The Future of Collaboration Is Flexible

Collaboration has changed dramatically over the past few years, with the rise of remote and hybrid work models. Many organizations are still figuring out the best practices for enabling effective collaboration in this new environment, and it’s a major topic of conversation with my clients when I help them determine their hybrid work models

To get a more in-depth perspective, I spoke with Andy Boyd, Chief Product Officer at Appfire, an enterprise collaboration software company that helps teams plan and deliver their best work. He shared his insights on the future of collaboration based on what he is seeing with Appfire’s clients.

Hybrid is Here to Stay

Boyd believes that hybrid and flexible work arrangements are here to stay, despite some companies trying to pull employees back into traditional office settings. For organizations with multiple locations, distributed teams are already a reality so the focus needs to be on how to support that model rather than whether to allow it. 

He cited extensive research showing that individuals are more productive and satisfied with remote and hybrid schedules. At the team level, managers need to intentionally design systems and practices that maximize productivity for distributed teams.

Optimize the Office for Collaboration

A key insight Boyd shared is that the office is optimal for only about one day per week on average, focused on collaboration, mentoring, socializing and nuanced conversations. The other four days are better spent individually on focused work that is easily disrupted in an office setting. So managers should not try to replicate the in-office experience digitally every day.

Instead, thoughtfully choose meeting cadences and asynchronous communication to protect focus time. For example, have longer planning sessions periodically where teams come together in-person or virtually through tools like digital whiteboards. This allows for rich, unstructured conversations to tackle complex topics. Day-to-day meetings should be structured more tightly with clear rules of engagement to keep them productive.

Also, consider the commute time when bringing employees into the office. If face-to-face time is only needed 1 day per week, minimize commute time by scheduling office days based on employee location.

The key is to be intentional about when and why to bring teams together rather than defaulting to old habits. Get clear on which collaborative activities truly require in-person interaction versus what can be replicated digitally. Make the most of precious office time for the high-value collaborative work that boosts productivity.

AI Will Enhance Rather Than Displace Collaboration

In terms of digital tools, Boyd sees generative AI as creating potential for new software but also an enhancing force for existing collaboration software versus replacing the existing products. It will likely strip away repetitive tasks like searching for information, freeing up employees for higher value analysis and decision making.

For example, generative AI could summarize key points from multiple documents on a topic, saving employees time compiling information manually. Employees can then spend more time analyzing the summarized information and deciding on next steps rather than just collecting data.

AI can also enhance productivity in meetings by automatically generating notes and translating speech to text. Meeting recordings can be easily searched later as well. This means participants can focus on the discussion rather than manual note-taking.

While AI will handle many administrative tasks, human connection is still essential for collaboration. AI may augment teams with useful information but cannot replace the subtle social cues and relationship building of people working together. Organizations that capture institutional knowledge digitally will benefit most from AI systems.

Take a Holistic Approach

Overall, Boyd emphasized that leading organizations are taking a holistic approach to distributed collaboration. They are being intentional about designing for flexibility in culture, policies, team practices, meeting formats and collaboration software/tools. Companies that embrace and optimize for this new way of working will have a distinct competitive advantage in attracting and retaining top talent. The future of work is here, and forward-thinking leaders recognize collaboration needs to evolve to match the demands of distributed teams.

Key Take-Away

Embracing flexible and hybrid work models, optimizing office time, leveraging AI, and being intentional in collaboration drive future success...>Click to tweet

Image credit: Thirdman/Pexels

Originally published in Disaster Avoidance Experts on May 25, 2023