Organisations failing to own and incentivise collaboration

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Collaboration must be encouraged through reward and intelligently-designed office space

Lack of ownership around encouraging collaboration could be holding organisations back, according to BT's customer experience futurologist Nicola Millard.

Delivering her keynote address to close the HR Directors Business Summit, Millard said it's about achieving a balance between “the we and the me” through intelligently-designed working practices and reward processes, for example.

“Interestingly at an IT conference I get quite a few hands up [indicating they feel IT owns collaboration],” she said. “But while IT puts the processes in to help people collaborate, do they really own it? If you want to do anything in terms of reinventing the way you work you need three critical parties. You need HR, but they can’t do it alone. You need IT to put the platforms in. You might also need property, because if the office is a vital collaboration tool then how do we create that space?”

Millard added that the issue of ownership might be addressed by creating a new board position. “Do we need a chief collaboration officer? I don’t know, it’s an interesting question,” she mused.

Regarding the issue of effective office space to encourage collaboration, Millard said that research shows “one-size-fits-all” open plan offices often don’t work. “During the day we may want to concentrate and contemplate,” she said, reporting that the average employee gets interrupted every three minutes.

Millard suggested that working from home is not a “one-size-fits-all” answer either, partly because many younger workers live with parents or share accommodation. She recommended employers therefore build environments that facilitate “activity-based working”, where employees can think “‘what am I going to do today?’ rather than ‘where is my desk?’”

Millard also advised businesses to “think about ‘we’ and ‘me’ in terms of performance recognition” and reward. “We are seeing people collaborating really well and giving really good knowledge but not being rewarded because they don’t then have the time to do the individual work [that their organisation measures them on].”

Technology such as video conferencing has an important role to play, but is not the complete solution, Millard warned. “It’s not just about the technology; it’s about culture and leadership,” she said.