Digital collaboration – turns out that Aristotle knew best

Remote and home working. Until the start of March, for many businesses and employees they were a ‘nice to have’ option. But who could have predicted the speed of change that COVID-19 would bring and how quickly a flexible business could adapt to these being normal business practice?

Homeworking is presenting all of us with new opportunities and ways of working to ensure continuity with our teams, clients, colleagues and the outside world. At Halliday Fraser Munro we were early adopters of digital collaboration; bringing all of our teams together regardless of their location from Aberdeen to London and Belfast to Leeds.

For some, this way of working is a step change from physically gathering in meeting rooms to discuss and collaborate. For others, it is a natural step to reach a broader network of participants who can go onto accomplish more than they ever would on their own.

Email was the modern way of exchanging messages in the 90s, beginning on desktop machines, then moving onto laptops, tablets, smartphones and watches. However, it is now taking a back seat, with software programmes processing the ‘in-box’ and merging information with more active tools to ensure messages are not missed and diary dates not forgotten.

Businesses all over the world are moving to cloud collaboration, including using ‘Microsoft Teams’ software for sharing, and co-authoring files from a central location. Halliday Fraser Munro has been using this software to upload, comment, and collaborate on files using different devices from different locations over the last couple of year. We expect to continue and develop working like this even further in the forthcoming months.

Some, who are new to this way of working, may have concerns about sharing knowledge; not everyone is comfortable with that concept as we are all so used to having ‘ownership’ of our own files. However, pooling the skills of various team players, internally and externally, can produce a more collaborative document; created in real time and with everyone’s input. All this can also come with the added benefit of seeing each other’s faces in the process.

We’ve already reduced the time spent travelling to meetings, reduced associated costs and brought people together who otherwise would not be able to be join forces. This versatility is positive. Aristotle may not have had access to Microsoft teams more than 2 000 years ago (although he did have a form of analogue tablets?) but he knew, even then, that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.

Cloud computing is all about behavioural change which is sometimes the most difficult form of change; ensuring files are safe through the use of comprehensive and secure IT system; accepting new ways of working; and ensuring team leaders have the knowledge and energy to drive forward access to this rich collaboration toolset and develop a strong collaborative culture.

A document–centric approach, allows more than one person to co-author a document, tag it and add specific comments, maintaining a complete version history. There are a range of systems available including Adobe Acrobat, Aconex, Google apps/drive, Huddle, SharePoint, Open project, ProjectWise, WebEx, Yammer and many more depending on your needs.

Technology like this, for businesses which have not yet embraced it, must become more than just a way of socialising in uncertain times. It should be recognised and embraced to allow information to be easily shared and ideas to be synthesised by resources from anywhere in the world. With the reassurance that you are working on the current document.

With the rise of the remote worker and the trend of flexible working weeks, even prior to this pandemic, businesses must seek the right technology that suits their needs and the needs of their clients. Finding the best solution and establishing a strategy for how to use it needs to be carefully thought through.

Success can be achieved through defining an ‘etiquette’ for communication which is relayed to each employee in the organisation to ensure everyone is aligned on how best to interconnect using these tools.

At a time of physical movement restriction, we should place a high value on the kind of freedom achieved with digital collaboration solutions, so let’s put all this into practice in the following months and come out the other side with some new skills that will benefit us all.

David Halliday

David Halliday