Making collaboration truly productive

The market for collaborative solutions is becoming increasingly sophisticated as employers assess the technology in terms of its contribution to productivity. The UK ONS reports that labour productivity for Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2019, as measured by output per hour, decreased by 0.2% compared with the same quarter in the previous year – not massive, but surely the trend should be going the other way?

Interestingly. the 0.2% decrease in output per hour was driven by growth in hours of 2% being greater than growth in added value of 1.8%, which means we are all working longer for less. With Brexit in the offing, political and economic commentators argue that any downturn is temporary, and the overall trend supports the expansion of agile working.

Emphasise the advantages for corporate culture and responsibilities

As the cynics amongst us see company office space contracting in favour of home working and hot-desking, it is easy to assume that the benefits to the company bottom line trump any consideration of work-life balance But cynicism aside, there is no denying that there is a groundswell of support for non-traditional working practices. Work has become more focused on what it should have always been about: output, rather than office presence or number of hours put in.

Deloitte Digital’s Stephen Garvey said, in Silicon Republic, that agile working is about flexibility in how and when you deliver a project, but it’s also about having the tools to offer this flexibility. “This should actually result in benefits such as greater employee productivity and a more motivated workforce,” he said.

Garvey says that agile working is particularly important to him as he and his family live in Mayo, but he works in Deloitte’s Dublin office. “Using new technologies and flexible ways of working, I can actually work remotely a couple of days a week,” he said. “When I need to, I can come up here and be meeting [colleagues and clients] face to face and in person.” He added that while a big part of agile working is about being flexible, it is also about behaving differently. “It’s transformational and that’s what Deloitte brings to our clients,” he said.

As well as agile working, Deloitte also has a diverse workforce, which technology consulting partner Ita Langton said is the best thing about the company. “We have a diverse range of people in our organisation from many different backgrounds, from many different cultures, with a diverse range of skills,” she said. “I really think the diverse nature of our teams leads to the best for our clients.”

Add to this the overall reduction a company’s carbon footprint that comes from swapping out air and car travel for video communication has an immediate social benefit. Sustainability also requires engaging with employees, investors, the community, government, customers and suppliers. sustainability is all about honest disclosure, measuring, mitigating and communicating. It requires a holistic approach and systems thinking.

Agile working supports a variety of team collaboration environments. 

Underline the societal and personal advantages to the employee

It is no exaggeration to say that introducing agile working depends on fostering a collaborative mindset throughout the organisation. Entrenched attitudes of management can be a barrier to introducing agile working, so getting senior business leaders on board is vital. Implementing new agile working practices is not easy, but the benefits of a more agile organisation – one that performs better and has a more engaged workforce – makes it worthwhile,

Perhaps the horn of the dilemma is working a home – traditionally seen as a perk to be coveted and the answer to the work-life balance conundrum. Figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest 4.2 million people spent at least half their working time at home, representing just over 13% of the total workforce. The stats show this is up from 11.1% -a growth of two percentage points in ten years is hardly meteoric bur does it tell the whole story?

We suspect not, because further analysis of the data shows that some 66% of homeworkers are male – counter to the perceived wisdom. Accepting that  63% of the overall total that work from home are self-employed. There is a net increase in homeworkers who are not self-employed with some 1.4 m who identify as homeworkers but who do not appear to be self-employed or to have an employer. We suspect that these are workers enjoying benefits of home working, such as improved morale, reduced stress levels, greater efficiency and productivity, lower travel costs and infrastructure savings for the employer who are ‘unofficially agile’ and therefore need a collaborative solution that brings then into the corporate network.

While everyone with a smart mobile device can work on the move or in any location these days, is that a good thing? It has been suggested that home working can actually cause stress for some people as the blurring of the lines between home and work leads to an “always on” culture with work seeping into quality family time as people “just check” their emails or make one more call. Lack of management oversight is often cited as a reason why employers resisted their employees’ calls for homeworking. However, with advances in technology, it is now possible to monitor exactly when employees are working and what they are doing.

One of the reasons for introducing agile working is usually to save costs on overheads – BT reportedly saves millions of pounds a year through homeworking. To prevent this fostering resentment it is  important  that employers promulgate the work[life balance and benefits to society at large arguments, Otherwise, the lack of contact can lead to a reduction in staff commitment and difficulties with team integration and the reduction in “water-cooler” conversations has been blamed for reducing company innovation. Instant messaging, conference calls with shared screens and video conferencing help staff can keep in touch with colleagues and feel connected.

To prevent this fostering resentment it is  important that employers promulgate the work[life balance and benefits to society at large arguments.

Make solutions more appeal right across the workplace

Rolling out an agile working programme often required reconciling the needs of the business with those of the workforce and working out how agility can help to achieve a workable balance. By understanding what employees value and working with them to develop agile practices and technological changes that the intended users will adopt.

The advice here is to work from the bottom up. In some cases small changes to agile working can have a big impact – introducing a new opening hours to meet increased demand, for example. While gaining the full benefits will require a larger change there is little point in falling at the first hurdle.

