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How to Build Collaboration in the Era of Virtual Teams

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Collaboration

The business landscape is changing as fast as the technology that drives it. New employee engagement tools are needed not just for productivity, but to affirm a sense of purpose and a satisfaction with one's work.

At the same time, employers aim to harness worker ingenuity and support a diverse, multi-generational workforce that wants to work anytime and anywhere. Success, then, depends on the ability to collaborate and drive productivity within teams, whether local or spread across the globe.

People are more productive when they collaborate, but how do we, in this era of spread out workforces, with more and more tools, tasks and technology demanding employees' attention, get them to collaborate most effectively? What employee engagement tools actually drive results?

Consider some research on the importance of collaboration

  • According to an HBR study, 64% of people stayed engaged in a task longer when they were working on the task with a group
  • 86% of executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures, per a SalesForce report
  • 97% of employees and executives believe that lack of alignment impacts the outcome of a task or project, McKinsey and company, found.
  • Visix found 39% of people surveyed believe that their organization doesn’t collaborate enough.
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Many discussions are happening about how to get performance improvements and build loyalty etc. Transitioning cubicle farms into open office environments has a battlefield debate. What about remote workers and what defines a remote worker? 

But the prize is worth the work. Collaboration is a game changer in business. Consider the benefits:

  • Better delegation, tracking and reporting of tasks and assignments
  • Faster way to work across teams and departments
  • Enhanced productivity and faster time to market
  • Integration of people from multiple geographies
  • Organization of shared documents and version control

Now we are entering into the “Era of Virtual Teams,” where we recognize the value of team collaboration, the importance of tools for employee engagement, and that team collaboration involves more than basic document sharing or screen sharing.

What defines “Virtual Teams?”

  • Groups of employees can “meet” virtually
  • Employees can invite internal and external contributors
  • Document sharing, storage and management are unlimited
  • Integration of Jira, Asana, and more

And most of all it means cloud. The anytime, anywhere nature of these services means that they are not hosted inside the firewall. They are hosted in the cloud and presented as Software as a Service to the end users. (Learn more: Enterprise cloud services | Benefits of SD-WAN)

As IT leaders and facilitators, you have to deliver an always-on experience for your end users that cannot interrupt core business services like credit cards, transactional data access, email and increasingly VoIP services.

Security remains critical and now your users are placing company information in the cloud and you need to be sure you have the policies and practices in place to make sure they are not jeopardizing corporate intellectual property.

This desire to collaborate doesn’t usually come with an increase in budget or resources and so you have to find ways to save money in other areas to offset increased bandwidth and licensing charges that come along with the collaboration.

Reliability and accessibility have to be maintained for existing services and available for these new cloud-based services.

Don’t forget about employee engagement tools like employee training. You cannot expect people to grow into this organically. They have to be trained and employee training needs to include both the how but also the why. You might deliver that training as live classroom-based or you might deliver it using video delivered to the sites for local viewing. In either case make sure you have the information available for people to build their confidence and trust in your service.

Here is a quick overview of our own journey toward teams and collaboration.

A Hughes Case Study

Hughes identified a need to move into a far more collaborative environment allowing groups like engineering, marketing, sales, finance and operations to interact within their own groups and across departments with ease and confidence.

Hughes saw an opportunity to reduce costs by consolidating service and finding ways to get people using VoIP service over traditional POTS phone-based conference bridges.

Hughes also saw this as the future of interaction not only internally but externally too – customers have begun inviting us to participate with them via team solutions and suppliers too.

Like many organizations we had a range of tools and actions happening.

At a high level we were using many of the tools that have been mentioned here previously for single purpose services. But at the top of our stack were ReadyTalk, WebEx, LifeSize and Microsoft Teams. Each of these had a base of users within the company. Important to note – we had recently deployed Cisco phones to all employees and implemented Jabber as an IM and Softphone solution throughout the company and we were a licensed user of Microsoft Office 365. We have employee desktop or laptop computers using Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Generally, our employee base was also using iOS and Android smartphones and tablets too. We have offices around the world and a population of users who work from home, so it’s important to ensure all of these employee engagement tools function properly.

After talking to various groups and reviewing workflows and use cases we built a list of requirements.

  • Facilitate teamwork through team creation, document sharing and co-editing
  • Integration with Microsoft Office 365 apps – including back end intelligence
  • Global, cost-effective 1-on-1 & group audio, video and web meetings plus chat
  • Integration with Outlook for scheduling
  • Support for 100+ languages and in-line message translation
  • Connectors and bots for third party apps and processes
  • Support for mobile, desktop and browser platforms
  • Operating in the Cloud with built-in security and compliance

As we evaluated tools already in use and things in the market, we quickly realized that we needed a “Teams” style product and it came down to Cisco Teams and Microsoft Teams. Although there are an increasing number of “Teams”-like products now coming, these two were the most mature and aligned with our infrastructure.

Ultimately we chose Microsoft Teams - along with this decision we are providing online training resources and live classroom training on the Microsoft Teams and Office 365 applications in order to build confidence and comfort with these capabilities. This blog post is not an endorsement of MS Teams, but simply a review of our own process and case study.

The use of cloud-based collaboration tools is already coming – and probably has pockets of use in your company today. Your IT needs to not only support this movement, but act as a leader within the company to drive adoption because of the business benefits. Look at your cloud connectivity from location to location and if you’re not ready, engage with Hughes and we will help you analyze, prepare and deploy tools and services to ensure you deliver the service to your end users that they need.

 

About the Author

Mike Tippets

Mike Tippets is the Vice President for Enterprise Marketing & Organizational Development at Hughes. He leads a team that helps multi-site businesses engage, communicate, grow and make The Right Connection with their staff and their customers.