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The rise of the relationship-driven workplace


Organisations often view their workforce as an amalgamation of highly talented individuals bringing their own unique skills and experience to the table. Indeed, the strength of a team has traditionally been built upon the knowledge of individual members, who have all come together as a collective. As such when interviewing potential candidates, organisations tend to look out for attributes such as experience, knowledge and personality – as this collective IP will eventually come to define the calibre and competitive advantage of the company.

However, in today’s increasingly hyper-connected world, the focus has somewhat evolved. Knowledge has become commoditised in so many ways – information is easily retrievable and made available online, with the option to even store it indefinitely. While knowledge is still key, the focus has shifted away from expertise in favour of ideation and innovation sparked by interactions amongst knowledge workers within the organisation. Ideation and innovation go on to transform the competitive advantage and profitability of companies. Ergo, the more relationships and conversations triggered, the better.

This begs the question – how best can organisations cultivate relationships among employees and bring out interactions that might otherwise not exist? How can companies tease workers into generative exchanges and creative connectivity?

One possibility is to emulate Google’s approach. The company, which is known for its hip and playful work environment, also offers staff free gourmet meals at its office in Sydney. However, did you know that the company actually deliberately manages the queue length? They generate just enough time for people to talk and interact, without deterring them from using the cafeteria – three to four minutes is apparently the optimum. Human nature suggests that people will talk whilst waiting; talking generates ideas, and ideas become projects.

Companies can also model the Hackathons held by tech-centric organisations, where employees from all over the world across varied backgrounds come together to collaborate intensively on projects. Thereafter, incubating selected projects produced by the collective, focused innovation efforts.

However, if you’re not Google and Hackathons of scale are not within your reach, what options are there for cultivating employee engagement and innovation? The answer may simply lie in People, Technology and Space.

People – The power of human collaboration

The most important change-makers within the organisation are the collaborators – the team players who share and learn with others. A company is like an organism and each employee is like a synapse whose strength lies in the collective, not as an individual acting alone. The more interconnected the synapses are, the greater the collective power. Organisations must take a collaboration-first approach and build it into every aspect of company life.

As workforces are becoming increasingly distributed, it becomes even more essential for organisations to ensure that their collaborators, experts, knowledge workers and others can work, communicate and collaborate regardless of location, network or device. This offers a neat segue to enabling collaboration with technology.

Technology – Collaborating anywhere, with impact

Without a doubt, this ongoing evolution of the workforce is shaping the future of organisations and what is valuable within them. A team that has the capacity to share ideas and work together, no matter where they are physically located, is a team that holds value. Technology is the great enabler in this constant shift – it empowers businesses to build a culture that’s suited for all working styles of the future.

Furthermore, with the rise of millennials, the changing demographics in today’s workforce are also influencing the need for more flexible technologies and collaborative tools in the workplace. Born between the 1980s and early 2000s, millennials are tech savvy, mobile centric and socially networked, as well as inherently more collaborative.

The good news is that today’s collaboration tools make it easy for anyone to remain connected with team members, customers and suppliers, amongst others. The range of tools and solutions are varied and continue to evolve. One of the most effective collaboration tools is video. The ability to see, hear and share content in real-time with co-workers vastly increases engagement levels from employees, particularly those who work from home. In fact, a global study by Polycom and Redshift Research found that 52 per cent of business leaders and managers are expecting video to be the most preferred collaboration tool by 2016.

Additionally, a recent survey by Telsyte also suggested that a third of Australian organisations are already supporting activity-based working, and a further 35 per cent are looking to support it in the immediate future. This implies that adoption of technologies that empower communication will become increasingly vital as even more organisations adopt new ways of working.

Space – from workplace to workspace

By 2020, two-thirds of Australian organisations would support activity-based working environments – which are workspace designs that enable staff to be more productive and collaborate using shared spaces in the office and external locations like home offices.

It is critical for organisations to recognise that one of the keys to successful workplace transformation lies in the ability to embed collaborative technologies into workspace designs. This transcends the open-office or intentional “bump-into” spaces. It is all about how workspaces are thoughtfully designed to integrate both furniture and technology that intuitively lends itself to employee workflows throughout the day, encouraging them to be more productive and collaborative.

This on-going transformation of the workplace and the workforce brings interesting challenges for organisations and employees alike. Whether the relationship-based workplace is here to stay remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it is clear that organisations need to rewrite the rules of collaboration and connectivity to cater to the new demands of the future.

About the author:

Mei Lin Low is the Director of Business Functions Solutions & Market Development, Worldwide at Polycom