A further recommendation is to phase in developments. When developing an agile business model, where possible take one step at a time – usually a single operation or business unit rather than across the whole organisation. When extending agile working practices there will always be specific requirements that need to be addressed; one size does not fit all.

Emphasise the impact of better decision-making to the company and the employee

It has long been a cause of frustration that the ROI of collaborative solutions is often expressed in terms of cost-savings, rather than the benefits of improved decision-making. The benefits of collaborative solutions are frequently expressed using the same phraseology as the benefits of video conferencing – reduced travel time and cost – with no regard for the benefits of improved decision-making.

Mary Ann de Lares Norris, VP Strategy and EMEA, Oblong Industries, explains that: “Better decisions can be made when collaborators have easy access to all the information sources they need in timely fashion. This is the key value of Mezzanine for the workplace. Because it is not always clear in advance of a meeting exactly all the data points that will be needed or most valued by the team in the meeting, a flexible workspace is essential.  As long as one participant has access to the source material it can be made immediately available to everyone else when the room is equipped with Mezzanine.”

“One of our earliest studies of ROI, a Total Economic Impact Report with Forrester, indicated a 226%

ROI with Mezzanine. But more telling are the reports of our customers, like Holder Construction, who tell us that a collaborative pre-construction process that used to take 5 weeks with their clients now takes 5 HOURS. In addition to happier customers, better quality work is.

Mary Ann de Lares Norris, VP Strategy and EMEA, Oblong Industries, explains that: “Better decisions can be made when collaborators have easy access to all the information sources they need in timely fashion.”

Make sure the chosen solution really does what’s required

In the rush to enter the rapidly expanding collaboration market, there has been little short of a stampede as manufacturers race to introduce collaborative solutions to the market. The pedigree of these originates in interactivity, videoconferencing, networking and even consumer electronics, with each relying on its relative merits, whether appropriate to the customer’s use case or not.

Mary Ann de Lares Norris, VP Strategy & EMEA, Oblong Industries, argues that genuinely productive collaborative solutions are still emerging:

“There are many great aspects of all the new asynchronous workplace collaboration solutions that keep teams connected and organised with project channels, co-authored documents, shared spaces for archiving, and the like. (Slack, Box, Teams, to name a few.) What’s been missing is similar multiplicity of content access for real-time meetings.”

“Hamstrung by standard conferencing environments that only allow for a single content stream at a time, teams are exceptionally challenged when it comes to comparing, contrasting, and cross-referencing materials in a natural, fluid, and visual fashion that takes advantage of the collective intelligence of the team.”

“Teams are either spending countless hours collecting data from each other and arranging them in visual presentation decks with apps like PowerPoint and Keynote in advance of meetings, or they’re endlessly disrupting conversation flow to switch cables and/or permissions back and forth to be able to have a content-focused meeting in real-time.”

“Engagement flags with every switch and transition – never mind the waste of time for what may be some of the most high-value employees. Standard conferencing technologies are actually standing in the way of productivity, effectiveness, and outcomes. This is among the reasons our customers choose Mezzanine for their meeting rooms; it allows collaborators to share multiple streams of content simultaneously for equal access in the room, in connected rooms, and for those participating remotely.”

“Anyone participating in the meeting can seamlessly share visual information as needed so that the team can see and analyse the details side-by-side. Flexible layout control with Mezzanine means the shared content can be arranged and scaled on the fly to emphasise points or prioritise outcomes.”

Fair enough, but the installed base of Mezzanine is currently limited to a small percentage of the corporate market. What is needed is something to take the benefits of the technology into the mainstream. Last month, the first signs appeared that this is starting to happen, Multi-share is the feature of Mezzanine that provides collaborators the means to compare, contrast, and cross-reference content and data from multiple contributors in real-time, and on the fly.

Multi-share is core to the Oblong flagship product for workplace collaboration, Mezzanine, which is now available on the Cisco Global Price List (GPL). Mezzanine software is listed on GPL in configurations to maximize the utility of collaboration spaces large and small. Oblong developed a Cisco-first UI to help users discover how easy it is to share content streams at the same time from multiple sources and locations.

By making it easy to discover multi-share in the course of normal business more users will get to experience the benefits of Mezzanine more quickly than with typical “new technology” deployments. In a Cisco system, a white background means the system is awake and a meeting is about to get underway. This is true for the new Cisco-first Mezzanine UI as well and over this familiar white background, Oblong added prompts to guide users toward more flexible ways to share their screens. These prompts include options to share via wired connections or wirelessly via the Mezzanine app.

Standard videoconferencing environments come with a limitation: only one person can share their content at a time. But in reality, it’s very common that more than one person came to the meeting with something worth showing. In a Mezzanine-enabled room, artificial limitations go away and people can share what they want to share with content laid out automatically. Oblong user testing indicates this path of self-guided discovery for Mezzanine multi-share is highly memorable and engaging. All the Mezzanine features are still intact with this new user experience. Meeting participants can share up to 10 live streams and have full control over the content on the screens for ultimate layout flexibility to support multi-dimensional conversations. With this new UI it is obvious teams can get more out of every single meeting.

