Collaborative Working

Do remote workers need mobile tools to collaborate?

Working remotely has its advantages. As well as enabling a generation of working adults to spend more time in their pyjamas, remote working apparently increases productivity and creates happier staff. But surely this isn’t always the case? Surely there are times when it just doesn’t work and the corporate ideal of a plugged-in and collaborative workforce disintegrates in a puff of technical failure and indiscipline?

Statistics on teleworking vary massively from region to region but in the US where 3.3 million people work remotely (not including the self-employed or unpaid volunteers) according to Global Workplace Analytics, the advantages have been driven home by the recent bad weather. According to Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, federal employees in Washington who worked from home during four official snow days saved the government an estimated $32m.

But surely successful remote working can only be measured through long-term increased performance of the business or organisation? Short-term financial gains from weather anomalies are all very well but not the basis on which to form a remote working policy surely?

At the very heart of the current trends towards remote working is collaboration. The internet, communication and interactive tools are making collaboration, regardless of location, possible, but it’s far from fool-proof. The technical and cultural demands of collaboration particularly with a remote workforce are challenging, which is why collaborative tools business Clarizen has started talking up the importance of mobile.

Avinoam Nowogrodski, founder and CEO of Clarizen, says that while mobile collaboration has been around for a while, only recently has the technology evolved to a point at which the mobile can play an important role in the collaborative process, having evolved naturally from consumer activities. I spoke to him recently and the following is an edited transcript of this conversation.


You’ve recently launched a mobile platform for collaboration. What are your aims for this and what are the key issues for mobile users?

According to a recent Forrester report entitled What You Need in a Mobile Collaboration App, immediacy is at the heart of mobile collaboration. Employees reach for their mobile devices to access information or contact colleagues in their moments of need so not only must the mobile collaboration experience be available on the device they reach for, but it also cannot be overwhelming in its delivery.


Is collaboration in the enterprise actually working then?

Collaboration in the enterprise works when it helps you actually get work done, not just talk about it.


So what are the key reasons for collaboration failing?

It fails when it is isolated from advancing the actual work – you need to snap collaboration into that context.


If businesses have a bad collaborative experience do they tend to ditch the idea of collaboration all together?

When a company fails to implement a collaborative tool, they do tend to drop off.  However, we’ve seen a number of companies be willing to take a second look at a different type of collaboration, when they see that it can provide value to the employees.


Stowe Boyd, Research Lead at Gigaom Research and author of "A New Way of Work," said the biggest impact in the workplace in recent years has been the growing adoption of mobile devices. But importantly he adds that for businesses to thrive and collaborate using mobile they have to learn to loosen the rules and give people more autonomy – do you agree? And more importantly do you think business leaders would agree?

I always agree with Stowe! I think of autonomy as giving team members a voice. This is critical for companies to thrive and innovate in the new world of work.  Innovation isn’t just from the people in charge of innovation – it can come from every corner of the company.


Should businesses therefore train staff to collaborate? Surely people and companies are so diverse that even having the best tech in the world does not mean that they will always collaborate successfully?

The best collaborative tools are just that – tools.  If they are very intuitive, that helps a lot, but it’s best to start with some training and simple best practices to give them the best experience.  Getting off on the right foot is really important, and leading from the top is very effective.


What should successful collaboration look like? How do you measure it and capture the winning formula?

Successful collaboration should be measured by the efficiencies gained through the collaboration. Things like increased capacity and speed for completing work, efficiency of knowledge transfer when onboarding new employees, and increased customer satisfaction regarding initiatives completed for them are all good measurements for collaboration.  


Deb Ingino, the CEO of Strength Leader Development, recently claimed that businesses had seen a 30% increase in productivity as a result of collaboration. Is this really achievable across the board or limited to a few ‘stars’ that just get it right?

This is within the grasp of all companies.  We’ve seen this level of improvement time and again.  It’s a matter of understanding your objectives, rolling out successfully, and demonstrating the impact on the day-to-day work of your team.


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Marc Ambasna-Jones

Marc Ambasna-Jones is a UK-based freelance writer and media consultant and has been writing about business and technology since 1989.

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