Collaboration at work is a given. Even if you work on your own most of the time, you still need to sync with other team members at some point. But good collaboration is a different story.
When team members are working together harmoniously, projects are getting done faster, the quality of work goes up, and everyone feels like they belong. The rise of remote and hybrid work has posed new challenges to employee collaboration, though: Can a team work together harmoniously if they’ve never met in person?
They can—if you set them up for success properly. As an HR manager or team leader, you can ensure your team has tools that facilitate and improve employee collaboration like messaging apps and project management platforms. You can also actively hire new people who are demonstratively good team players.
But what if you could do more? What if you could take certain steps to ensure that workplace collaboration and synergy are an organic part of your company’s DNA?
In this article, we’ve listed some ideas that will help you improve employee collaboration, whether your employees are sitting in opposite cubicles or in opposite sides of the ocean.
What is collaboration at work?
Collaboration at work is more than just working together on a project. It’s being able to reach out for help or brainstorming, to exchange ideas and skills, organically and often.
A truly collaborative work environment is one where this spirit of synergy becomes an integral part of the employee experience — which Gartner defines as “how employees internalize and interpret the interactions they have with and within their organization and the contexts that influence those interactions.”
And having a good employee experience is now more important than ever.
With the rise of remote and hybrid workplaces, the way employees interact with their companies and colleagues has changed. Lines are becoming more blurred; the borders of who we are at home and who we are at work are not so easily distinguishable. Fostering good relationships and friendly communication between employees is not just a “nice to have”—it can now make or break someone’s day, along with their ability to perform.
Of course, collaboration at work is not just beneficial for the employees, but also for the work itself. When people from different backgrounds, with different skill sets and ideas, come together in an environment where everyone is respected and encouraged to speak up, finding creative solutions is easier. Difficult projects are completed faster and more successfully.
When employees feel valued, they tend to become more productive—and higher levels of engagement can be reached. According to Gallup, higher levels of engagement translate to 41% lower absenteeism, 24% lower turnover, 17% higher productivity, and 21% higher profitability. Not bad, right?
It all starts with better communication and collaboration at work.
7 ideas to improve employee collaboration
So how do you ensure your work environment is a truly collaborative one—especially if your team is divided between employees who work at the office and employees who work from home?
Here are 7 ways to improve employee collaboration and boost teamwork:
1. Set up the scene with onboarding
The onboarding process is one of those that experienced substantial transformation during the pandemic. According to a Toggl survey, 60% of HR managers found remote onboarding to be the biggest adjustment in this new world of work.
Yet especially now, doing onboarding right is essential.
Although your onboarding process may look different depending on whether the new employee is an in-office or a remote hire, it shouldn’t “feel” different. Your onboarding program should help your employees not only familiarize themselves with their future tasks, but also with the company culture and their colleagues—even those they are not expected to collaborate with that often. For employees they won’t be able to meet personally, online communication options should be defined from the get-go.
Ideally, during onboarding, your new hires should learn:
- That collaboration is valued in your company
- How they can reach out to team members
- That they will be training together with their new colleagues
- What their training will entail and why
Setting the stage for a process of collaborative, continuous learning is important: according to TalentLMS and SHRM research, 76% of employees are more likely to stay with a company that offers continuous training.
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2. Remove the email barrier
Great workplace collaboration requires easy and effortless communication between employees—and email just doesn’t cut it.
Communication in hybrid workplaces can still be as spontaneous as walking up to someone’s desk and asking for their help. There are many tools that can help improve employee collaboration even from a distance, but people need to know which tools to use and when.
Creating a communication plan will make it easier for people to know when and how to contact colleagues. This means you should decide on things like:
- What issues need to be a face-to-face meeting? (on Zoom or IRL)
- Which things can be solved by chatting on a dedicated Slack/Discord channel?
- What warrants direct messaging (on Slack, Skype, Google Chat, Whatsapp, etc.)?
- What information can simply be shared asynchronously in a project management environment like Asana or on a collaborative document like Google Docs?
- Are there any times or days that should be “off-limits” for any of the above?
