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Collaboration equity, unpacked: The technology and people factors behind hybrid work

Important considerations for pursuing collaboration equity in your organization

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Author photo: Katrina Oko-Odoi

Katrina Oko-Odoi

Sr. Content Marketing Manager

With many of our customers and colleagues fully on-board with a hybrid work plan for 2022, we’ve been talking about the concept of collaboration equity, which we first defined in Part 1 of this series — and also touched on in our latest webinar featuring Copper CEO Dennis Fois and Google Product Manager Ramesh Nair.

To recap, collaboration equity involves:

ensuring that everyone has the ability to contribute equally — regardless of location, role, experience level, language, and/or device preference.

As Google’s Javier Soltero (VP and GM for Google Workspace) acknowledges, “the challenges business leaders face in this new and ever-evolving hybrid era of work cannot be remedied with technology alone.”

For some companies, tech solutions will play a major role in improving collaboration equity. They might need more hardware, different software or some combination of both — as Google’s latest product releases seem to anticipate.

But for other companies, technology may play a much smaller part in these efforts. Some organizations might already be well equipped to facilitate collaboration, or be organized in a way that lets collaboration flow naturally, without too much dependence on technology.

So, you can tailor your strategy for improving collaboration equity to your specific organizational needs and context, based on a big-picture view.

Start by asking questions like, What does collaboration equity mean in my organization? Or just as important — How can we realistically improve collaboration equity, while avoiding potential issues?

We’ve been busy at Copper building our own approach to collaboration equity, and as part of our strategic assessment, we’ve looked at different strategies and potential issues. Here are some takeaways from our own journey toward distributed work.

The technology factor

With the new emphasis on collaboration equity, many familiar tools are being redesigned, repurposed, or repackaged. For example:

  • “Cisco’s digital event ‘Hybrid Work Made Real’ showcased a Webex rebrand and a new subscription offering, all focused on fostering an inclusive workplace,” from a People Insights feature that shares anonymous data about meeting interactions, to live transcripts and translations, audience engagement features and more (Forbes).
  • Poly [formerly Polycom and Plantronics] is committed to creating an equal work landscape for all. “The main challenge of flexible, hybrid working is creating equity for all. Clarity and quality of image and sound are essential to better collaboration between colleagues. No matter where people choose (or have) to work from — their car, a meeting room, or home — they will expect to be supported by devices and technologies that guarantee equal inclusivity,” shares Senior VP of Europe Paul Clark. Poly’s solutions range from a 4K video bar with surround-sound stereo to Microsoft Teams room systems, smart conference phones and more (AV Interactive).
  • “At consulting and professional services firm Accenture, collaboration equity has become a strategic priority. Jason Warnke, senior managing IT director and global digital experiences lead, said the company's IT organization is working to ensure its 560,000 global end users are ‘included and connected, regardless of physical location.’" This involves a change management plan driven by executives to promote collaboration equity from the top down. Tactically, Accenture has added Microsoft Teams Rooms systems, Surface Hub smart screens, intelligent speakers and ceiling-mounted microphones — enabling on-site employees to seamlessly video conference with both internal and external stakeholders (TechTarget).

At the same time, newer vendors are either entering the online collaboration market or trying to expand their market share. While organizations looking for tech solutions will have plenty of avenues to choose from, they may find that some offerings are still in need of improvement.

A 2021 Gartner survey told a cautionary tale of companies that struggled with new virtual meeting solutions, noting poor integrations with major online collaboration tools and bugginess of the software solutions themselves.

Lessons learned

There are a few takeaways here:

  • If your organization has technology gaps to fill, or needs a complete technology reset, approach hardware and software decisions with care.
  • If possible, test tools out first before committing.
  • Be sure to consider the impact on IT resources, from implementation to ongoing support.

The people factor

Finding the right technology is the baseline consideration — because without a collaboration platform that works for you, there’s no way to effectively address equity from the human side. But the two elements are closely interconnected.

Achieving collaboration equity depends on understanding how people will use the technology to improve both their professional productivity and their personal lives.

From the professional perspective, tech provider Poly suggests identifying the “workstyles” of your employees before making device decisions. Based on years of research, they’ve created six workstyle personas:

  • The Office Communicator enjoys being onsite and prefers a low-tech environment
  • The Office Collaborator likes being onsite but is also comfortable working remotely
  • The Remote Collaborator prefers to be offsite and is typically very tech-oriented
  • The Flexible Worker moves from remote to onsite frequently and values a seamless experience
  • The Road Warrior travels extensively and requires optimized mobility
  • The Connected Executive needs to work from any location and communicate easily with every group

Office Collaborators are likely to make up the highest percentage of employees in organizations.

Regardless of employee workstyle, training and communication will be key factors in establishing or improving collaboration equity:

  • It’s no use giving users the right tools if they don’t know how to use them. Ensure all employees receive thorough technical training for any new tools you implement.
  • Ensure that adequate ongoing support is available, from training materials to on-call IT specialists.

Let’s face it, though. No amount of preparation and support will erase the personal challenges faced by users who are juggling multiple demands and distractions while working remotely; from working parents with kids schooling remotely, to caregivers for ailing family members and overtaxed essential workers. The best way to ensure these concerns are dealt with fairly is to practice and encourage empathy.

As Brigitte McInnis-Day (Vice President for People Operations, Google Cloud) observes:

“Over the last year and-a-half, it’s become clear that flexibility is a defining characteristic of new and emerging work models. Organizations that have led with empathy and compassion—offering flexibility in balancing personal needs—have built stronger bonds of trust with their employees and in many cases have seen rises in productivity.”

Where to go from here?

In Part 3 of our collaboration equity series, we’ll look at concrete steps to success — beginning with an equity audit to examine existing gaps, and/or assess how well your current efforts are working.

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