I’ve been reading about workplace collaboration recently.  It’s an important and popular theme these days.  Much of the dialogue is constructive but there’s a significant omission in how many observers discuss this topic.  Before I get to that (hint: it’s to do with information), here’s a quick summary of the background:

Trends

Several key trends have intersected over the past few years:

  • New Technology:  We have seen the rapid rise of portable devices, virtual meeting technologies and cloud-based computing, among other innovations.
  • The Virtual Workplace:  These developments have given rise to the “virtual worker” and subsequent blurring of home and office life.
  • Demographics:  We now have present in the workplace multiple demographics with differing values, expectations and work styles.
  • Information Overload:  We have seen huge increases in the amount of information employees deal with on a daily basis.

Response to Trends

Given these shifts in technology, demographics, work styles, etc., it’s not surprising that employers are keeping a keen eye on the performance of teams.  With new dynamics in play, they want to be sure their employees are collaborating effectively.   A series of initiatives are underway:

Physically Redesigning the Workplace:  The office is increasingly seen as a “hub” that promotes employee engagement and teamwork. Attempts are being made to break down organizational silos — the walls between employees are literally coming down.
Embracing the Virtual Work Model:  Many organizations now actively encourage telecommuting and flexible work arrangements. Information workers are routinely equipped with portable devices or can take advantage of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) approaches.
Competing for Knowledge Workers:  Employers are implementing strategies to attract, retain and engage premium knowledge workers.  Work/life balance and diversity initiatives are becoming common.
Investing in Information Management:  Organizations are investing in enterprise social networking systems and knowledge management infrastructure.  Many are providing employees with ready access to multiple, premium information sources.

Role of Information

With the changes in the wider business environment, organizations are right to focus on driving improved employee collaboration.  And all the activities outlined above are worthwhile.  But here’s the omission I mentioned earlier: most of the discussion treats information as a “binary” input to the process of collaboration.  You either have it or you don’t.  This approach is too simple — we need a more sophisticated understanding of what collaboration is and the role information plays in arriving at good decisions.

Here’s a quick attempt:  Effective collaboration is having the right people with the right goals discussing the right topics armed with the right information.  To be truly useful, this information must be shared among the relevant team members.  Not just shared but re-shared, discussed, annotated, debated, challenged, and finally, agreed-upon.  People must truly connect and engage with the information that matters to them.

This vigorous, iterative process is what real collaboration is.  It’s not whether people are meeting in “hubs”.  Or on the road, or at home.  It’s not the devices they’re using.  It’s not the information possessed by each individual.  It’s the spirited interactions between people and information.  From this energetic, dynamic process comes intelligence and insight.  And from insight comes better decisions.  To make this collaborative process happen, employees need both timely, relevant information and the platforms and systems that support and encourage such knowledge-sharing.

Our current model of information management is simply not up to the task: email … sharepoint …knowledge management … enterprise social networking….  Although useful for many purposes, each has its frustrations and none facilitates the back-and-forth of true collaboration.

That’s why we’re so excited about Attensa. Our platform is specifically designed to encourage social interaction and the sharing of relevant, high-quality information.  It’s why our tagline is Stop Managing Information. Start Creating Intelligence.

Conclusion

In a changing business environment, organizations are correct to focus on employee collaboration as a key lever in driving success.  And many of the initiatives underway make sense.  But the next step in this thinking is to treat information sharing as a critical component of the collaborative process.  And to start to consider platforms and systems that support and encourage such information sharing.  The pace of competition is quickening and the stakes are high.  This is too important a subject not to get right.