Having a communication plan in place ensures that employees use both synchronous and asynchronous communication depending on the situation. It prevents remote employees from feeling isolated or like their colleagues are difficult to reach, while also maintaining important boundaries. And when people know how and when to approach each other, sharing ideas and asking for help becomes that much easier.
3. Focus on efficiency and accountability
As everyone who’s ever spent three hours spinning their wheels in a meeting room can tell you, spending more time together on a task doesn’t equate to collaborating better.
One way to improve employee collaboration is to stay on top of how much time is spent on each task and how efficiently people are working together. Project management software that also includes time tracking capabilities like Hubstaff and Toggl can help.
What can help even more, is setting up a time limit for meetings and brainstorming sessions, as well as setting clear deadlines for tasks—and a script about next steps when an employee struggles with all or parts of the process.
4. Encourage hybrid and asynchronous brainstorming sessions
Speaking of brainstorming sessions: this is another process that was transformed post-pandemic.
When everyone worked together from the same office, brainstorming sessions would take place in a meeting room, either scheduled or spontaneously. But maintaining that format now means excluding those employees who are working remotely or are on a flexible work schedule.
“Out of sight” shouldn’t mean “out of mind” when it comes to your team members. Encouraging hybrid brainstorming sessions means that remote employees can also join in on the discussion and decision-making when it happens. When the brainstorming takes place over Zoom for some people while others join from the office, make sure to ask questions and input from those who are participating remotely so that they don’t feel alienated.
Asynchronous brainstorming sessions are another good idea to improve employee collaboration, especially in distributed teams. All you need is the right tools. For example, a dedicated Slack/Discord channel where employees can write down ideas to be explored later, a Figma layout where people can edit or add suggestions, or even just a Google Doc where everyone can leave comments and build on their colleagues’ input.
Also make sure to always record meetings or document what has been discussed, in case people are not able to join but want to catch up later.
5. Create opportunities for non-work hangouts
Some of our best ideas come to us while we have lunch or when we go for a walk. Similarly, some of the best work collaboration breakthroughs happen when people are just hanging out together and not actively working on something.
Your employees don’t need to be friends with one another, but sharing a meal, a yoga class, or even a coffee outside of the office can go a long way toward creating a sense of familiarity—that ultimately will make it easier to ask for help with a work project.
And while it’s impossible to do so IRL when people are working from different cities, countries, or even timezones, non-work hangouts can also take place online. You could, for instance, set up a Discord server or a dedicated Zoom link for when people want to connect outside office hours or for non-work-related reasons, like having a virtual coffee meet
6. Let employees learn together
You already know how important training your team is: 85% of HR leaders find training beneficial for organizational growth, according to TalentLMS and SHRM research.
And even though your team may be spread out, your training still can (and should) be collaborative. Not only because humans are inherently social and learn better when they learn together, but also because this is a great way to promote a spirit of synergy and bring people closer. Kind of like practicing teamwork in a lower-risk environment.
But learning together goes beyond scheduling lectures on Zoom everyone has to sit through. While instructor-led training should, of course, be a component of your program, make sure to also include group activities. These can be anything from problems employees need to solve together, or Jeopardy-style quizzes they can compete in. You could also assign one team member to be a mentor of another, or of a small team.
At the end of the day, team training is great if you want to boost team building and improve employee collaboration at the same time.
7. Walk the talk
HR managers and team leaders can’t help employees build a culture of reaching out and putting their heads together if they’re not personally open to communication and collaboration. You need to make sure you’re making time for people to talk to you when they need to, and giving space for people to share their opinions without fear of being criticized.
This does not always come naturally, particularly if you’re used to a more traditional hierarchy model or come from a corporate environment that values competition more than it does teamwork. That’s why receiving training on collaborative working and on how to use technology to remove any barriers, is important even for high-level management.
Creating an environment that nurtures workplace collaboration starts from the top.
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Collaboration at work should be natural, not forced
Employee collaboration should be the norm in your workplace. Forced activities or one-off initiatives won’t do the trick. You need to build the right framework and make communication easier for both remote and office workers.
To design a truly collaborative workspace, you need to create opportunities for ongoing synergies and knowledge-sharing between team members.
| Tags: Company Culture