Traditionally companies have many departments with each department focused on a specific activity. For example, an accounting department focuses on managing the financial aspects of the company including customer billing, keeping track of receivables, paying vendors for their services, managing cash so there is enough available to pay bills when they become due and so on. Similarly, the human resources department is focused on filing open positions in the company, creating policies for human resource management including work hours, work location, salary increments etc. Naturally work gets done in silos as each department manages its own tasks without regard to other departments in the company. But this is changing. As more and more work are digitalized companies are seeing the benefits of increased cross-functional collaboration.
As more work becomes virtual it becomes easy to track data as it flows through the different work functions. Instead of optimizing the efficiency of each department, organizations are optimizing connected workflows. The expectation is that as employees understand the context of their work by understanding their place in the workflow, their productivity will increase as their actions will be based on a higher level of understanding of what it is they are doing.
This idea of removing silos doesn’t just work at the department level, but also at the individual level. For example, employees commonly use multiple communication apps at work. They have one app for email, another one for chat, a third one for voice conferencing and perhaps another one to manage all their to-dos. Each app creates its own silo of information. Even though the information in the disparate apps is related, it is never connected. Employees using this siloed data fail to see the hidden context. This leads to miscommunications, wasted time in searching for information and inevitably stress.
Adapting to remote and hybrid work model
The need to fix the problem of communication silos has become acute as remote and hybrid work has become the norm. Employees no longer see each other in person on a daily basis. In the hybrid mode they may come to the office once or twice a week for meetings. In the remote work mode connections are entirely virtual. In this environment seamless virtual communication is an absolute must. Employees must at an individual level be easily able to understand the context behind all their communications so they can independently handle situations as they come up. They no longer have the luxury of relying on another team member to provide them with the background information related to the task at hand.
With the right tools and culture companies can reap the benefits from remote and hybrid work such as access to talent without worrying about location, cost reduction from not having to use expensive office space, and happier and more productive employees who are able to achieve a greater work-life balance by not having to waste time commuting to work.
Importance of culture in cross-functional collaboration
Companies need to pay close attention to culture, specifically how employees and employers react with each other, and how they feel about working in the company. This culture needs to be established before employees feel comfortable working in cross-functional teams. For example, cross-functional teams may not have the same rigid hierarchy as teams based on departments. Employees need to have a high degree of trust in their management that their accomplishments are noticed and appreciated even if they don’t report to their manager with same level of detail as in a department org.
Trust has to be earned and it only comes with transparent and frequent communications between employees and management. When employees experience a management that is open, willing to listen, share and act on their words, they build trust.
Companies neglect culture at their own peril. When the right culture is not established from the start, there is high turnover, absenteeism, lack of engagement and low productivity from the team. This makes implementation of a cross-functional collaborative organization an order of magnitude difficult.
Role of communication tools in hybrid and remote work environments
For a silo-less, cross-functional collaborative work environment with hybrid and remote teams to succeed, using the right communication tool is an absolute necessity.
The tool must have the following attributes.
It should be cloud-based and be accessible from any location with an internet connection. It should not require installation or complicated configuration to work. Any employee with minimal IT skills should be able to simply login and use the tool.
The software should be extremely easy to use with an intuitive user interface, and not have any need for user training. It should support all the certified data security protocols so there is no risk of data theft or data loss at any time. It should be hosted on a reliable cloud platform so there is minimum downtime.
It should have all the commonly used communication tools including chat, email, voice calling, screen sharing, cloud document access, social media integration and to-do management. There should be no wasted time shifting between apps, learning new user interfaces and searching for information between multiple apps.
There should be no data silos. All the related data should be seamlessly connected no matter which mode of communication was used. For example, an incoming email from a customer may turn into a chat between different team members, before replying the customer along with a to-do reminder to follow up after two weeks. All these communications should be automatically connected into a single discussion, so when the to-do is triggered, the user immediately knows the context behind the action item without having to search.
Finally, the software should be affordable so it can be deployed across the company without a significant hit to the bottom line. Remote and hybrid teams cannot function optimally without having access to the context behind their next action at their fingertips. If they have to search for information, or reach out to colleagues who may even be in different time zones, their productivity will drop leading to frustration and stress.
As companies transition to a hybrid and remote work force, they must create best practices so the model can scale without any disruption to customer service or employee productivity. It all starts with having the right culture in place based on open and frequent communications. When employees trust each other and their management, they support each other and make sure they all succeed together.
Having the right communication tool that eliminates data silos and lets users see the context behind their action is an absolute must. This removes the need to search for information, provides confidence that each action is taken after considering all the relevant information, increases productivity and reduces stress.
Remote and hybrid work environments are here to stay. Companies have to proactively prepare to succeed in this new world of work.