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Increase collaboration, improve your bottom line

by Mike Strawn 
Workplace collaboration is a common buzzword these days. But are your employees really working together effectively, or are they just lip-synching? Is the open office concept making your teams more productive and collaborative or just distracting them?

According to a Cornerstone survey1, 38 percent of workers say there is not enough collaboration in the workplace. It’s a serious problem—another study2 found that 86 percent of employees blame workplace failures on a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication.

Collaboration works best when it’s standardized throughout an organization.

It’s ironic, because in some ways we’re more connected than ever. Supply chains are global, and employees and contractors are no longer chained to their desks — with a smartphone or a laptop, they can work from anywhere. But too often they find themselves buried under an avalanche of email because employers tend not to offer tools that could get them out from under it. According to an IDC report, only 27 percent of companies provide collaboration tools to all employees, and only 30 percent provide basic web conferencing.

Workers also waste time searching for the information they need. The more there is, the harder it is to find it.

Collaboration works best when it’s standardized throughout an organization. But often, it develops — or doesn’t — according to the whims of individual employees. Many millennial workers love to collaborate through social media and cloud-based communications platforms, seeing them as a seamless and efficient way to share information.

However, these tools can pose security issues when used in an unsanctioned fashion, or they can prove ineffective if not shared by everyone. Some more tenured workers, immersed in a more traditional office culture for years, require face-to-face engagement to collaborate effectively. They may find digital collaboration impersonal or lacking nuance.

Getting it right

When workers are able to share their thoughts and insights seamlessly across an organization, the benefits are powerful. At businesses where collaboration works well, products come to market faster and problems are solved more quickly, making organizations more competitive. Projects that get everyone’s input from the beginning are less likely to get stalled later, when delays can prove particularly expensive. And bouncing ideas off other people generates a creative spark that can take programs to a whole new level.

In fact, the aforementioned IDC report found that organizations that exhibit the highest levels of information mobility — the ease and efficiency with which information is share and accessed by their employees — can see almost $17,000 worth of productivity gains annually for each employee.

You need a secure platform

A forward-thinking workplace needs to connect employees both to information and to one another, and they need to have that access “anywhere, anytime, and on any device,” says Jacob Morgan, the futurist and author of The Future of Work. That means they need a strong collaborative platform.

So what does that look like?

A strong file sync and share platform lets workers share not just documents, but photos, PDFs, and other files — from any device and any location. They also need to be able to add notes and make changes without losing control of the iterations, which is easier said than done. It’s a good idea to add e-signature capability for documents that get passed to customers.

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Another critical factor is security. Make sure the platform not only keeps hackers out, but allows you to restrict access and require internal authentications for sensitive company documents.

Collaboration isn’t the "be-all and end-all" of business success, but it’s a necessary ingredient. Companies that strike a good balance between collaboration and individual achievement are the ones that perform the best. Figuring out the best way to enable improved collaboration between your employees can help develop a sustainable competitive advantage for your business.
Mike Strawn
Mike Strawn, Director, Services Business Development, Ricoh USA, Inc., is responsible for the vision and development of Ricoh’s services portfolio strategy capitalizing on new technology trends and delivery models. Strawn’s an accomplished business leader with more than 18 years of experience in marketing, sales, and services operations at Ricoh.
1 "The State of Workplace Productivity Report." Cornerstone OnDemand. August 2013.
2 "Fierce Survey: Workplace Practices." Fierce, Inc. May 2011.