The modern workplace is changing rapidly, through both technological advances and shifting work culture. An emphasis on efficiency and productivity has brought with it an obsession with collaboration. Companies across the globe have scrambled to add new methods for collaboration and communication to their arsenals, producing what is now evident as a collaborative surplus.
A recent study by the Harvard Business Review highlights the degree to which companies have increased collaboration in recent years. They cite collaboration specifically between workers and their managers as having increased by 50% or more in the last two decades. Additionally, employees now spend nearly 80% of their time on collaborative activities. That includes tasks such as answering emails, making phone calls, and giving or receiving feedback. The concern with these statistics is that employees are being left with very little time to actually work. This is backed up again in the HBR study by research showing that 20-35% of value added contributions come from only 3-5% of employees. So while more collaboration is taking place, fewer people are turning that into productivity.
Of course, these are cautionary statistics. Just because employees spend too little time working, as opposed to activities that are supposed to support work, does not mean that collaboration (even this level of collaboration) is a bad thing. There is no evidence in the HBR study to make that kind of causative statement. In fact, another well respected study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that productivity levels rose by as much as 20-25% among workers who use online social tools to collaborate. If companies with results this positive are increasing productivity through collaboration, achieving directly opposing results to those of the HBR study, this forces one to ask whether those studies focused on different types of collaboration – one which aids productivity and one which detracts from it.
The answer to this question is that collaboration and communication are like most other practices with the potential to drive businesses forward – they need strategy to back them up. Purposeful collaboration builds productivity, while collaboration purely for its own sake and without pointing toward a greater goal is detrimental. At Interact, we’ve seen our clients use our internal communications tools in myriad creative ways – often meeting with great success. They have become a part of the group that used collaboration to boost productivity. It’s an honor to learn from them in how they use those internal communications tools. Thanks to them, here are 10 great examples of internal communications tools in action.
1. Automating mundane tasks
In any given office, in any given department, there are bound to be many low level tasks that take up employee time but unfortunately cannot be avoided. They range from reserving rooms and equipment to booking absences and filling out HR forms. The Houston Zoo made use of “I want to” tabs on their intranet to combat this and help workers focus on their core tasks. According to Kara Masharani, a web developer at the Zoo, “You can click to do routine tasks, from reserving a cart for a visitor, to ordering new business cards, requesting uniforms, or logging a support ticket with the IT team. Completing routine tasks is much faster and easier with Interact, so we can spend more of our time doing what we love: caring for animals and visitors.”
This may not seem like collaboration in the same way as exchanging feedback on a project, but in bringing together departments (such as IT and others) to make processes more efficient, Houston Zoo is a perfect example of purposeful collaboration.
2. Sharing internal knowledge around the water cooler
There is no question that sharing knowledge properly has demonstrable ROI for businesses. According to a recent study, Fortune 500 companies lose around $31.5 billion per year by failing to share knowledge. Like other aspects of collaboration, though, knowledge sharing has to be purposeful to be effective and not wasteful.
Using internal communications tools like social networks are a good way of accomplishing this as they allow employees to organically form communities around different purposes and share knowledge specific to those niches. Dex Media did this seamlessly on their intranet, and according to their VP of Corporate Communications, “Now, employees across the business have a voice and a place where they can share their ideas and opinions. They can post, comment and ask questions on The Buzz (Dex Media’s intranet) without asking anyone’s permission, which sets the agenda for greater openness and trust between managers and their teams… People are setting up team and project sites, commenting on posts and asking questions, and we are developing a more contemporary, entrepreneurial, forward-looking business culture as a result.”
3. Connecting with the people
A frequent problem, especially in large matrixed organizations, is transparency. As organizations get larger, it becomes more difficult for the average worker to be in contact with senior management and executives. This keeps expectations and guidelines unclear and impedes success. For management, it keeps them from understanding the realities of how the organization works on the ground and adjusting strategy accordingly.
An internal communications tool that is working to bridge this gap is the use of forums through company intranets. According to telecommunications giant Cable & Wireless, “Interact Forums in particular have helped to foster collaboration between teams and managers. People are happy to comment and share their views, and senior managers frequently answer points raised there. If a post gets 20 votes, it’s also forwarded to the senior management team for review, which means employees at all levels of the organization can contribute to our success.”
It’s easy to see how this qualifies as purposeful collaboration. Cable & Wireless bridge the gap between employees and those on a higher level in order to clarify and streamline. This is very different from the collaboration of seeking endless approvals or sending email after email. This truly helps employees understand which portion of their job has the highest impact and how they fit into overall company goals.
4. Internal communications tools across borders
The reality of how a lot of companies now operate has been affected significantly by globalization, with teams spread over multiple countries and time zones. Even domestically or within the same city, remote work is becoming more popular. It’s increasingly normal for businesses to allow their employees significant flexibility in working from home. This presents an opportunity for purposeful collaboration in the form of keeping workers in different locations connected to one another. Some companies are thinking even bigger than that. What began as a need for connectivity has evolved into a space for knowledge sharing.
Maxxam Analytics, for example, makes extensive use of the Team Sites on their intranet as places where colleagues can meet members of their team who may be in different locations and work to further the goals of the team and the company. According to Maxxam’s Communications Director, Corinna Bork, “If an employee in Montreal discovers a new, more efficient way of doing something, they can now talk about it on Catalyst (Maxxam’s intranet). Colleagues in Mississauga or Burnaby can find out what’s working best and consider changing their processes accordingly – it all feeds into improved efficiency and better services for customers.”
