What makes collaboration work?

By Ulf Diestel, - Employee experienceProductivity

The debate is on: Does remote working work? Are we more or less productive working from home or somewhere other than the traditional workplace? In particular, what about collaboration? Is it curtailed when we work remotely and what happens to creativity if we miss out on face-to-face communication?

There is good evidence to support the powerful impact of collaboration on business performance. A Stanford University study found that even the perception of working collectively on a task can supercharge our performance. Participants primed to act collaboratively stuck at their task 64% longer than their solitary peers, reporting higher engagement levels, lower fatigue levels, and a higher success rate. What’s more, this impact persisted for several weeks.

The stakes are high, with vast numbers of employees being offered massive changes to their work situations and practices. Here at Fujitsu, for example, we have introduced a permanent policy that encourages 80,000 employees in Japan to work primarily remotely, while reducing the company’s office footprint by 50%.

The early indications are that the COVID remote working experience has not impacted collaboration and productivity as much as might have been expected. In August, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) reported findings from a large international study of 12,000 employees that during the first few months of the pandemic, 75% said they had maintained or improved productivity. On collaborative tasks (exchanges with coworkers, working in teams, and interacting with clients) slightly more than half (51%) maintained or improved their productivity. This applied across geographic areas and to both remote employees and those who remained mostly onsite.

The flip-side is the risk of “collaborative overload”. To take one example, in a survey by i4cp more than a quarter reported feeling pressure from higher collaboration demands than before COVID-19, with video meetings and email, and, to a lesser extent, collaboration platforms such as Slack and Teams creating the strain.

How to collaborate with your remote team

Hitting the right balance is the crux here. Fujitsu’s view is that removing obstacles and providing the right tools for real-time collaboration in the workplace fosters creativity and innovation and drives empowerment. With a digitally-enabled workplace, you can increase collaboration across your ecosystem to better engage employees.

Before the pandemic, 70% of business leaders believed half of their current applications weren’t fit to support their organization’s future digital workplace strategy. With many corporate IT environments having been radically reworked in 2020, this number is now likely to be lower. The principal changes are around cloud adoption, which has enabled a massive expansion in remote access to apps and data. Fortunately, many organizations were already heading down this path before the pandemic.

Let’s take the example of the Catalan Government’s Center for Telecommunications and Information Technology (CTTI). Alongside our partner VMware, Fujitsu implemented a secure and resilient cloud project in just days. The project gave doctors and nurses continuous access to the medical records needed to fight the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic from their homes and other remote locations.

This agility didn’t spring from nowhere. Since 2019, we’d been working with the Catalan Government on a remote access project for its tax staff, and this meant we could repurpose the tax system solution for healthcare professionals. Within just three days, the ultra-rapid project supported remote work for 1,200 key healthcare professionals. And thanks to cloud scalability, within three weeks, the platform had scaled to provide the region’s 40,000 care workers with remote working capabilities.

In another example, Fujitsu and Citrix used agile methodology to deploy a Global Virtual Workspace platform for energy and services company Centrica, which was available to early users in just three months and complete within five months. The seamless migration of 10,000 users then followed, with up to 18,000 users supported globally.

Ways to improve team communication and collaboration

If remote working technology is now mature and scaling out is relatively painless, what about the impact on the people using it? What are the upsides and downsides of this from the employee perspective?

The BCG research shows that the most crucial factor in successful collaboration among remote workers is social connectivity. Employees who feel optimistic about the level of remote social connections with their colleagues are two to three times more likely to have maintained or improved their productivity on collaborative tasks. Recognizing this, Fujitsu has recently started a program, initially for 5,800 of its 23,000 Global Service Delivery colleagues, that brings them together in “tribes” or virtual communities to work together on projects funded by Fujitsu that make a meaningful difference to society by working towards one of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

There are other factors too, of course. Positive mental and physical health during the pandemic is strongly correlated with productivity, as is satisfaction with workplace tools. Our experience is that having the same desk set up both at home and in the office – with the same connectivity – is essential for maintaining productivity, alongside the effective use of digital applications and video conferencing tools.

How to develop collaboration in work teams

As society adapts, work styles are undergoing drastic change. Amid this backdrop, the way people work in a team, changes in leadership approaches, and the culture of how people work will continue to undergo significant transformation.

FUJITSU’s Work Life Shift solutions accelerate the move to the new working styles essential to make organizations more resilient in the face of new circumstances. Our Borderless Office keeps teams collaborating digitally and makes sure you never miss a beat for your customers. We support collaboration with Workplace Support covering 180 countries, providing onsite support in the office and home. And our Customer Experience Center provides intelligent multi-lingual services to ensure continuous 24/7 customer and user support.

Connecting a diverse and distributed workforce lets them be at their most creative, able to move at pace, keeping organizations aligned to users’ ever-changing needs and customers. For example, the Fujitsu solution for CTTI saw the deployment of VMware Horizon Cloud to manage virtual desktops and applications.

If you are ready to explore the new Work Life Shift imperative, you can contact me for an initial exploratory discussion.

Sign up to our regular newsletter and get all the latest articles straight to your inbox

Our newsletter contains some of the latest content and includes a recap of the top posts you might have missed as well as a peek at what's coming up before it's published.