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Published Monday, February 1, 2021

Why communication and collaboration matter more than ever

“Alright stop: collaborate, and listen!”

- Robert Matthew Van Winkle, also known as Vanilla Ice

The workplace is evolving. The long established strictures and trappings associated with traditional business culture have been slowly eroding for decades, their decline hastened by several factors: a new generation of leaders, an investment culture built on disruption, and a general desire to wear comfortable clothes, to name just a few. 

Now with the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, the new question in office culture is whether or not we need an office at all. But with each change to the workplace, be it physical or conceptual, one thing becomes clear: communication and collaboration are essential components of a successful business, and they matter more than ever.

Dismantling The Assembly Line

For over a century we’ve reaped the benefits of the assembly line: a simple concept that, for it’s time, was revolutionary. To be put plainly, an effective assembly line requires a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities. No worker needs to understand what any other worker on the line does, and all that matters is that each person sticks to their role and performs it effectively and efficiently. The end result is a finished product in a fraction of the time. The assembly line is a perfect model of operational efficiency for a factory. But your business is not a factory.

Unfortunately I have worked with more than a few businesses built like a factory: different departments siloed off, each with their own leadership, their own goals, their own initiatives. The results are always the same: redundant work, mismanaged resources, and, more often than not, interdepartmental tensions. A business built like a factory works hard, but it doesn’t work smart. The end result may be a finished product, but at a considerable cost of time and money. By breaking down these silos you empower your employees to do their best.

Making the most of your team

A good employee is more than their job title. They bring with them a wealth of knowledge, experience, and perspective that is wholly unique. Over the course of their career they have no doubt had to wear several hats, and more than a few of those hats have very little to do with the job you hired them for. Your product manager may have worked as a social media marketer after graduation, your email marketing guru may have started their career as a graphic designer, your lead engineer may have built houses for charity.  

A company built on collaboration and communication enables these employees to bring the full breadth of their experience to bear at work. They provide vital feedback, a fresh set of eyes, a different way of thinking that can turbocharge productivity. They prevent teams from becoming dogmatic, processes from becoming stale, growth from becoming stagnant. Most importantly, they’re vital to making your business work smarter, not harder.

Let me put this as bluntly as I can: when teams don’t talk, bad things happen. In my time I’ve seen or heard more than a few horror stories: a valuable lead taking their business elsewhere after being bombarded by outbound messages from different departments, postage spent on a direct mail campaign for a location slated for closure, even a creative director getting approval on a logo rebrand only to discover that facilities installed signage with the old logo.

Costly though these mistakes were, in no instance could anyone argue that every team member wasn’t working hard enough, the problem was that they weren’t working smart enough. With a simple phone call, direct message, or team calendar, thousands of dollars and dozens of work hours could have been saved and directed to other important initiatives. 

A death by a thousand cuts, the straw that broke the camel’s back, whichever metaphor you prefer, the lesson remains the same: small problems add up. With the marketplace more crowded than ever and the looming threat of another global recession your business can’t afford to make many of these little mistakes. But of course, there’s more to making a great business than operational efficiency, and learning how your employees work can make huge differences.

Office culture beyond the office

Having a good culture is a crucial component of running an effective modern business. As one CEO told me, “if I’m going to spend 8 hours a day working with the same people, I should probably like them.” Studies have shown that people who believe they are part of a team work harder and more effectively than people who consider themselves cut off from their coworkers. It makes perfect sense: humans are social creatures by nature, we derive joy from collective success. Of course, as more businesses shift to distributed models split across several offices, or even no offices at all, creating that team environment is not only more difficult, but more crucial to success.

In a survey conducted by Slack, over 48% of newly remote workers said that the loss of sense of belonging was the primary drawback of working from home. The same survey found that these workers felt less productive and less happy overall. The flip side to this survey was that long time remote workers didn’t share the same concerns. What we can infer from this is that those with a history of remote work are more likely to be working in an organization that prioritized communication and collaboration rather than relying on inter-office dynamics to encourage teamwork.

Whether over SMS, BBS, Skype, AIM or Twitter, people who grew up with the internet have spent most of their lives with instantaneous communication with their friends and family. Embracing instant messaging, group chats, and team boards encourages your employees to communicate with each other openly, keep each other abreast of current projects, and smooth out tensions before they become issues. Creating an effective online environment for communication and collaboration can replicate an office culture in a post-office world. It also carries the fringe benefit of no longer being geographically limited when searching for new hires.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

- Michael Jordan, star of Space Jam

 

As I said before, the workplace is evolving. In business as in nature, the demands of a changing world require us to adapt in order to survive. With office culture being separated from the office, a new generation of workers whose social lives are more online than ever, and more tools than ever at their disposal, it’s clear that the businesses that are thriving in this new landscape are the ones that prioritize communication and collaboration. By embracing these changes, your team can work together to be better, faster, and smarter.