5. Good news
Many of the internal communications tools we’ve seen in action thus far have the common element of keeping employees informed on a variety of topics. Keeping employees in the know allows them to perform their jobs well by keeping them abreast of current tools and regulations, but it also builds employee engagement. News of regulations and business topics can be peppered with fun goings on at the company or a look into the real world impact of their mission.
Returning to Houston Zoo, it’s possible to see an inspiring example of this. Not all employees can regularly attend staff meetings, when important news is disclosed. They use their intranet to combat his, posting biweekly news updates there. This includes topics such as a new species arriving at the zoo or an animal birth. These are great ways to get the staff excited and keep them enthusiastic about their work, therefore at peak performance.
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6. Ensuring transparent internal communications
We saw with Cable & Wireless how they make use of internal communications tools to build transparency at their organization – allowing employees to ask questions of senior management through their intranet. Theirs is an excellent example of bottom-up communication. Maxxam Analytics brings us another approach to the same concept with their CEO blogs. More organizations are making use of CEO blogs as a way of connecting upper level employees with the rest of the company. This is an example of collaboration on a high level, ensuring that all workers understand the CEO’s vision for the organization. Corinna Bork of Maxxam said, “Our CEO uses Interact Blogging to share strategic information and to promote efficiency and client-service initiatives across the business.”
This type of collaboration is purposeful as it serves to keep the organization working toward a set of goals they all understand, while using a standardized set of tools. Top-down communication may not work for every purpose, but it is very effective in communicating vision and establishing uniform guidelines.
7. A penny saved is a penny earned
Sometimes the purpose of collaboration can be something other than productivity in the short term. When executed properly, collaboration positively affects all areas of a business. A variety of internal communications tools support collaboration, regardless of where it’s effective.
March of Dimes provides a great example of how they used their intranet to save costs for the organization. In fact, eliminating outdated content and moving to a more streamlined platform helped save the organization 60% on hardware costs. This is what can be seen as a “collaboration audit.” March of Dimes reviewed their collaboration to ensure that it was purposeful in a variety of ways and that their internal communications tools were working for them. They demonstrate how purposeful communication is an ongoing process, rather than a “one and done” action.
8. Internal communications tools – create one version of the truth
With email and other ways that documents have traditionally been passed back and forth among members of an organization, there is the danger that multiple people will all be working off different versions of a document. Inconsistency in working materials means inconsistency in results, and the negative consequences can range from fairly miniscule to significant.
Imagine, for example, that two workers in a financial firm are working with two different sets of regulations and that because one is outdated, that worker breaks a law and costs the firm a large sum of money in fines. To combat this, companies often utilize a Document Management System or Content Management System.
In the case of TaxAudit.com, this comes as a part of their intranet. Director of Strategy, Matthew Estes, says, “Our success depends on staying current, so we needed a centralized way to store and update critical documents for our teams… When you send out information by email, there are always some people who don’t get it – like new employees for example. Now, with Interact, everyone has the information they need to work effectively.” Using their Document Management System, TaxAudit.com is able to ensure that all employees see the same thing when they look for a document – a single version of the truth.
9. Recognizing contributions
Work is stressful. This is a given. One of the key points of a drive for employee engagement is ensuring that this stress doesn’t lower team morale as this happens all too easily. With morale lowered, workers are less productive and less likely to work to their full potential. Not only that, but low morale significantly raises the probability of employee turnover. So what is to be done to mitigate the risks of low morale, even during periods of stress?
One of the simplest solutions is employee recognition. When workers know that they are valued and that their hard work has paid off for themselves and others, this can contribute significantly to keeping their spirits raised and keeping them engaged. Luckily, there are internal communications tools that easily allow workers to recognize one another’s effort. TaxAudit.com used the Rewards feature on their intranet to its fullest potential. As Estes explains, “We’ve found that Interact Rewards is a hugely successful way to increase employee engagement. We’ve seen a ton of spontaneous altruism, with employees giving colleagues ‘WOW Points’ for volunteering for projects or going beyond the call of duty. We also did our bit, investing around $40,000 dollars in prizes to make the initiative work. We now have more than 80% daily engagement on the intranet and counting.”
10. Ensuring employee participation
How does an internal communicator or a manager ensure that their messages to employees are actually being read? After all, the effort that goes into carefully crafting a communication or establishing a new procedure is for naught if no one pays attention. This is essential to purposeful collaboration; all parties need to be on board with the same goals in order to work well together.
Using Mandatory Reads through one’s intranet or Document Management System is a solution to this problem as it allows communicators to see who has read important messages and follow up with those who haven’t. The recipients of those communications will see notifications of Mandatory Reads every time they log in to the intranet until they sign off on having read them. Kantar Health used Mandatory Reads to great success.
Achieving purposeful collaboration with the right tools
Purposeful collaboration takes many forms, which depend on the needs of the organization. They all can have a tremendous, positive impact. Though a lot of planning and assessment before the fact contribute to the success of collaboration efforts, having the right tools helps significantly. All the companies here understood where purposeful collaboration could contribute to their business and carefully assessed what tools they had available that would accomplish their goals. Following their lead will help to assure successful collaboration, keeping organizations among those that see a boost in productivity.