Use Technology to Foster Collaboration in Your Office
Avoiding a generational divide in the workplace requires a systemic approach to collaboration, one that values inputs from all, appreciates and respects the contributions of everyone, is seamless to the business and is easy to use.
The processes needed to build out a more collaborative office don’t necessarily change from what you have experienced in the past, but the tools and technology that enable collaboration certainly have.
Make use of new -- and old -- interfaces.
The advent of new technologies has opened the office up to collaboration that extends beyond a simple phone call or email. New interfaces allow for instant video chat. Twitter feeds and hash tags can be built in support of new projects or products. Interactive and cloud-based guides can allow planners to adjust in the moment and send out instantaneous updates to all affected parties.
As technologies continue to advance, so does the opportunity to collaborate more effectively in the workplace. That said, there’s still nothing better than true, face-to-face communication. The new technologies shouldn’t be seen as tools that subvert traditional communication patterns, but rather as ways to complement them.
You don't have to be a tech wizard.
Less technical employees need not to worry. Technologies available to us that can help extend collaboration efforts are fairly intuitive. The idea of the millennial as a technical wizard, in most cases, is really less about them being highly technical and more about the technologies being highly intuitive. The interfaces have become simple. It’s just a matter of practice. Hand a 3-year-old an iPad and watch with amazement how easily they can navigate the device.
The new collaboration tools in the market make using their technology simple. Take the new start-up, High Five. They promise to simplify the way we interact with one another at work. Still in beta-testing, High Five promises to disrupt the existing collaboration tool set in our workplace. Imagine emails, instant messaging and video conferencing all in one easy-to-use interface that requires little more than knowing a URL and having an understanding of how to plug in a USB cord.
This type of technology is simple and easy to use. It’s a way to bring collaboration to the forefront of all that you do in the workplace, and it’s critical to how we can collaborate across generations, in a seamless, easy-to-use way. Technology continues to change our landscape, but it’s not enough to just implement the tools and walk away.
Establish protocol to embed new technology.
Building a collaborative work environment requires the right processes and the right people. It’s easy to make assumptions about technology as the saving grace and in many cases it can be, but it’s not simply enough to put technology in place and walk away from the structural support needed to embed the technology into the culture of the organization.
Establishing clear processes and protocol for how interactions happen and encouraging employees to set ground rules for one another about how they prefer to collaborate is a first step. As you certainly know, not everyone chooses to collaborate in the same manner. Some people prefer face-to-face meetings to discuss any relevant issues, and others would prefer to be left alone and handle all communications through email and / or text messaging.
Evaluate performance expectations and rewards.
Looking at your policies in regards to performance expectations and rewards can also help foster collaboration across generations. There’s a lot of wisdom and knowledge embedded in organizations, only most of it is hidden from view. Most of it becomes tribal knowledge, learned by doing, failing, and doing again.
When the boomer generation walks out the door for retirement, how much of their tribal knowledge has been passed down to the younger generations? Are you actively working to collect what they know, are you encouraging them to share it? There are tools that can help you do this.
Collaboration is key to working across generations, and new intuitive technologies can simplify how we collaborate with one another, but they’re only effective if you have the policies, processes and people in place to make them work. Buying new technology in the hopes of making your workplace more collaborative without appropriate structural support is like flushing money down a toilet.
Put the right support in place and watch the collaboration grow. It’s not rocket science, but it certainly takes time and effort to make it happen.
Curtis L. Odom, Ed.D., is the principal and managing partner of the Boston-based executive leadership consultancy, Prescient Strategists. The firm's client list includes Aramark, Boeing, Brinks, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Campbell’s, FedEx, GAP, Harvard University and more. Odom, who specializes in multigenerational human capital development, is the author of several books on business strategy including Mind The Gap: Getting Business Results In Multigenerational Organizations; Generation X Approved: Top 20 Keys to Effective Leadership (2013); and Stuck In The Middle: A Generation X View of Talent Management (2012). A member of American Mensa, Odom holds his doctorate in education from Pepperdine University.