The rise of remote collaboration

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Two years ago the London ASE had a digital update.

We went wild with new technology, infrastructure, software and gadgets to bring us bang up to date with digital tools for collaborative problem solving. We also invested in our capability to do what most traditionalists cringe at – collaborate real-time across borders.

We cringe because everyone knows and has likely experienced the perils of online meetings; beyond the constant bandwidth / buffering issues, we contend with dull one-way Skype calls, ‘interactivity’ baked into training sessions in the form of ‘raising your hand’ or a terribly facilitated ‘Hangout’ where the vocal ones, once again, take centre stage while the quiet genius’ have an even better opportunity to stay unheard, while disengaged on the end of a call.

Despite these perils, the ASE is seeing evermore momentum and demand from our clients to facilitate collaborative events remotely. The shift, as I see it has happened for a few reasons;

  • Remote working is becoming commonplace and expected, especially for work / life balance hungry millennials. According to Global Workplace Analytics, regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 115 per cent since 2005, nearly 10 times faster than the rest of the workforce.
  • Data has proven employees are more productive when given the option of remote working, citing better work / life balance, focus and happiness as contributing factors.
  • Technology now allows it in a not quite so hideous, clunky, unreliable way. The infrastructure now exists, and employees want the flexibility and freedom, so they are willing to adopt and adapt to the use of technology, making it happen.
  • Businesses need it. As the world becomes more competitive, more uncertain, organisations are continuously looking for ways to work more efficiently and reduce costs, and often travel is one of those costs.

Considering even the shallow list above, an organisation would be foolish to dismiss the clear opportunities presented by remote.

Requests to us include strategic planning with leaders across multiple continents, serious problem solving with the breadth and depth of an organisation’s personnel, momentum and culture building usually around change programmes, dispersed teams and accelerating productivity through understanding and alignment globally.

The ASE typically works with large groups of people. As much as I advocate remote working, I still believe there is no real substitute for face to face in these challenging, problem solving situations. Of course, we deliver the sessions and they have been hard. The extra level of complexity brought in by the remote aspect initially stretched our facilitation capability. We are constantly learning, iterating and improving but the more we deliver, the more obvious the business benefits become;

  • The ability to do business faster, more effectively across a global organisation
  • Improved employee engagement though effective cross geography working and happier workforces
  • Fostering a culture and way of working of a collaborative, inclusive and adaptable workforce, teaching employees new methods for when they go back to the desk
  • Cost savings with reduced travel, expenses and productivity downtime

As people get more familiar with the concept, more comfortable with the ways of working, and technology continues to get better, we know we’ll see even more remote collaboration events run successfully across geography. There are many organisations already who are 100% remote (inc Automattic, the owners of WordPress, GitHub and Hubstaff). Who knows, maybe it won’t be so long and all ASE events will be remote, or perhaps even take place in a virtual environment. Now wouldn’t that be cool?

How about you, what is your experience of remote collaboration? Have you found it to be a drag or a productive, focused engagement? What tools have you used with success? I’d love to hear.

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