Quick question: What does collaboration equity mean to you and your workplace?
You probably think about fairness. Engagement. Perhaps even productivity. These are key ideas in an umbrella definition of collaboration equity—all based on fostering a culture of inclusion that helps bring out the best in every employee.
While the basic concepts of collaboration equity may not be hard to imagine, achieving it is more complex—requiring management, commitment, diligence, and empathy. Plus, especially notable with hybrid work, smart and interactive technology is also required.
In my experience, both as a manager and an AV executive, here are the three key components to consider when pursuing collaboration equity in your organization.
• Build a plan. Develop the structure, policies, and procedures to enable inclusion, engagement, and participation.
• Reimagine workspaces. Ensure your physical environment is designed for equality in meetings and collaborations.
• Select the right tech. Technology tools are essential to enable equity across all work settings: in-office, hybrid, and remote.
Each of these elements are briefly outlined below, hopefully providing a starting point for your company’s path to collaboration equity.
Build A Plan
The pandemic required fast action; many of us went from in-office work to fully remote in a matter of weeks. Decisions were made on the fly, technology purchased based on immediate knowledge, and processes devised on an ad hoc basis.
Today, we’re afforded more time to consider how we connect, empowered with the knowledge that hybrid work is here to stay. In this new world order, collaboration equity becomes even more important.
As your organization begins to purposefully pursue collaboration equity, start with a solid plan. Define what you want to achieve, detail action items, and create milestones. You will definitely want to involve remote and hybrid workers in the planning process, so their unique needs are well represented.
One early step in your planning will be communications. Don’t assume everyone on your team will understand the importance of collaboration equity. Emphasize—and keep communicating—the benefits to both individuals and to the team at large.
One additional idea: Collaboration usually continues after meetings end. Be sure to plan for “async” collaboration so team members can persist in creating, building, and completing work projects. Ultimately, this may reduce the number of overall meetings and expedite deliverables. It also provides less vocal team members a way to participate more fully.
The traditional office layout is often problematic for collaboration equity. It is structured on designs and hierarchical practices that are decades old and have failed to keep pace with contemporary work and current technologies.
The pandemic again fueled change, as a confluence of factors came together. Employees returning to the office required clean and safe spaces. Many workers adapted hybrid schedules, with some in-office days, some remote. Other team members expressed a desire to be remote permanently.
Across this continuum of work, collaboration equity requires creating an environment where everyone has a seat at the hybrid table. I note some irony here, as the actual “long table” found in many existing conference rooms is something to re-think: By design it pitches in-office staff to face each other, often leaving remote participants out of the circle. A more flexible space will allow remote attendees to be front and center with everyone else—and help eliminate proximity bias.
A short list of physical space considerations includes agility of space, allowing teams to dynamically shape meetings based on the type of interaction; flexibility of furniture and equipment to move for changing scenarios; adaptability to ensure a balance of shared and private spaces; and responsibility to ensure all team members have equal access to essential collaboration tools regardless of location.
In my experience, physical space is often the last consideration for collaboration equity—and sometimes the most confusing to team members who may have never configured meeting rooms to match a certain meeting type. However, reimagining workspaces—including clear sightlines, modular furniture, and moveable boundaries—is critical for collaboration equity success.
Select The Right Technology
Building collaboration equity, especially in a hybrid work environment, requires smart and interactive technology. As you evaluate platforms and hardware, consider these three questions: Does the technology provide a consistent user experience regardless of where users are located? Will it ensure equal access and presentation with its collaboration tools? Is the solution simple to use, easy to manage, and flexible enough to meet the variable needs of your workspaces?
Quality of picture and clarity of sound are, of course, at the forefront in selecting videoconferencing equipment. Everyone (in-office and remote) should be able to see and be seen, as well as hear and be heard, equally. I especially recommend technology that allows all participants to be presented in individual video tiles, like the experience enabled by Zoom Smart Gallery.
Similarly, an interactive, touch-enabled whiteboard—equally accessible to in-room and remote participants—provides a shared focal point for collaboration. Affordable whiteboards with advanced collaboration features are available as standalone devices or as additions to your existing videoconferencing setups.
As you review technology, keep the needs of remote workers at the forefront of your planning. Ensure they have access to the same top-quality technology as in-office counterparts; full-featured, individual desktop solutions are readily available and more affordable than ever.
One final idea: Think simplicity. Collaboration equity needs everyone to understand how to use the technology. Avoid solutions that require lots of componentry. Look for equipment that offers natural and intuitive experiences. And strive for consistency of experience between home and office solutions to reduce user frustration and the need for technical support.
Keep Moving Forward
After taking on the task of creating collaboration equity, what are the results? Qualitatively, you should see greater participation and interaction among your team. Certainly, you can expect to see remote participants joining in more frequently and your entire team working more effectively. “Quiet quitting”—silent disengagement by employees—should also be reduced.
Quantitatively, you can create and monitor engagement measures and conduct employee surveys. Gathering input will help keep the team on track for continuing to improve: The path to collaboration equity is more of an ongoing journey than an endpoint destination.
Other long-term measures to consider include retention and productivity. One study found employees who feel like part of their team are 50% less likely to leave their job (The Value of Belonging At Work: Investing In Workplace Inclusion, 2019). The same research also evaluated employee productivity and found an amazing 56% increase in job performance by employees who feel like they belong on their teams, with their input valued.
Personally, I have seen comparable results in my professional experience: engaged and energized employees are more effective, more creative, and more productive. Besides being a good management strategy—and just the right thing to do—collaboration equity also moves your business forward.