Collaboration and the evolution of traditional work practices

Today every business is continually looking for ways of improving efficiency and productivity, while at the same time reducing costs. Collaboration tools and creating a collaborative mentality in the enterprise are how we can achieve those goals.

In a previous article I wrote about how the Third Industrial Revolution of the 1960s and 70s saw us shift from mechanical and electronic technology to digital technology, and how the Fourth Industrial Revolution, in which we are engaged now, will see digital, human and physical aspects of life merge together. We saw huge changes to industrial practices, such as automation revolutionizing production lines in the manufacturing sector, which required a change in how to create products, be more efficient and more productive. Today, it is my belief that the next paradigm shift will be on knowledge, and the knowledge worker.

The evolution of creativity

In the modern economy knowledge is what is important. Automation and digitalization will continue to replace certain human tasks and functions, but technology, however smart, cannot replace the creative effect. Imagination and creativity remain human attributes, but as our ways of working continue to get smarter, I think that creativity and work, in a sense, will also get smarter.

Collaboration as an enabler will be central to this. We have done and achieved so much in automation and production, in changing those practices and expanding them on a global scale – but now, technology has enabled collaboration across markets, across industries and across time zones. This is the time when we can make knowledge workers more effective and productive just like we did with automation, production and manufacturing and use collaboration to drive and encourage ideas and creativity in the enterprise.

Digital technology even transforming the nature of collaboration

One interesting recent development is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics in collaboration. A recent Forrester report outlined how companies with large numbers of employees are using these tools to identify and locate workers with specific skills within their global networks. Organizations can, rather than having to enter roles and skills into a structured model to seek out expertise, now use analytics to mine activity streams, build maps and links and connect automatically to the subject expert they need. AI and collaboration would seem to go hand in hand, since AI helps streamline processes, remove common obstacles and assist workers in managing and prioritizing tasks – freeing them up to work and collaborate on more important projects.

Enterprises should encourage behavioral change

At Orange, we use an enterprise social network (ESN) called Plazza, which is based on award-winning social community software Jive, to enable collaboration between our geographically dispersed teams. It helps them collaborate and engage more than they could do previously and encourages interaction between co-workers and project teams. When we introduced Plazza, it was with a very clear plan of what we wanted to achieve: we knew that we were asking people to change their behavior and disrupt their traditional working practices, so we had to fine-tune it in line with their feedback. The onboarding of staff also had to be a smooth process. We found that it worked well - almost 80 percent of Orange employees now use Plazza - and today Plazza acts as a great central location where Orange teams can collaborate, innovate and share ideas.

Enterprise social networks like Plazza are part of this evolution of the knowledge worker and the knowledge economy. They are designed to provide intelligent support to the new generation of workers and the new ways that they work. More and more collaborative work is becoming fragmented, meaning teams can often be scattered all over the world, so you may have someone working for you in the Philippines as a smart knowledge worker – therefore you need the tools in place to empower them. This is now about the globalization of knowledge working.

3 key elements of effective collaboration

Behavioral change is one of the three main factors that enable successful and effective collaboration in the enterprise. The others are the tools themselves and the context. By context I mean that as employee habits and practices evolve, the onus is on enterprises to provide the right environment for collaboration to thrive. Some organizations make the mistake of concentrating either on the person, asking how they can ‘change’ the employee, or the tool which is merely an enabler to collaboration.

I prefer the ‘context’ approach, where the right environment is created to encourage employees to want to transform their ways of working. At Google for example, they have a scheme where employees are given a cash prize that they can award to the coworker they feel has best contributed to collaboration on a particular project at that time. So employee rewards employee. They also share the news on their own enterprise social network, further highlighting the attractiveness of collaboration.

Another interesting development is that the supply chain is being brought into the collaboration environment. Cloud and other digital technologies have helped extend collaboration tools beyond the enterprise and into third parties, making collaboration possible on a global, spontaneous and instantaneous basis. It allows companies to collaborate and interact with suppliers, partners and even customers to come up with new, innovative approaches to services and systems. At Orange we have expanded our Plazza ESN to create customer communities, sometimes just between us and one particular customer, other times we set up a community for customers with an interest in a specific solution and encourage multiple customers to interact and collaborate around it.

Greater collaboration creates new ways of working and with that comes more smart information that enables more smart decisions. Ultimately I believe that increased collaboration in the enterprise will only go on driving innovation forward.

Tangible results driving uptake

According to research by Clinked, organizations that use collaboration tools enjoy higher productivity levels – an increase of almost 13 percent – while 97 percent of companies reported that using collaboration tools helps them serve customers more efficiently. Markets and Markets research reported recently that the enterprise collaboration market will be worth $49.5 billion by 2021, up from $26.7 billion in 2016. Collaboration is driving the evolution of creativity and the transformation of the knowledge worker.

Discover how Orange is helping companies transform workspaces into centers of collaboration and creativity

Helmut Reisinger
Born in Austria, Helmut Reisinger has a Degree in Economics and Business Management from the University of Vienna and a Master’s in International Management. He has more than 20 years’ experience in business markets and solutions.
Helmut joined Orange Business in 2007 to head up Europe and Russia. He is now CEO of Orange Business.