Can Technology Really Help Us To Collaborate More In The Workplace?

There’s no doubt that technology has changed forever the ways that we connect with each other. Only the other day while enjoying a family meal in a nice restaurant, I couldn’t help but notice the number of other diners who instead of enjoying each other’s company were busy scrolling through their smartphones, oblivious to their companions, locked in their own little world. And yet the amazing numbers of us who regularly use social media suggests that we still want to reach out and connect with our fellow humans, albeit at a much more arm’s length distance. And those of you who have teenagers in the house will appreciate just how much chatting goes on via apps such Instagram rather than the old-fashioned face-to-face variety. This got me thinking as to how technology has transformed the relationships we have with our colleagues in the workplace. Is technology an enabler of collaborative working and a relationship builder or is it exacerbating the isolationist, silo mentality that I witnessed at dinner the other night? Here are my thoughts on this question and I’d be interested to hear your views on this truly modern phenomenon.

The Pre-Digital Workplace

watercooler hub gossipNow I’m not that old, but even when I started my career, the workplace was a much different place. Generally, we were all located in a central office – there wasn’t much remote working or telecommuting happening. Weekly team meetings were the norm in which colleagues shared updates and news as well as important company or industry events and bulletins. The photocopier and the coffee machine were the office’s central information hubs. These were the places where individuals largely forged those social relationships that are the backbone of every company. People chatted together, shared news about their social lives as well as updates about the business. Some of my best collaborations at work started off as an informal chat at the coffee machine that sparked a great idea. And if you needed help on a project it was easy enough to enlist assistance by simply asking your colleagues who sat a stone’s throw away. I may be affected by a touch of nostalgia here, but it seems to me the old office was a much simpler, more connected and collaborative place of work, or was it?

The Post-Digital Workplace

Fast-forward twenty years and the modern office has been completely transformed. There’s hardly a photocopier in sight and most people now pick up a barista-made coffee on their way into the office or at lunchtime. More and more of us are telecommuting in a quest to achieve that elusive work-life balance. And the digital, 24-hour world we now inhabit means that the standard 9-5 office hours are a dinosaur from the past.

workplace technology chatSo how are we connecting with our colleagues and working collaboratively in this new, fast-paced workplace?  Well, not surprisingly, it seems to me that we have translated the tendency for arm’s length relationships into the office. I think there is less conversation going on, or at least less face-to-face chat. Instant messaging and email have taken the place of those coffee machine conversations. Strangely though we seem to be sharing more and more information with our colleagues – it’s likely a good smattering of your colleagues are also your friends on Facebook. And so we continue to have that need to connect with our colleagues, but it’s still at a relatively safe distance.

Collaborative Working In The Modern Workplace

Is collaborative working still alive and well in the modern workplace? Well, it seems to me that we have replaced the informal, direct social relationships that underpinned the office of twenty years ago with a technological solution that mimics them but at the safe arm’s length distance that we seem to now prefer. When I found MyHub’s intranet solution, I was surprised by how it cleverly captures the social phenomenon that I had already been observing. The intranet with its shared workspaces, blogs and news feeds replicates the information-sharing hubs of old round the office photocopier and coffee machine. These are the spaces where modern workers are now connecting with colleagues, catching up on company news and sharing insights and information. social intranetAnd as well as addressing the need for real-time sharing of data and information between colleagues and around the office, the intranet is also meeting our need for social contact, but it’s the distanced, modern variety. User profiles, biographies, individual activity walls as well as follow-me features mimic that familiar feel of Facebook and Twitter and appeal to the social media users that we have now all become.

So to answer my original question: can technology really help us to collaborate more in the workplace then yes, an intranet certainly seems to address the modern need to connect but at a safe distance. So although the opportunities to collaborate are different from the pre-digital world, the pace and ease of communication with a technological solution such as an intranet means that on balance there are probably more opportunities to collaborate now than ever before.

What are your thoughts?

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