The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” has been used for decades, with variations of it dating back to 1862. Yet, despite the advancement of technology in the last 20 years, many companies are still using the written word as their main form of collaboration– from messaging platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Slack to more ‘old school’ email, most workers’ main form of communicating with their colleagues during the pandemic has been words on a screen.
This has meant that while many managers feel productivity has remained resilient during the pandemic, 75% of employees feel collaboration has suffered. When combined with many becoming burnt out by a relentless stream of notifications, and others leaving jobs that have tried to counter ineffective remote collaboration by demanding a full-time return to the office, the need for new collaboration tools for the hybrid world of work is clear.
To solve this problem, businesses need to be looking for the tools that will support the next stage of collaboration.
These include: providing the ability to share knowledge and information from technical teams with non-technical workers; enabling workers with different personalities and from different generations to work together effectively; and ensuring that workers who are not in the office are not disadvantaged compared to those who go in more regularly. For all of these, there is one clear answer: visual collaboration.
Communicating between silos
Even within teams, sharing work can be complicated.
For example, a typical software engineering process might involve customer-focused teams sharing insight with developers who turn that information into code. Testers then verify the software before passing it to production teams, and finally, operations teams implement it.
Ensuring the next person in the chain knows what is happening, what needs to happen, and what they need to work on, is crucial if businesses want to avoid delays in projects.
On top of this, while the process might be well understood by software developers, people sitting outside the team can struggle to understand where it is in the development process, and what they can do to help and share insight in a way that can be understood by technical workers.
A reaction over the last decade has been to try and break silos down to solve these issues – creating teams with different strengths to deliver projects. However, in a world of hybrid work this can be incredibly hard to manage.
This sounds counterintuitive, but businesses should instead work with silos. They actually help workers become more skilled in their areas by learning from senior managers, and they remain a proven method for developing products quickly.
What needs to happen instead is for those managers to focus on how information is then shared between teams and individuals, while letting their workers work.
This is where visual collaboration tools can prove invaluable. They allow technical workers to share progress on projects with non-technical workers without the need to use complicated technical language that could be misunderstood.
Likewise, by ensuring any status is automatically updated in real-time, anyone can see the status of individual projects, and what aspects still need to be worked on.
Many people will be surprised to know that it was only a few years ago that many developer teams were still manually printing out spreadsheets and timelines to share with team members.
Bringing personalities together
Within a workplace, very few people are the same – some may be extroverts who relish being vocal in a meeting, others are introverts who prefer to share thoughts in a more understated way. There are also generational differences.
Research from GoToMeeting found that 41% of baby boomers preferred working on their own, compared to 33% of millennials. Similarly, a study by Creative Strategies found that over 30s preferred email as their main form of communication, whereas those under 30 preferred Google Docs.
Businesses that are looking to make the most of their workforce, no matter if they are based in or outside the office, need to address these differences in any technology they use to enable greater collaboration.
To accommodate these preferences, businesses need to make collaboration a cornerstone of organizational culture and structure. By recognizing that every personality type has a contribution, companies can position themselves to get the best out of all their employees.
For example, introverts might feel more comfortable working from home and sharing thoughts on a virtual whiteboard during a meeting instead of speaking up in a physical space. Likewise, employees who prefer working solo can still keep teams up to date on where they have got to by updating online spreadsheets.
Crucially, managers need to remember that ensuring effective workplace collaboration is not going to be a one-time fix. It is a constantly ongoing process, and one that involves gathering feedback on how teams are finding the platform and tools they are using, and what needs to be improved to help everyone. Ensuring that you have a platform that can adapt to these demands is crucial.
Hybrid or bust
Many businesses around the world are still debating what the future looks like for their offices. While 57% of employees are in favor of hybrid work, many managers are still unsure if they will be able to remain productive and innovative under this system.
This has been made extremely clear in a recent study from AT&T that found 72% of organizations still don’t have a plan for hybrid work, while 77% don’t even have the KPIs to measure its potential success.
Meanwhile, firms that have committed to getting workers back into the office full time are becoming victims of the ‘Great Resignation’ as talented employees either take time out or move to firms that are willing to give them the flexibility they want.
There has already been research that shows visual collaboration tools can help collaboration in digital environments. Many employees also say that drawing is one of their preferred ways of explaining an idea, and is more often understood by the person they are speaking to.
On top of this, digital whiteboards keep better records than traditional formats, ensuring ideas are not lost. Their value is shown by how 83% of employees stated an idea they considered great was not carried forward from a meeting, along with 70% feeling their idea didn’t even make it onto the notes after a meeting.
It is clear that companies need to upgrade their tech if they want to remain competitive in the new world of work. While platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom have without a doubt helped during the pandemic, it is now the time for managers to look at new ways to support collaboration.
By looking at visual collaboration tools, businesses can ensure they are providing their teams with an agile platform that can support different generations, technical and non-technical workers, and workers both in and out of the office.
This will position them as attractive employers to workers looking for work while enabling greater innovation and growth over the coming years.
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