• 4 ways for SMEs to boost workplace collaboration and increase productivity

We’re experiencing an ongoing shift in how we work and where we work largely driven by technological advances allowing us to automate more, work more efficiently, and communicate more easily.

However, the key to taking advantage of these is effective collaboration between colleagues that helps them to share and discuss ideas, perspectives, data and solutions easily, to help inspire, creative and well-thought through projects and plans.

 

We know that an effective way to make better decisions, find solutions to problems, and come up with novel ideas is through experience and expertise sharing. But we also know that it’s easy for good intentions to collaborate, ending up in inefficient ways of working; for example, tying up people in seemingly endless meetings but getting nowhere.

To help you get it right, take a look at our four top tips to help boost collaboration:

 

1. Create a collaboration culture

When it comes to the way people work and behave in a business, culture comes from the top. The advantage that SMEs often have over larger businesses is that senior staff are usually much more visible and available to the wider workforce. They’re also generally more hands-on, getting involved in projects across the business whether that’s winning new business, or working on a new marketing strategy.

What this means is that your senior staff have much more opportunity to influence and set an example of the kind of collaborative working practices that they want everyone in the business to employ. When staff experience how effective theses collaborative methods can be, demonstrated by a leader in the organisation, they are more likely to replicate this behaviour and encourage it in others. 

 

2. Invest in tech that empowers collaboration

Remote and flexible working are a reality for most businesses, with numbers set to grow. Whilst technology has enabled more secure, better connected, and easier remote working experience, it has also created some practical barriers to communication. 

We’re all guilty of using email when a face-to-face meeting, or even a phone call, would be more appropriate. It feels like a quick way to get a task or question off your desk and over to someone else, and particularly when getting in touch with colleagues working in another location.

However, that quick email can rapidly turn into a to-and-fro email essay with information relayed bit by bit which could have all been resolved with a 10-minute conversation. And there’s also the pitfalls of communicating tone of voice to consider; it’s very easy to create misunderstanding on email because you can’t use the verbal and physical cues that usually express to the other person how you’re feeling.

That’s why businesses are investing in technology like Microsoft Teams or Slack that improve internal communication and empower collaboration through tools such as live document-sharing and simultaneous editing. Mobile scanning technology means remote workers can share documents quickly and securely, for rapid response. 

Video conferencing, for example, enables much more natural communication and ways of working together, minimising misunderstandings, and building relationships between colleagues no matter how far apart they are. This is particularly important for teams who rarely meet face-to-face.

 

3. Optimise your office design

Research has found an up to 15% productivity increase in workplaces that are designed to foster collaborative working. Whilst there’s not many businesses that have the luxury of designing their headquarters from the ground up, there are some basic workplace design principles that even smaller businesses can apply to their working environment.

For starters, it’s important to recognise that different individuals, and different roles, have differing needs. A flexible workspace should aim to encourage collaboration by providing appropriate areas that can used in different ways and including supporting tech that makes collaborating simple. 

For example, private meeting rooms can be used for brainstorming sessions; add an interactive whiteboard for live collaboration as well as videoconferencing to include remote colleagues. Quiet private cubicles are perfect for staff who need a distraction-free space to concentrate on complex projects, whereas more informal ‘break out’ areas create a relaxed and creative vibe for team chats and catch-ups. 

Another important principle to consider is around creating opportunity for interactions between people from different departments and differing seniority. Google follow this philosophy in all its offices to encourage ‘casual collisions’ between colleagues that in a more traditional office wouldn’t have much interaction. This simple idea creates an environment where different perspectives, experiences and ways of thinking, can challenge, inspire and inform new ideas. This is a great reason to consider introducing more hot desking space.

 

4. Build team connections

If you want teams to work well and be productive, then help them build camaraderie and connection with social or team-building activities. But before you arrange a compulsory raft-building and orienteering weekend in a freezing welsh valley in February, note that activities work best when they are voluntary and have been suggested by the team themselves.

Consider allowing your staff to take control of organising their own activities and giving them a budget allowance to do this. This approach can help build team bonds by encouraging colleagues to share ideas with each other, come up with creative solutions to organise the activity.

 

Interested in finding out more about how you can improve productivity wherever your staff are working? Read 'How to enable a more productive, modern workplace'.