Multi-share is core to the Oblong flagship product for workplace collaboration, Mezzanine, which is now available on the Cisco Global Price List (GPL).

Mezzanine software is listed on GPL in configurations to maximize the utility of collaboration spaces large and small. Oblong developed a Cisco-first UI to help users discover how easy it is to share content streams at the same time from multiple sources and locations.

By making it easy to discover multi-share in the course of normal business more users will get to experience the benefits of Mezzanine more quickly than with typical “new technology” deployments. In a Cisco system, a white background means the system is awake and a meeting is about to get underway. This is true for the new Cisco-first Mezzanine UI as well and over this familiar white background, Oblong added prompts to guide users toward more flexible ways to share their screens. These prompts include options to share via wired connections or wirelessly via the Mezzanine app.

Standard videoconferencing environments come with a limitation: only one person can share their content at a time. But in reality, it’s very common that more than one person came to the meeting with something worth showing. In a Mezzanine-enabled room, artificial limitations go away and people can share what they want to share with content laid out automatically. Oblong user testing indicates this path of self-guided discovery for Mezzanine multi-share is highly memorable and engaging. All the Mezzanine features are still intact with this new user experience. Meeting participants can share up to 10 live streams and have full control over the content on the screens for ultimate layout flexibility to support multi-dimensional conversations. With this new UI it is obvious teams can get more out of every single meeting.

Multi-share is core to the Oblong flagship product for workplace collaboration, Mezzanine, which is now available on the Cisco Global Price List (GPL).

Have due regard to the meeting environment

The merger of IoT technologies with collaboration solutions has created the potential for meeting spaces to offer ideal working conditions. Avocor’s Windows Collaboration Displays not only incorporate integrated AV with a premium conference camera, stereo speakers, far-field microphone array for powerful video collaboration, but also  include built-in sensors that connect to the Azure Digital Twins, meaning that facility managers can utilise the environmental data they collect to make real-time adjustments and future room and investment planning.

So the WCD range offers users the familiar Windows 10 interface and deliver the power and productivity of Microsoft 365 at room scale. Most importantly, they offer a first-ever single-cable solution that solves the frustrating and often time-consuming problem of connecting devices and people in meetings. The new Windows collaboration displays by Avocor make it simple for teams to connect in a huddle space, across the conference table or even across the globe, allowing them to work together seamlessly and get more done.

Elsewhere in this issue you can read a detailed account of Sharp’s entry in the WCD space. To summarise, Sharp demonstrated its first Windows Collaboration Display in May of this year. The 70″ 4K display combines Sharp’s award-winning touch technology and IoT sensors that can work with Microsoft Azure Digital Twins to capture rich data on environmental conditions and meeting room usage.

Sharp also demonstrated its software solution for the Windows collaboration display, the Sharp WorkSpace Intelligence platform. The platform is Azure Digital Twins compatible and provides real-time information from the IoT sensors on the display.

Sharp’s solution includes the capability to monitor the number of people in meetings, allowing businesses to make informed numbers-based decisions about the kind of teamwork areas needed. It also lets users check air quality, providing the richest dataset of any Windows collaboration display.

Birgit Jackson, Commercial Director Visual Solutions, said: “Better meeting spaces support improved concentration, attention span, cognitive functioning, mood and motivation, giving businesses better value for one of the most expensive areas of their office.”

Sharp’s Windows Collaboration Display from has been designed to work with the familiar Microsoft tools that organisations will already be using across their workforce, for example, Office 365. Office 365 provides businesses with a digital hub for teamwork through Microsoft Teams, a platform that brings conversations, content and tools together in one place for easier group collaboration.

Avocor’s WCD range offers users the familiar Windows 10 interface and deliver the power and productivity of Microsoft 365 at room scale.

Cut the training overhead and increase user adoption

The secret of a successful technology introduction has three elements: consultation to make sure the training is appropriate; painting the bigger picture, to motivate users to adopt the technology; using the buzz around the technology, build a sense of occasion around adoption. Have all employees attend the event in person or on video.  Show employees examples of how the new technology makes their life better. Market the benefits of the new technology for both the company and the employee. Invite comment from employees to provide feedback about the new technology via a email, text or Intranet. Offer a prize for the best contribution which helps boost employee engagement.

After an initial period of formal training introduce a rewards scheme that rewards desirable behaviour and encourages a self-help mentality among groups of employees. In parallel, offer ongoing training opportunities for those feeling left behind. Also, promulgate good news stories about how successful adoption has benefitted certain teams and departments. Success is contagious, and when you share the success one department has had using a new technology, you increase the potential ROI from your technology because you inspire others to use it in new ways. Next time you introduce new technology at your office, you can fuel its adoption momentum through personal success stories from enthusiastic users; online videos of positive adoption reports. The results will be increased user adoption with manageable costs.

Related Posts