Beyond the screen: Optimizing Digital Collaborative Work
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Innovation has transformed the way society collaborates. A few hundred years ago, human beings traded handwritten letters and manuscripts of their ideas across borders in Europe in what we now call the Republic of Letters (Burke, 2012). Prior to that, cultural and economic exchanges were made between civilizations across vast trade networks, such as the ancient Silk Road and the galleon trades. But in the age of the internet and Web3, a single tweet or TikTok can reach millions of viewers in a span of a day, creating an avenue for everyone to pitch their ideas. Individuals across the world can now go on Zoom calls and collaborate across time zones and borders in real-time. Limits within collaboration have been overcome by innovation.
The spaces for collaboration within a digitally linked society remain endless, and the only limitation is the bound of human grit and imagination. Many organizations have even adopted technologies like implementing remote work and adopting cloud platforms to allow them to maximize their benefits. This has proved beneficial to the companies as they have not only lowered the cost associated with travel time to work, but has also allowed employees and even small business owners more control over their personal time. This affirms an assessment by Deloitte (2016) where they analyzed that new digital tools will continue to shape the way we collaborate. Yet according to Francesca Gino from the Harvard Business Review (2019), many companies who aim to reap the benefits of collaboration by implementing policies often get the opposite effect. Policies that promote collaboration are only valuable in so far as the fundamental principles of it apply: open communication, empathy, constructive feedback, leadership, clarity, and rewarding situations.
Collaboration at its core is about the cross-pollination of actions and ideas, with the ultimate intent of meeting specific goals. The end goal of collaboration can be as simple as academic group work, or as ambitious as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This definition encompasses both personal and business-oriented situations. The value of collaboration becomes even more significant within the context of innovation and startup culture, as high-functioning collaborative teams continue to be in demand within tech and various industries. Sustainable Development Goals act as an indicator of a startup’s potential, serving as a guideline for Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and company culture (D’Addario, 2020). Coincidentally, regardless of whether one is a part of a budding startup or simply a participant in class, there are certain challenges that impede one from progress. According to the Harvard Business Review (2019), the top three perceived barriers to collaboration are lack of information, transparency, knowledge sharing, lack of clear decision making, and lack of expert leadership. To be able to resolve such issues, here are three approaches that anyone can use, whether in the field of business, innovation, or development, to optimize digital collaborative work:
Provide transparency and clear avenues for knowledge sharing. Collaboration is all about letting everyone’s ideas and actions have an impact. For the project to be successful, one must be equipped with enough technical skills to be able to engage with other members of the team. As such, team leaders and organizers must ensure that their fellow collaborators are familiar with the technology and digital collaboration platforms that they use. For example, they can create shared databases where one can access learning materials and sample projects to help bridge any information divide.
Establish a clear structure for decision-making. While collaboration is about an engagement of different ideas, it needs to have a sense of direction to meet a certain goal. Establishing an effective decision-making structure would ensure that any stage of the collaborative process leads to an outcome that everybody is happy with. One can optimize this aspect by digitizing or automating certain parts of the process: such as utilizing calendars, emails, online polls, or scheduling software. This creates more time for the team to focus more on the innovation-driven part of the collaboration process rather than focusing on administrative tasks.
Provide adaptable leadership. Innovations have allowed everyone to have more control of their time within the workplace. However, changes and improvements in the day-to-day management of tasks are only one part of the equation. A significant part of the collaborative process is directing all of the team’s efforts and ideas through adaptable leadership that inspires passion and long-term change. Good leadership then acts as a tool that pushes for more creativity, and the adoption of new technology to optimize the process can have multiplier effects. For example, when a platform for collaboration is not working to the team’s advantage, or if it is clouding the group’s productivity, one can simply switch or opt out of the service. A good leader must be able to identify these areas of improvement as well as implement interventions when the opportunity arises.
All of these points are only some of the many approaches one can take to optimize collaboration. The world is constantly changing and the way we engage with one another should adapt to the times. Collaboration is an integral part of team dynamics in any industry, be it in business, innovation, or the academe, and an encouraging collaborative process can yield positive results. Collaboration is only one part of the many processes that lead to success, but it is an important step nonetheless.
Burke, P. (2012). The Republic of Letters as a Communication System. Media History. https://doi.org/10.1080/13688804.2012.721956
D'Addario, R. (2020). Why SDGs are important for startups. Gründer Atelier. Retrieved from https://gruenderatelier.de/why-sdgs-are-important-for-startups/
Gino, F. (2019). Cracking the Code of Sustained Collaboration. Collaboration and Teams. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/11/cracking-the-code-of-sustained-collaboration
Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. (2019). Meeting the Challenges of Developing Collaborative Teams. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/executive/resources/research/PublishingImages/Pages/default/Meeting%20the%20Challenges%20of%20Developing%20Collaborative%20Teams%20for%20Future%20Success.pdf
Redwood, S., Vetter, Z., & Holmstrom, M. (2016). Transitioning to the Future of Work and the Workplace: Embracing Digital Culture, Tools, and Approaches White Paper on the Future of Work R. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/HumanCapital/gx-hc-us-cons-transitioning-to-the-future-of-work-and-the-workplace.pdf
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