Workplace: Tearing down walls builds up collaboration

A successful business transformation involves tearing down walls – literally.

Digital transformation is not just about technology. It also requires re-engineering the work environment to encourage collaboration and innovation. It can be challenging for employees to “think outside the box” when they’re inside a cubicle all day. Strict hours and a lack of technology tools are also frequent barriers for high performing teams.

A recent CIO Roundtable, hosted by IT World Canada and sponsored by Rogers Communications, discussed strategies to address these challenges. Tracey Laurence, Rogers vice president of IT services, said that creating the ideal working environment is like building a “three-legged stool” comprised of:

  • A flexible, open office environment
  • Technology such as mobile devices and apps to enable secure collaboration
  • Cultural or behavioural change.

A common thread in the discussion was that if all three elements are employed, it promotes the agile working practices necessary for transformation.

Open Plan Offices

Facebook’s new headquarters, the largest open office in the world, houses 2800 employees with no desk dividers. The goal is to break down hierarchy and to encourage the creative exchange of ideas.

Traditionally, executive offices were a way of motivating by stroking egos, Laurence said that implementing flexible Sharespace offices and placing executives among employees has produced great results for Rogers. She explained that Rogers has three work environments – no tech, low tech and high tech to suit a variety of needs. She recommended that companies aim for a goal of at least 40 per cent collaborative work space.

Jim Love, ITWC’s CIO and moderator for the roundtable, noted that most ITWC employees work in an open concept space which stimulates collaboration and teaming between employees. However, he added that having designated rooms for private phone conversations and meetings is critical.

The CIO of a manufacturing company said employees have benefitted from “hot desk” style offices where people are not assigned to a desk, but can work in any space they choose on any given day. He said this builds a culture which fosters trust and confidence among employees.

All of the speakers agreed that the collaborative environment needs to be supported by the right technology. This includes services like VoIP, videoconferencing or web based audio/video calls for remote employees, instant messaging and community intranets such as Yammer or Igloo.

Overcoming Resistance

Roundtable speakers admitted that a transition to an open office model can be met with resistance and even the loss of some employees. Laurence said that it’s a great strategy to establish a committee to help everyone through the transition and to learn about the collaboration tools.

The IT director of a large home healthcare provider said he faced resistance to the idea of moving to an open-concept office. However, when his team took down the cubicle walls in their work space, it was a great catalyst for improvements in collaboration and efficiency. Other departments soon took notice and started tearing down their own walls. He said the increased flexibility has produced excellent results across the organization.

Similarly, management may struggle with the idea of remote work and flexible hours. The vice president of IT of a Canadian bank said he has senior developers on his team who often produce better results when they work from home, or when they start later in the day. At the same time, his counterpart at a restaurant franchise corporation said his company wasn’t sure the idea would work.

Flexible working environments require real changes in how we work and how we manage – and there can be skepticism from employees and management alike, said Love. “ That’s why it is critical to focus on outcomes and measurement.”

Laurence agreed. She said it is important to create a scorecard system and develop performance metrics to gauge whether flexible work environments are viable for individual employees, departments or company-wide.

In her view, the long-term benefits are well worth the effort.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Mark Burdon
Mark Burdon
Mark Burdon is a technology professional based in Barrie, Ontario. He has worked in sales and marketing for companies including IBM, Rogers, Open Text and gShift. Mark has provided B2B content marketing services to companies including Intuit, Welcome Networks, and Startup Canada. He is a freelance writer with Cloudworker Solutions.

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