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“Two heads are better than one”. It’s a cliché, but that’s probably because there’s a lot of truth to it. Employees working together and collaborating is a powerful way to accelerate innovation, share knowledge, improve decision making, and increase productivity and motivation.

The impact of collaboration is such that a Stanford University study found even the perception of working together increased productivity and motivation for a task, with participants who felt they were working collaboratively kept working at a task 64 per cent longer than peers. Another study found that companies actively promoting collaborative working were five times more likely to be high performing.

While the benefits may be clear, effective collaboration is not always as simple as walking over to a colleague and cracking on with a task side-by-side. Multinational companies, in particular, don’t always have the luxury of proximity – at least not without an expensive flight. Knowledge silos therefore often occur naturally in large organisations. People become gatekeepers of knowledge, up-to-date information isn’t accessible to everyone, and teams struggle to work effectively across departments and geographies.

Flexible communication and collaboration tools help overcome these challenges. When everyone can work together seamlessly and access the right information, knowledge silos disappear. Innovative ideas thrive instead of being missed, new opportunities are seized quickly and teams can unite to give projects the best chance of success. But what are the digital tools and practices we need to adopt to enable better collaboration?

Communication is the key

At the heart of collaboration is communication – after all, how can you work with someone if you can’t contact them? To break down the silos and reduce the virtual gap between teams working across business division and borders, communication and collaboration technologies can no longer live in isolation from each other.

Today, cloud-based tools help employees communicate, collaborate and access essential information and apps from anywhere, at any time, using any device. Converging all the communication and collaboration channels – fixed and mobile telephony, desktop communications, instant messaging, and social media – within one network enables greater convenience and flexibility.

Unified communications means seamless and constant communications across multiple digital channels so your people can work and collaborate anywhere. Employing over 10,000 people in multiple locations in Europe alone, meant that, for Panasonic, effectively keeping its people connected was becoming a challenge when it came to internal communications. By unifying its communications landscape across Europe, the company gained a consistent, transparent telephony experience for users. It was also able to roll out additional collaboration tools such as video conferencing and desktop sharing, enabling its teams to work in more innovative ways. And as an extra bonus, they were also able to reduce costs by 30 per cent.

Communication channels, however, are only half the equation of working together anywhere – employees also need access to the same applications, programs, data and devices, no matter where they are.

Open your toolbox

We’ve all been there. The moment where you need multiple people’s input on the same document that’s been shared via email, and you then receive five different documents back, each with a different set of changes, additions and conflicting comments, your workload doubling simply to try and consolidate the different versions of the original document.

Collaboration tools like Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps for Work enable teams to work together on documents remotely, without fear of version conflicts. By syncing changes in real-time, and allowing multiple parties to work on documents simultaneously, you ensure that everyone is always working on the same, most recent document.

Importantly, these tools make it easier to work collaboratively not only internally, but also with external vendors, suppliers and customers. They help integrate temporary workers and contractors with permanent teams, enabling them to contribute quickly and effectively. And with trends like the gig-economy on the rise and more work being done by freelancers, this will become increasingly important.

For RSA Group – one of the world’s leading multinational insurance businesses – collaboration was greatly helped by technology solutions. Using laptops, tablets or smartphones to connect to Wi-Fi, teams are able to work the way they want and can connect with employees, customers and brokers much more efficiently. By deploying collaboration tools and flexible working, RSA Group saw a 37 per cent reduction in email traffic, and collaboration in the UK and globally has increased.

To be effective, however, everyone must have access to these suites of tools. The digital workplace isn’t just for knowledge workers. From the head office to the field, all employee groups need to have access to tools and devices that help them to do their jobs effectively.

A new network for success

As we converge communication and collaboration we also need to be thinking about the networks underpinning these tools and enabling enterprise to be ready for the future of team collaboration. Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) create a flexible foundation for a network that enables teams to communicate and collaborate from anywhere, without sacrificing network or data security. And by giving control over bandwidth, dialling it up or down as needed, these technologies allow you to deliver the right services to the right people and assure quality of service for video calls, screen sharing and cloud collaboration.

While today’s digital tools mean that employees can communicate and collaborate more closely than ever across distances, emerging technologies such as virtual reality and holograms mean that there are still even better collaboration tools to come as technology continues to breakdown physical barriers.

For more on transforming your workplace, download our practical guide - The digital workplace: A blueprint for innovation.

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