Unified Collaboration is the future, but it doesnt have to be fancy

Here at BrightHR, we often talk about how employee culture supports productivity and teamwork. Part of a strong culture includes how your teams speak and share information with each other. Welcome to Unified Collaboration!

Steve Porter: BrightHR Head of Digital

Every day someone blogs, knowingly and head-noddingly, about the office of the future. We’ve seen the titles…

‘Integrate your BOYD policies with your UCaaS communications strategy’
‘Enabling Overlap Zones within your Superdesk’
‘Music pods to de-stress your office pets’

Of course some are genuinely insightful, and offer killer takeaways that you can implement quite easily. Some are a little more ‘out there’, shall we say.

At BrightHR, where I’m part of the Digital Marketing team, we’ve also thrown our hat in the ring – writing about trends for well – being in the workplace and other glimpses into the ‘what next’ for high-performing office spaces.


But, for me, nothing is more important for the future of a business than how we talk to each other. How we communicate, and how we collaborate. And not just in tomorrow’s office, but today’s. Because you can fill an office with gadgets and spend time on expensive systems, but if you haven’t yet established the best way to talk to each other, then it all gets a bit messy.

Instead of empowering staff and team members, you bounce blindly from one new methodology or piece of technology to the next.

So, communication?

Yes, in a nutshell. For us it’s:

  • How we in the Digital Team communicate with the comms guys, the sales agents, the support teams, the product owners, etc
  • How we communicate with all the individuals and teams on our projects
  • How we communicate the projects themselves
  • Most importantly, how we help collaboration, make sure the right people always see the right info, and help get the job done without any fuss.

As a cloud software start-up just over 12 months old, we’ve probably been guilty (like many others) of flying by the seat of our pants without having too many processes in place.

“We’re agile!” we’d shout.

But true agility only comes from being able to pivot fast as a tight-knit team in-sync with each other; which means consistency, flexibility, visibility, open communication and creating a real sense of togetherness.

This is particularly important where teams involve specialists, remote and mobile staff, or people from other departments – because they’ll all have different goals, different challenges, something different to say and something different to bring – and all at different times.

So after a period of struggling with the horrors of document version control, clogged up email threads and docs left on desktops, I thought we could do with a little ‘collaboration unification’ :)

No, no, please stay with me…

Unified Collaboration (UC)

Is it a buzz-word? Oh most definitely. But one with substance? Well, it’s really working for us so far, and because we’ve approached it in a light-touch way it’s been easy to draw up and put into action.
Essentially it boils down to two things we did

We introduced some lean, lightweight governance
We started using Slack and Wrike

Before we dive in, I can tell you that there are way more advanced and in-depth articles on Unified Communications & Collaboration (UC&C) out there. I’m showing how just a lightweight approach can still reap huge benefits for any team that needs to work closely together and with others.

Slack

The messenger app for teams who put robots on Mars… (and now teams who work at BrightHR).

Slack has replaced email for us. Simple as that. We use it for one-to-one messages and group discussions, and to bring people in and out of conversations specific to a project or topic. It’s so much easier to collaborate on shared files and docs that are being passed around, and it allows you to dip in and of projects and conversations without missing anything.

We’re an increasingly flexible workforce – with remote working and flexible hours – so Slack helps us stay connected, engaged and productive wherever we are. And it’s reduced internal emails by around 75%.

Slack has also enabled new team members to get up to speed quicker, to form internal connections and it means knowledge is retained (for example, if someone leaves the team or the company). It’s also a doddle to apply, as it’s so familiar to the apps we use every day on our smartphones.

We’re on the free version, and it’s doing us just fine. Download it to your laptop or computer though, as opposed to using the browser-based version, and obviously get the iOS/Android app.

Wrike

I genuinely hope you remember MS Project. It was pretty clunky but you could rustle up project plans and GANTT charts in no time. The problem was, getting IT to install an MS Project licence on your machine was like getting…well, IT to do anything.

So we use Wrike to manage all of our marketing plans. It’s a freemium cloud-based project management tool that is free to register and simple to set up.

Yes, our conversations happen on Slack, but as soon as we want to get into the detail of a plan – to see project dates and status reports – we flip over to Wrike. We also use it to assign tasks to other people working on projects and then track everything through to completion.

We’ve upgraded to an Enterprise licence, as we have many people using it. But there’s the freebie to get you started.

Governance

Not the most exciting word, but again with a lightweight touch we found a little bit of governance helped the solutions really start to stick.

Yes, we learned the hard way at first, by trying communication and collaboration tools almost at random to see what we liked and didn’t like. As a result, we found that usage was always sporadic, and for some people it dropped off entirely. When we dug a little deeper we found it was because people weren’t completely sure as to why we were using a particular product or process, and therefore they weren’t convinced.

This is why we simplified it, right down to two pieces of kit (Slack and Wrike) and worked with the guys who were going to use the product to agree as a team how we’d use it. All of this only took a couple of one-hour sessions, which is nothing compared to the time it’s saved us since.

Understanding what you need to achieve in terms of collaboration — then identifying the tools to deliver and the processes to achieve it — is paramount.

Beware the ‘always-on’ culture

Probably the most important thing we had to nail, though— particularly with flexible and remote working — was the whole ‘always on’ culture thing.

We’d never impose limits on working flexibly, but it’s key that we send a clear message showing how a work-life balance is important; to never blur the lines between work and home life.

What we love about the systems we now use is that we all remain in the loop, and we’re updated and able to respond in real-time if we want or need to. But we’ve promoted the right culture, and feel we’ve created the right amount of trust, to prevent this ever being abused.

So what does your office environment look like tomorrow?

Obviously you can still install Sound Pods and Superdesks, have grass and pets. But what is more becoming the norm (and what is actually expected by many now) is having tools and processes that support and promote unified communication and collaboration: to boost commitment and engagement, to stay ahead of the curve, and to work together to win business.

*nods head knowingly*