How to create a collaborative workplace

Collaboration in the workplace
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The way we work today is vastly different from how we did in previous decades. Today’s workforce is increasingly diverse, with more women and older workers than ever before, as well as being more globalised and connected. In order to understand how these changes are impacting employee wellbeing and how employers can successfully manage this over the next 15 years, Unum commissioned a report on the Future Workplace [PDF].

One of the key trends identified in the report - the “Collaborative” workplace -  is defined as one in which employees are encouraged to move between locations and teams, enabling workforces to connect and share information with a wider network of colleagues. Through the breakdown of traditional office hierarchies and conventional business structures, employees have a more personal relationship with their employer, which is beneficial to both when it comes to ensuring the position, working environment and benefits package are suitably tailored to that individual.

By 2030, adopting a collaborative workplace will mean prompting a completely open social exchange and operating a flat-structured, collaborative organisation at all levels. 

Driving the trend

There are three main contributing factors to this trend which we identified in our research report. Firstly, is the idea of the sociable, cooperative office environment with staff actively working simultaneously across several different teams and tasks. This type of working environment is becoming increasingly popular, as companies see the benefit of encouraging employee interaction and sharing knowledge across teams.

Secondly, there are more women than ever in senior positions, counteracting some of the more traditionally masculine characteristics of the office environment. Our report highlights how this has played a role in creating a culture of empathy, flexibility, openness and, crucially, collaboration.

Finally, and most importantly, there is the emergence of a more ‘open-source’ culture; an environment where anyone has the opportunity to transform their ideas into business ventures through things like crowd funding platforms and start-up incubators.

So in this rapidly changing environment, how can businesses adapt to and ensure they make the most of a collaborative workplace?

Moving towards a collaborative model

Employers in all sectors and all industries have begun to recognise the need for a more flexible working environment. Many have already adopted initiatives such as hot-desking, fluid business structures and brainstorming workshops to encourage staff to work collaboratively, which have been proven to boost creativity and autonomy, creating loyalty and longevity among staff.

Future initiatives could include “Empathy Workouts”, which use training methods that focus on converting masculine and aggressive work traits into listening and relationship-building skills, to foster team camaraderie and openness among co-workers.

Another potential workplace scheme could be “Idea Incubators” where workers have the opportunity to step away from their day-to-day activities, giving them the space to develop, and receive necessary support for, their own projects.

This development opportunity allows employees to engage in their own passions and ideas, helping to inspire innovation across their wider work. Offering this kind of more autonomous operating environment can be particularly attractive to high-achieving workers who are most productive with a degree of self-determination.

Finally, instilling the concept of co-opetition can create an environment where companies will no longer be simply producers; instead they will form platforms, networks and communities, which celebrate common purposes; turning competition into collaboration and getting the best results from their staff.

While there are huge benefits in creating an open and collaborative structure, some employees, such as older workers, may find it hard to understand their role in this collaborative workplace. It’s therefore just as important to communicate with staff on the new culture, and how they plan their part.

The benefits of the collaboration

Our research found that sectors as diverse as IT and Media & Advertising are already recognising the importance of collaboration for the future. Although seemingly polar opposites in skillsets and job requirements, both of these sectors are seeking the host of benefits this type of working environment can bring.

For creative industries like Media & Advertising, it means enjoying an environment which cultivates the mind, promotes contemplation and creativity, and encourages co-operation. While for the IT sector, already aware of the online ability to connect at speed to the wider team, it highlights how to convert this connectivity into better working practices for the business as a whole.

Many start-ups also exemplify the collaborative workplace trend and are able to attract great talent and grow exponentially as a result. At their inception, many are not in a position to offer competitive salaries to their employees, but they can create a desirable workplace which, in turn, is paramount in their future growth.

Being mindful of wellbeing

A collaborative workplace also means listening to and understanding employee needs. Employees are demanding more than just remuneration from their employer and are expecting a more equal, symbiotic relationship.

A balanced and comprehensive benefits package will be just as, if not more, important in the future to grow loyalty and improve staff retention to help a business thrive. Giving staff a financial back-up plan if they fall ill and are unable to work is often overlooked, but Income Protection can complement and support a company’s wellbeing programme, allowing businesses to show their employees they care.

To become an employer of choice, businesses need to understand and adapt to their employees, to be seen as a champion of talent, wellbeing and collaboration. In doing so, companies can attract and keep the best people, evolving for the future and remaining competitive amongst their peers. This forward-looking approach will bring security now and for years to come. 

About Linda Levesque

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