The State of Collaboration & Engagement at Work

The State of Collaboration & Engagement at Work

Survey Says: Collaboration And Employee Engagement Are At The Heart Of Any Organization’s Healthy Future.

By David Coleman

Moore’s law, paraphrased, says computing power, which doubles every 10 months, has been growing exponentially for the last 30 years. It is clear that technology is progressing at a rapid clip in both hardware and software, but is this as true of organizations?

The top business drivers for investing in learning workplace technologies  is Improving Employee Engagement, according to 64.2 percent of respondents in the “2014 E-learning User Study.” Increasing Collaborative Learning (53.7 percent) and Collaboration Across the Enterprise (48.9 percent) followed closely behind. What is the current state of enterprise collaboration?

To answer this question, Elearning! magazine partnered with Collaborative Strategies to uncover the answers via a 26-question survey in December 2014. The results may surprise you, but the trends are clear, and collaboration and employee engagement are at the heart of an organization’s healthy future.

Let’s define what we mean by collaboration. It is “the ability of two or more people to work together on a common outcome or goal.” Distributed collaboration consists of collaborative interactions across time and space; it could be different geographic sales offices or training facilities, or it could be with external participants, like customers or partners. It turns out that collaboration is a major factor in engagement and improving future engagement.

Collaboration Tools Usage

In looking at how collaboration software and infrastructures are being used we found that email was still the most used collaboration tool, but that its use is dropping. In a 2012 survey of the same population, 98 percent surveyed used email. In two years, that percentage has dropped five points, and this change was seen most dramatically in sales and marketing organizations, which ended up being the lowest users of email at 78 percent, a 20-point drop in two years. One of the reasons for the decline of email in sales and marketing was the increased use of chat/IM/texting; 90 percent of those in this department use them. Combine this with the use of in-app messaging and we can start to see how e-mail usage dropped so precipitously.

Desktop and Web conferencing (65.3 percent) has passed room-based conferencing (60 percent) for the first time. This is a good indicator of the changing nature of meetings. More meetings today are hybrid meetings, where some people are local or in the room and others are participating at a distance. It also shows video-conferencing is quite popular as a collaboration tool. When we looked at which collaboration technologies people currently own, 70 percent (the highest of any technology) own some form of video conferencing today.

Training (63.5 percent) got such a high score because of two reasons: the population of respondents to the survey, and training occurring in almost every department in the organization, much of which is seen as a collaborative interaction.

The benefits of collaborative were queried: 89.3 percent said, “to work with others on a team or project,” and 87.4 percent said, “to connect with colleagues within our organization.” And 47.3 percent spent more than one-third of their time each day collaborating.

Improving Engagement

Employee engagement is at an all-time low! A recent Gallup poll revealed that only 30 percent of employees are engaged, another 50 percent are “checked out” or not engaged, and the final 20 percent is miserable or actively disengaged. It is also clear that employee engagement is linked to profitability, industry leadership and the bottom line.

When asked how engaged the respondents organizations were (on a scale of 1-10, 1=low and 10=high): the mean score was 5.27. This means engagement has not improved much since 2012. We found our respondents maybe a bit better, but only by a small amount.

An engagement level of seven or above would be good for most organizations, but only 36 percent of the respondent organizations surveyed hit this benchmark . There is much to improve on, and collaboration plays a big role in it.

Organizations are using many techniques to increase engagement . Much to Google’s and Yahoo’s dismay, Flexible Work Environments were the solution chosen by 60 percent of those surveyed. This was followed closely by Feedback to Company or Team Leaders, Recognition for a Job Well Done, and More Access to Experts and Mentors Across the Organization. It is obvious that techniques that are personal to the employee are those most utilized today. However, it is important to note that rewards, like salary increases and bonuses, did not score high.

Our hypothesis was that people were more engaged in “open” or “transparent” cultures. Only 26.7 percent felt they were in a pretty or very open culture .

We asked “What do you think might improve engagement in your organization?” We got all sorts of openended responses, like requests for better collaboration tools, but the overwhelming response as (paraphrased from many answers), “If management wants greater engagement, then we want greater interaction, engagement, honesty and transparency from management.”

Looking at collaboration tools used by management, the C-suite is the least likely to use the tools. Surprisingly, this practice included chat, online communities, training and mentoring/coaching.

This leads us to believe they are not big users of collaboration tools — yet when asked who had the authority to buy collaboration technologies, 56.2 percent pointed to corporate or departmental leadership. C-suiters were also spending more time in meetings based on their role, with 50 percent (in all sized organizations) claiming to spend 65 percent or more of their time in meetings.

To make meetings more effective, better use of collaboration solutions is the top strategy. Forty-one percent felt that making better decisions faster would most improve meetings.

Bridging The Gap

The good news is that a radical shift is under way regarding the value of engagement and collaboration. When querying the economic value of collaboration, respondents reported an 8 on value scale of 10 . This was by far the highest rating since doing this study. It also indicates that we recognize the value of collaboration, but the tools and process changes required to implement effectively are wanting.

There are also some highlights. While use and adoption of collaborative tools is progressing slowly, departments like sales and marketing are evolving rapidly. People at many levels, many roles, and many different sized organizations are asking for greater participation from C-suiters, believing this would translate to greater worker engagement. If management personnel want greater engagement, they should model that behavior for the entire organization.

With Millennials now in the workforce, we have a generation that grew up digital; they collaborate all the time. What they lack is experience and expertise. Providing more mentoring and coaching would go a long way toward establishing relationships that engage the employee. Making corporate cultures more “open” is a great way to attract and keep top talent. Learning leaders are the key collaborators, and can serve as a front line across the enterprise, by testing, championing and facilitating engaging collaborations.

It is clear from the data that organizations need to get better at collaboration (fast), or they will lag behind competitors who embrace it.

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