Technology-enabled collaboration no longer a ‘nice to have’ in the modern business world

As workforces become more and more geographically dispersed, organisations need to support ‘distributed collaboration’ (i.e. the ability for people to work together as a team remotely) to survive, according to Jeff Rodman, co-founder of multinational video collaboration company Polycom. 

Rodman told Dynamic Business that the impact of digital transformation, including the shift from away traditional offices to open, technology-enabled environments, has meant that in order to remain competitive, businesses of all sizes need to rethink their workspaces and culture. In particular, he said businesses need to adopt new ways of working that facilitate and accelerate collaboration: “It’s is a key driver of productivity in that it enables staff to leverage one another’s resources, spot one another’s errors, divide work more efficiently, and produce more total output in a shorter time.”

Noting the increasing use of contractors by organisations, globally, as well as the growing demand for flexible working conditions amongst workers, Rodman said ‘distributed collaboration’ is transforming from a ‘nice to have’ option into a ‘survival tool’ for businesses.

“Companies that are slow to adopt and support a ‘work-from-anywhere’ approach will – not to put too fine a point on it – fade, sooner or later,” he said.

“What companies need to keep in mind is that getting the most (and the best) output from their workers – not the most hours clocked – is the goal. Giving people the flexibility to work how and where they feel most effective brings creativity and natural communication back into focus. So, whether it’s from an armchair or from a standing desk, an agile and flexible workplace is about creating the right environment for individuals and teams to work together to deliver great results.”

Rodman said that while innovation is a key to efficient collaboration in the digitally-transformed workplace, it does not necessarily need to originate from within all companies.

“Rather than inventing solutions outside your core business,  the best strategy is most often to adopt innovative solutions that already exist,” he said. “Guidelines  to help businesses manage the distributed workplace are already available as are the relevant technologies, such as video collaboration. Find the best breed and make it your friend. If you have a special need, talk to vendors and find out if there is a version that will meet it. What companies find is that their attitudes, policies or culture (not the technology) are the areas most in need of innovation – and that happens internally. In this regard, corporates can learn from the example of start-ups and SMEs, which are poving collaboration is extremely easy, even natural.”

Asked for an example of an Australian organisation that is leading the way in terms of distributed collaboration, Rodman nominated MYOB (Mind Your Own Business).

“They started from a home office, and have created a dynamic Workplace of the Future built on the premise of agile working and innovation,” he said.  “Every day, over 200 engineers and developers across Australia and the wider ANZ region, meet to share code, create software, and do the numerous tasks needed to keep MYOB humming. What is so phenomenal about their use of technology is that it is not confined to any one meeting room or space – instead, developers and employees are free to walk up to a mobile cart, wheel it to their preferred space and instantly collaborate. No meeting rooms to be booked, no calendar appointments necessary, and these creative minds are enabled to exchange ideas and plans as they require!”

As well as highlighting the importance of distributed collaboration, Rodman also spoke about the value, to start-ups, of implementing a big vision in ‘small bites’ as well as the process of converting ‘blue sky’ ideas into value for users.

  • Big vision, small bites: “I really believe there’s a big advantage in starting small – in fact, Polycom, which I co-founded in 1990, first took root in a San Francisco basement!  It’s valuable to have a big vision (almost essential if you want to grow big) but it has to be implemented in smaller bites you can fully understand and readily manage. This includes retaining the ability to work in small groups, including individuals, rather than falling back on the 1900’s vision of a big building with everyone tethered inside. What we’ve demonstrated, as have many other organisations, is that big ideas can grow from small spaces merely by providing the flexibility and tools for people to connect, share, and come together as teams. Innovation comes in many shapes and forms. Sometimes the best ideas start from something really small.“Start-ups aren’t normally lathered in cash at the outset, and keeping individual tasks and projects smaller is a very good way to maintain a tight grip on quality, productivity, and cash. it’s just so easy to lose sight of why small things matter and the difference they make in business and in life. When you are building a company, don’t focus on how much money you can make and how quickly you can double that money. Focus on how to make your product twice as good as it is and meeting market needs twice as well. If you do that, success will come organically.”
  • ‘Blue sky’ ideas: “When people ask me what creativity is, I tend to talk about blue sky ideas.  More often than not blue sky ideas don’t always tie to existing ideas or the way people think.  Part of the fun is translating these ideas into something that brings value to the users.  It’s always important to stay in touch with your intended users, though, and that includes IT organisations and the companies themselves, to be sure that you are working toward the goals that really need to be reached.  Sometimes ‘blue sky’ ideas are the perfect fit for an initiative or a problem but often it’s a matter of finding something that’s already out there, maybe someone else’s successful blue sky implementation, and adapting that to solve your own problem.  Yes, you often have to adopt change, but you don’t have to invent its elements all by yourself. One of our keys to innovation success at Polycom is that we have great people and we don’t let things out of the building until they’re working perfectly. Surprisingly, that is a big differentiator all by itself as it prevents mediocre stuff from entering the market.”