VC and collaboration tech adds positives to company culture

Video conference concept

Tim Kridel finds out how videoconferencing and collaboration tools can be used for more effective workforces and better working environments from HR consultancy Robert Half Management Resources. He talks to the company’s executive director, Tim Hird.

TK: What are some non-traditional workstyles driving the market for videoconferencing and other collaboration technologies? One possibility is dual headquarters, such as what Unilever has, what Amazon is planning and what Sprint tried for a few years after acquiring Nextel. Another is an increase in the amount of offices that a company has around a country, region or the world, such as because of mergers and acquisitions. 

TH: Remote workforces, including employees who work off-site just once or twice a week and external consultants, drive the value of videoconferencing and collaboration tools. One important component of an organisation that can get lost with an increasingly remote workforce is camaraderie and esprit de corps. Not seeing colleagues regularly takes away opportunities to bond and create shared experiences.

Similar dynamics take place when companies have offices in multiple locations, from the same city to around the world.

At the same time, professionals want to collaborate, and the business environment demands it. We see finance leaders, for example, taking on larger roles with their human resources and information technology teams. For business to get done, employees must work effectively with colleagues in other parts of the company.

As a result of these trends, we’re seeing professionals actively seeking collaboration tools. Videoconferencing enables them to match a face to the voice, read body language and build a rapport they couldn’t through email or a conference call.

TK: In your experience (at Robert Half, with Robert Half clients or both), what challenges do these non-traditional workstyles create? I ask because I’m interested in what collaboration technologies can – and can’t – do when it comes to maximizing productivity and creating a sense of camaraderie in this workstyles. 

TH: Technology is great because it allows us to be more efficient, tap an anywhere-anytime workforce, deliver more robust communication and simplify processes. However, there is no substitute for seeing and talking with people in person.

Videoconferencing and collaboration tools help us feel less disconnected, less distant from colleagues. We can see their faces on video or chat with them online in real time.

As much as possible – and managers need to help facilitate this – employees should prioritise meeting in person. Full-time remote workers, for example, can schedule quarterly visits to the office, and individuals who work off-site some days during the week should set up their most important meetings for when they’re on-site. If regular in-person interactions occur, collaboration tools, including videoconferencing, complement them and boost productivity.

TK: Last year I did a project for AVIXA about the bottom-line benefits of collaboration. One challenge that a lot of enterprises have is quantifying the impact of videoconferencing and other collaboration technologies. For example, some of the CIOs and IT/AV managers I spoke with said they could track usage of a technology, including by department/business unit. But they still had to ask each department/BU head about whether it made their employees more productive or reduced travel, and often the responses were only anecdotal rather than “We saved €_____.” So one thing I’m exploring is how enterprises can quantify a collaboration technology’s impact. I’ve see some startups (e.g. Collabogence) emerge to help organisations decide how they would measure the success of a collaboration technology. Any thoughts on challenges and strategies for measuring the success of a collaboration technology?   

TH: One of the first problems is that technologies such as collaboration tools aren’t typically universally adopted right away. Some people jump on the chance to use them, while others wait until they have no choice.

No matter when people choose to adopt a tool, there is a learning curve. If workers don’t feel comfortable right away, there’s a risk they’ll stop using it. Companies can help with this by offering robust training, including in different formats so employees have options for when and how they learn.

An often neglected, or at least underused, aspect of introducing new technologies is change management. No matter how great the presentation for a new tool is, many people will be naturally hesitant to use it. Concerns range from the new tool means adopting a new process, a potential struggle to understand and use it, the risk of looking bad in front of colleagues, and even a fundamental change to an employee’s job. Managers need to explain to their teams the reason the business is using the new tool, the changes it will bring and how employees can benefit from it, in addition to offering training on it.

Change management can’t stop at the introduction stage. The transition is an ongoing process, and companies need to take care to follow up with their teams and address their questions and problems. Once the new tool has been in place for some time, ask employees what is working and not with it. This can help measure adoption, see what else is needed to meet employees’ needs and shape future decisions.

TK: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

TH: Videoconferencing and other collaboration tools help enable a new labour model companies are adopting. Many firms maintain teams only able to handle day-to-day responsibilities. When new projects, major one-off initiatives such as an acquisition or system implementation, or workload spikes occur, companies often can’t manage them in-house. In response, we’re seeing organisations augment the efforts of their core teams by working with specialised consultants, interim professionals, outsourcers and managed services providers to handle special projects and increases in work activity.

This labour model allows businesses to tap a broader set of resources, some of them geographically dispersed. With the help of videoconferencing and collaboration tools, everyone engaged on a project can feel connected. They can see each other, chat in real-time and begin building the work relationships needed to complete the initiative successfully.