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How collaboration can adapt to the needs of the knowledge worker

(Image credit: Image Credit: / Pixabay)

Over the course of the last few months, many businesses have been forced to shut offices and operate from home. While remote working may only be a temporary means of keeping businesses afloat during lockdown, it is highly predicted that once the coronavirus pandemic is over, the human race will be left with a new ‘normal’. A ‘normal’ where remote working and collaboration is an expectation rather than a nice to have.

Of course, remote working has its advantages and disadvantages, but for knowledge workers - architects, designers, programmers - many of the collaboration tools currently available do not allow them to complete their job efficiently and effectively. A recent study published by Gartner shows that post Covid-19, 74 per cent of businesses intend to shift at least some of their employees to remote work permanently.

For many, this would be a huge relief - it lowers commute costs, improves work-life balance, and gives staff a more trusting sense of freedom from their employer. But where does it leave knowledge workers? Those who rely on much more complex platforms than Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, who need to be able to communicate seamlessly with others, and be able to see, feel and edit projects in real-time. The Unified Communications (UC) environment, as most know it, doesn’t facilitate that level of collaboration.

A solution for all parties

At this point, it is clear that knowledge workers and their organisations need to adapt to the expected long-term impacts of Covid-19. However, where many were forced into transitioning into remote working, they might not have had the time to reflect on the impact that it can have. In reality, a company’s remote approach to operations can actually have a hugely significant benefit to both employer and employee.

Knowledge workers are at a premium when it comes to availability. These roles are hard to fill, and many organisations find themselves needing to go to great lengths to hire knowledge workers. As a result, it is often the case that these employees will live hours away from their place of work, and will either commute long distances regularly, or will spend their weeks in a local hotel or apartment before travelling home for the weekend. Either way, the employee will be well compensated for their trouble. This brings about problems at both ends: the employee either spends much of their time commuting, or away from home, and the employer is spending a lot of money keeping this employee.

The ability to work remotely solves this problem - the knowledge workers can remain home all week, and employers can cut the costs of affording their travel, all while reducing pressure on travel infrastructure through lessened time on roads or trains. Further to this, by implementing some form of remote working, organisations require fewer bodies in the office through dynamic management, and might even find that they can scale down their office space - saving even more money in the process.

Keeping ahead of the curve

For remote working to become a success, as we have already seen, businesses need to continue to implement digital transformation practices if they wish to remain not only operable, but competitive. We’re seeing businesses drop out of the FTSE 100 as they struggle to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, and while much of the blame does rest on the impact of the Coronavirus, there is an argument to be made that failure to keep up with digital trends has been a contributing factor throughout all of this.

While the benefits of remote working are clear to see, there is a lot of work to be done by these businesses in the meantime with regard to leveraging the technology that allows employees to work away from the office. Employees need to not just be able to work from home, but they need to be able to work from home effectively.

Remote working for the knowledge worker needs to be richer, and more than simply sharing a screen and hearing voices of colleagues. Knowledge workers rely heavily on interaction with others. While many of the current most popular collaborative tools offer video conferencing and screen sharing, this simply isn’t enough to facilitate more complex tasks that need to be completed effectively.

The need for more

These projects are not completed alone by one person, there are many involved in the process and access to a platform that allows the group brain to come together in a seamless, collaborative way, is imperative.

Consider the time to market, or time to completion, on various projects around the world. Be it a construction project in Manchester, a new drug being developed in Dubai or a fashion item being released in Hong Kong - complex projects will often run into problems. Any issues require emergency meetings with all experts involved. One person can’t make the first week, then someone else is busy the following week, perhaps another expert has the flu when the meeting is rescheduled the week after that. Suddenly, a project has been delayed by six weeks, and the life of a billion-pound project has been extended by 25 per cent because those involved have been forced to wait on making a decision. Businesses need to be able to discuss and rectify complex matters remotely.

This need is similar to how we work face to face. We don’t enjoy working in a meeting room with a big whiteboard on a wall, slowly taking it in turns to stand up and write or draw diagrams. It’s inefficient and slow. Instead, we have an innate desire to huddle together, working within the same context to make the group smarter. It’s more natural.

Screen sharing and video conferencing is much like the former. We’re confined to watching one-person work, struggling to talk over each other, becoming stuck with awkward pauses and waiting for someone’s screen to load.

A virtual workspace, rather than a quick conference call, breeds innovation. It allows knowledge workers to jump in and out when needed, to fine tune small parts of the bigger picture, everything flowing seamlessly and without friction.

Entering the new normal

Over the course of the last few months, as businesses have become accustomed to working remotely, many knowledge workers quickly found that the standard desktop collaboration platforms simply don’t offer enough for what they need. Productivity levels have been crashing as a result, and while that might be okay for a few weeks, after three months the negative impacts really start to take their toll.

The stark reality has set in for many organisations: they need to evolve, and do it quickly. As we prepare for a huge shift towards more home working post pandemic, companies need to start looking for technological options that allow both knowledge management and knowledge distribution in a virtual workspace.

Not only will it save businesses a significant amount of money, but it will be the difference in just about staying afloat, and becoming a top competitor within the market.

Jocelyn Lomer, Chief Executive Officer, nuVa Enterprises

Jocelyn Lomer is a Chartered Engineer (MIET) with over forty years’ experience in telecommunications and software. Since 2000, he has owned and run SMEs specialising in virtual meetings, including nuVa Enterprises, becoming an expert in digital transformation and collaboration.