Collaboration across the blended workforce

Damien Delard discusses the greater availability of deliberately freelance and casual staff -- and how business need to take advantage.

The technology trends of today — big data, artificial intelligence, robotics, and the Internet of Things — are feeding into the fourth industrial revolution. Today, we are connected to unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Damien Delard is the Vice President of Channel and Territory with telecommunications equipment company Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, Asia-Pacific, based in Singapore.

As technology continues to fuse into our lives, what does it all mean for the workforce?

According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, robots and computers will see the elimination of routine labour. As automation increases, we might see an exponential growth in products.

At the same time, traditional jobs are making way for hybrid roles. The current labour climate is shifting away from traditional employment toward temporary work arrangements.

According to a Ministry of Manpower survey, about 167,000 individuals in Singapore were engaged in freelance work as their primary job last year. With a tight labour market, companies have increasingly turned to hiring these freelancers to supplement their permanent staff.

This creates a new kind of diversity at the workplace. It is a diversity that is fundamentally different from the vertical, hierarchical structure most organisations have been running on.

Traditionally, keeping communications solely within the office walls worked. With this new diversity however, employees – full-time and freelancers alike – are no longer confined to their office desks. Organisations must create a secure online environment to ensure smooth and secure collaborations between all employees.

The need for collaboration

Collaboration is more than connecting networks, people, processes, and knowledge. It is about engaging the diverse workforce and bringing employees, customers, and partners together anywhere and at any time.

It requires planned effort, is time-consuming, and can sometimes result in even more administrative chores. As organisations grow, they create new products and services, enter new regions, and move into new businesses, inevitably becoming more complex. According to a Boston Consulting Group report, “the index of complicatedness” has grown 600% over the past 60 years. With an increase in complexity, employees are spending more time looking for information, leaving them little time to collaborate with their teams.

Organisations also tend to rely on large, diverse teams of highly educated specialists in the face of challenging projects. Research by Harvard Business Review however revealed an interesting paradox: the qualities required for success are the same that can undermine it. It found that “the greater the proportion of experts a team has, the more likely it is to disintegrate into non-productive conflict or stalemate”. These experts are less likely to share knowledge freely, learn from one another, or help others complete jobs and meet deadlines. In other words, they are less likely to collaborate.

The alternative strategy

Trust needs to be evident in all business relationships today. Without trust, collaboration falls apart quickly. But, how does a full-time employee trust a stranger (in this case, a freelancer) to get the job done without risking jeopardy to oneself?

Here’s where online collaborative tools come in – most of which come with easy-to-use software so all you need is a secured network. Such tools have a variety of tracking capabilities that make it easy for members to track the evolution of the project on hand. As everything is logged online, team members can easily send their updates regardless of their location.

Collaboration technologies also cut time spent waiting for members to be available for discussion. If there’s a need for a face-to-face discussion, scheduled video conference calls are always available.

Documents can be uploaded into the tool, which allow team members to provide comments at their own time. With documents stored in a single place, the need for back and forth emails with multiple versions of each document is erased.

Blending workforces

A diverse and collaborative culture is a powerful competitive advantage. A well-implemented, trained, and supported high-performance team will better align outcomes around both their objective and company mission. The work environment and business leaders must help employees to work in flexible, dynamic teams and to respectfully share information, decision-making, responsibility, learning, and recognition.

As technology advances, we expect more from the new wave of collaborative technologies. They must help shape how work is performed and enable teamwork that leads to better results, greater innovation, and higher productivity.

When planned and executed with skill, the development of a blended workforce can make a company more creative, productive, and just plain better. Enterprises that take the time and effort to do it right discover the benefits of traditional employees and freelancers working together, and bask in an engaged, collaborative, and productive workforce. 

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