Office Collaboration in Context

<Note from Sheena: I am thrilled to have Phil join me in thought and play on Colludo. With a decade of developing and administering collaborative tools, Phil has a great amount of wisdom and passion for helping teams do great things. He also makes the best lasagne, and is an amazing husband and father to our children.>

We all know that collaboration means working together with others to make something. It’s a straightforward definition, isn’t it?

By extension, office collaboration means working together in an office setting to create something. It’s like that time we built a BBQ from a kit at work, right? Maybe. But at my office we don’t build BBQs every day.

Office collaboration is much more than constructing a physical object (BBQ). From this discussion, it’s plain to see that the term “office collaboration” on its own and without context is not very meaningful.

Let’s dig a bit deeper and ask “what does it mean to work together in an office?”Likely, this work has something to do with documents. We write documents for ourselves (so we can remember things), for others (so they know things), and for the organisation as a whole (so we all know certain things).

But what are these “things”? In an office environment, as knowledge workers (Sheena just rolled her eyes so hard that she needs antibiotics), we work with information and this information can be about nearly anything imaginable. Likewise, the aim of these documents and their raisons de communication are just as varied.

In a modern office, documents are chained to the digital world. They are trapped on disk (here, there, and who knows where). Certainly, we can print these documents and file them away or leave them scribbled on and strewn across our desks. More often than not, the “original” or “master” copy of our documents are stored electronically.

Take a moment to consider how we share office documents? By email, fileshares (inside or outside our organization), USB keys, disks (floppy or otherwise). What do all of these storage devices have in common? They are silos, like any storage container. These locations are just as static as their non-electronic office counterparts: the filing cabinet, the recycle bin, and the desk top. And these silos are anti-collaborative without our help.

In order to collaborate more effectively around documents, I suggest that you focus your energy on the following three tasks:

1.      Inject more technology into digital collaboration – We need to stop viewing our digital storage simply as repositories. To make document creation more collaborative we must leverage technology to inject search, version control, self-service security, workflows, and more into the process. For instance, consider using tools such as Office 365, Google Apps, Basecamp, etc.

For further discussion, please see these related posts:

2.      Inject more human-defined rules into our office collaboration – Office workers must strive to develop collaboration conventions and etiquette in order to work together more efficiently. This can be as simple as being polite (unless you don’t find that simple) or as complex as drawing up boundaries around acceptable use of collaboration tools.

For further discussion, please see these related posts:

3.      For the love of the internet, let’s talk about collaboration in our offices. Every office is different, with its own unique culture which is a function of its one-of-a-kind composition of individuals. Without a discussion about what works and what doesn’t work (both personally and across the team/department/organisation), how can we expect collaboration to work?

Working together doesn’t just magically happen. Teams need to learn collaborative skills and constantly seek to develop these skills to suit their given office environment.

Watch for upcoming posts that will further flesh out the 3 points above.