Does connected working kill innovation?

Published: Jun 13, 2017


We talk to Eric Sorensen, Director of Product Marketing Advanced Communications from Verizon Enterprise Solutions to discuss how organizations can use online tools to empower a successful innovative and connected workforce.

At one time, everyone was looking at connected working as a way to provide flexibility for their workforce. But, more recently, a number of large organizations have brought staff back into the office over fears that remote working is stifling innovation. What do you think?

I know the argument. It’s about those water cooler moments when you bump into colleagues from different teams — and maybe even the CEO. These are the chance encounters where, as well as talking about last night’s baseball game, sparks fly and innovation happens. If people aren’t in the office, this doesn’t happen.

The reality, of course, is that it’s usually the same people meeting at the water cooler, having the same conversations — usually about that baseball game.

And think about large enterprises. They have offices across cities, states and countries. They have staff working remotely out in the field. They’re working with suppliers and partners around the world. In practice, these people aren’t all bumping into each other at the water cooler to innovate. If you’re based in New York and working on a project with someone in California, it’s expensive and inefficient to take a flight every Monday so you can have face-time. Connected working is a must if you’re going to overcome the obstacle of distance and create opportunities for every employee to work smarter.  

That’s a really interesting point. It’s easy to just think of homeworking when you get in a conversation about connected working. But the reality of today’s global organizations is that we do work remotely. So, if your employees aren’t in the same office, how do you recreate those water cooler moments?

There are lots of tools available today that are making it possible for disparate teams to collaborate and innovate more effectively. Take net and videoconferencing, which — used well — can provide the basis for productive meetings of global teams. Then there are various Instant Messenger and real-time secure document sharing applications like Kiteworks from Accellion.

These tools are great for asynchronous communication. People in different time zones can be part of a conversation right from their mobile device without having to drop everything or work unsocial hours. It’s easy to set up groups or channels so that a global project team can share ideas. And it can be easier to maintain control of versioning and security when everyone’s accessing the same document.

Today, you don’t need to be an enterprise with a huge IT budget to access these advanced collaboration tools. Software as a Service (SaaS) means they’re available to even the smallest business.

Businesses already use tools like teleconferencing. But many people complain they don’t support productive meetings. How can you use this technology to collaborate effectively?

We’ve all been on those conference calls. You know, the ones where there’s a ten second delay after someone is asked a question and you suspect they were distracted — reading an email or wrestling something from their dog. You’re not going to innovate if people aren’t properly engaged.

In a meeting room, employees are on show — often before their manager. There’s nowhere to hide. You can replicate that by requiring participants to have their video on. That should help keep them honest and engaged.

So you’re saying it’s not just about the tools you use — it’s about how they’re used?

Definitely — a culture shift needs to happen too. You should actively encourage employees to use your collaboration tools. Build interest and explain how the technology will make their lives easier. And, more importantly, show them. For example, use webcast software to announce important information or company changes. That will get people using it — they need to, to get important information about their jobs.

Of course it will help if, when employees do go to use your tools, they work. Using enterprise-grade solutions will enable a more seamless experience.

It also helps if you introduce tools that meet a need. Speak to your employees and find out what they need to do. Understand the obstacles preventing them collaborating effectively. Then find a solution that fits. There’s no point implementing something for the sake of it — that’s simply not productive.

With the tools and culture in place, is there anything else organizations need to think about to make connected working a success?

First off, you need a robust, reliable and agile network that will support your new collaboration tools. If employees are constantly experiencing technical issues, they’re going to become frustrated and resort to the familiar — emails and telephone calls. Then you won’t get the benefit from your investment.

You need to think about security. If you’re using SaaS tools, you need confidence that your data is secure when it’s in the cloud and when it’s in transit. Solutions like Verizon’s Secure Cloud Interconnect can give you that peace of mind. You also need to consider security for mobile devices through products like Mobile Iron and Samsung Knox. The 4G network is inherently more secure than letting your employees access confidential meetings or sensitive data using free public Wi-Fi.

And, you need to have a plan for educating employees. Connected working isn’t just about work-life balance. It’s about addressing the needs of a modern workforce. You can improve your connected working policies and your organization’s innovation and productivity by implementing the right tools and using them effectively.

For more on collaboration and the connected workforce, listen to the Connected Work podcast.

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