Collaboration drives new world of work

Teamwork now plays a central role in many Canadian organizations, a recent study indicates.

On average, Canadian professionals spend five hours each day collaborating with colleagues and clients, according to the survey of 1,760 Canadian professionals conducted by Ipsos Reid for Mississauga-based Microsoft Canada.

The survey population included a representative cross-section of industry sector “professionals”, defined as Canadians who are employed in a work environment where computer access and e-mail are active components of their job.

Around 72 per cent of professionals polled said the amount of time they spend working in teams has increased significantly over the past five years.

This is a growing trend as the Canadian business environment becomes more service oriented, according to Mike Bulmer, product manager of Microsoft Office Systems at Microsoft Canada. “People don’t work alone anymore,” he says. “They don’t always have a core team. They may work in virtual and cross-functional teams, and they get pulled in and out of different groups.”

As a consequence, Bulmer says, the nature of work has changed, with most of the paperwork of bygone days being replaced by e-mail and computers. “People are being asked to make decisions they weren’t asked to before, provide more analysis and insight, and process information to communicate out via e-mail. It wasn’t like that five years ago. People were asked to pass on a memo to Bob, and they had no say about where it went from there.”

Most respondents in the Ipsos Reid survey said having the right tools would help them work effectively in teams to achieve organizational goals.

More than 90 per cent of the respondents said they could increase their value to the company if they were equipped with the right technology to automate and streamline processes. And the majority said that desktop PCs aren’t up to the task anymore – companies need to integrate their desktop software with back-end systems if they want staff to focus on more productive work.

“You don’t want a finance officer, for example, spending time running a sales report in the SAP system, then cutting, pasting and formatting that information into Excel,” says Bulmer. “You pay him to analyze the numbers.”

Instead, a company with integrated systems could eliminate wasted time by building a report that automatically downloads sales figure from SAP into Excel.

When asked what key function they would like added to their desktop, many respondents cited enhanced collaborative capabilities.

For instance, 40 percent sought the ability to share documents within a common workspace, 32 per cent chose automating business processes and associated documents, and 20 per cent said they wanted greater control over the way incoming communications from all sources were routed to them.

When asked about the most frustrating technology barriers to being more productive, 37 per cent cited lack of search tools to quickly find information in different data repositories, 34 per cent said their IT departments often prevented them from adopting a useful new tool due to infrastructure limitations, and 30 per cent cited lack of version control to manage documents as they’re passed around different colleagues.

These frustrations indicate that many companies have increased expectations that staff will do higher value work or work in groups, but their technology isn’t keeping pace, says Bulmer. And many don’t foresee the people and process issues that emerge from technology implementations.

The City of Langford, B.C. is a case in point. The city modernized its largely paper-based filing system by scanning and creating electronic documents. But once this first domino fell, a variety of collaborative and process issues inevitably followed.

Storing documents on the network means people need a corporate search engine to find what they need quickly. Multiple people working on the same file need version control to track changes. Virtual workgroups need documents arranged logically around processes instead of departments.

“At first, we wanted a document management solution, but that’s just a product of collaboration,” says Mike Palmer, IT coordinator at the City of Langford. “It’s hard to keep people and groups organized without applications that help in grouping documents, meta-data to track them, and so on.”

Workgroup collaboration and the technology issues around them will intensify as the next generation, raised on text-messaging and multi-player online gaming, enters the workforce, says Microsoft’s Balmer. “They won’t understand a world where you have meetings that require everyone sitting in a room together, or people say they’ll get back to you in a couple of days,” he says. “They live in a world where you have instant access to other people and communications vehicles, and they will affect the way business works in a positive way.”

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