Promoting seamless collaboration amid shifting employee preferences

In this guest article, Antti Nivala, Founder and CEO of M-Files, discusses the global move towards remote and hybrid office roles that can cause a separation in strong team working skills amongst colleagues, and encourages inclusive collaboration amongst teams.

Story by Alice Cumming, January 25, 2023

Over the last few years, businesses have been forced to deal with evolving employee preferences regarding how and where they wish to work. After the pandemic, many workers demanded the right to work remotely. Bored or dissatisfied with working from home, however, some employees decided it was time to venture back to the office.

According to recent government figures, 38% of UK workers were based exclusively at home in June 2020. By September 2022, that number fell to 13%. Motivated by rising energy costs at home, 85% of workers are now considering a return to the office, weighing up whether saving on heating bills will offset the cost of commuting.

However, while petrol inflation has eased off slightly it continues to rise at a steep rate of 11.5%, meaning many employees still face an expensive journey to work. Further increases may reduce the incentive for workers to commute, leading them to again favour remote working models. In essence, employers must be prepared to navigate employee work preferences that are in a constant state of flux.

Businesses must become more agile, embrace change and ensure staff can potentially work from anywhere, regardless of shifting circumstances. By doing so, employees will still be able to effortlessly collaborate and communicate with one another, whether remote work is the flavour of the month or the office is packed to the rafters.

Transcend locations and time zones

It’s not just the dispersion of workers that’s causing businesses headaches—they’re also struggling to meet the needs of workers spread across time zones. Thanks to the possibilities offered by remote work, 62% of UK workers stated they would consider moving and working abroad.

Employers may refuse staff the right to work abroad, but this is an ill-advised strategy given the current state of the labour market. The current UK unemployment rate sits at just 3.6%—there’s a considerable shortage of workers that companies can ill afford to ignore. As such, businesses should take every opportunity to appeal to prospective candidates.

Offering top talent the chance to work from any location will help attract recruits and retain incumbent staff.

Instead of going negative, business leaders should implement a proactive strategy that empowers knowledge workers to collaborate from virtually any device at any time.

This begins by connecting all critical data to a single source of truth, bolstered by a modern document management platform—a platform that prevents important information from getting stuck in data silos or on local hard drives of office computers and provides employees access to the files they need regardless of location.

Organisations should also leverage emerging tech to foster a culture of content collaboration. Collaboration tools allow teams to seamlessly co-author reports, peer-review work, and check contracts. The result? Teamwork never stops simply because employees are spread across the globe.

Introducing these measures improves business flexibility and adds to the value offered to employees—a significant advantage when candidates are choosing between an employer and its competitors.

Empower employees to support each other

When they can’t rely on a colleague or manager being in the office, it can be difficult for workers to receive the support they need—staff cannot physically approach the desk of a remote worker and ask for help. As a result, businesses must find a way to ensure their most experienced workers are still sharing the wealth of information they’ve accumulated over the years with more junior staff.

This can be achieved by encouraging workers to sign up for mentorship programmes, arranging daily team meetings, mandating project debriefs, and introducing virtual team-building sessions. All the information from these activities, including meeting recordings or vital documents, should be accessible no matter where they are stored so that all employees can easily find and use and this shared bank of knowledge whenever they may need it.

A modern approach to managing information will facilitate the seamless transfer of knowledge across an organisation. Metadata-driven document management systems allow employees to classify and tag all files. This means documentation is always accessible via a simple keyword search regardless of location.

As a result, team members working virtually won’t have to rely on the document’s owner being online if they wish to view a specific file, enforcing an ‘always-on’ availability for crucial resources.

An inclusive approach to brainstorming

When onsite office attendance fluctuates, it’s important that brainstorming and creative planning sessions extend beyond boardrooms and that remote workers are included in these discussions.

Decision-makers should schedule virtual brainstorming meetings, giving all employees the chance to share their ideas and contribute to projects. Alternatively, if time zones or employee absences are an issue, a shared document can be created where team members can leave their questions, suggestions, or ideas.

Collaboration practices must stay adaptable

Employee preferences, schedules, and availability are constantly changing. Nurturing flexibility to accommodate whatever new circumstance may arise is essential for businesses hoping to attract top talent during staff shortages. Providing employees with the right tools to collaborate and share information is the key to success in the work-from-anywhere world.