. As he has previously written, internal communication channels are part of the employee experience. If we find these slow or inconvenient, it’s no surprise we turn to Messenger or WhatsApp:

“With increased digital working, the employee experience is also a technology challenge which needs to be defined in your organization’s strategy.”

There are two main issues resulting from the use of unofficial channels. One is the isolated or fragmented collaboration. With no clear protocol for what is shared when and how, people are potentially left in the dark with regard to vital information. Managing the digital workplace is about breaking up these information silos.

Jonathan also points to the organization’s stake in all of this. One thing is the essential loss of  collaboration, but with GDPR, unofficial channels also poses the risk of a potential breach. With an organization having little insights into what information is being shared on what channels.

The digital workplace strategy
Taking a step back, we have to look at why, employees who does have effective tools at their disposal are still taking their collaboration to unofficial channels:

“I’ve lost count of the number of organizations that use Slack, and of the many that believe this means job well done.”

Jonathan points to the fact that alle CEO’s or managers have improved collaboration on their agenda.  However, when asked about their collaboration strategy, they will think long and hard… then refer to HR:

“Collaboration doesn’t happen in HR. They are like any other department perfectly capable of collaborating with … HR. Collaboration is about all of the organization, and that requires managerial focus. Having someone in charge of that collaboration across departments, which HR in many cases won’t be able effectuate on their own”.

The why, how, and in what situations to use different tools needs to be defined. And we need to engage in more widespread sharing and discussion of our processes within our organization:

“I was in an organization, talking with an employee in finance. He was telling me about how he performed a procedure that everyone in the company performed on a weekly basis. Behind him was an employee from HR, who suddenly interrupted and told him that it wasn’t how it was done in HR.”

Same procedure, but not performed in the same way. In some cases apparently even when we are sitting right next to each other.

The digital workplace responsibility?
Jonathan emphasizes that it’s hard to find someone who is capable of being an effective workplace manager, since it will typically require technical insights into the needs of the different departments as well as a communication and collaboration skill set.

The solution? Having several people taking responsibility, in many cases a representative from each team, actively collaborating towards better collaboration between the departments. The managers task then becomes empowering those individuals to make collective decisions effectively. In the end formulating a cohesive strategy for collaboration, where the benefits of using the official channels become apparent.

By Martin Paludan