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Why Businesses Should Prioritize Collaboration
November 15th, 2017

Why Businesses Should Prioritize Collaboration

Ian Linton

Collaboration supports many important business processes, and businesses should prioritize collaboration if they that want to improve their efficiency.

Collaboration supports many important business processes, and businesses should prioritize collaboration if they that want to improve their efficiency, productivity and competitive advantage. By making collaboration an integral, accessible element of the workplace, leaders can create an environment that encourages teamwork and helps employees meet their personal and business goals.

Collaboration is important for businesses that operate multiple sites. It helps maintain contact with a dispersed workforce and builds a sense of community while minimizing business travel costs.

Collaboration also supports productive remote working, ensuring that employees who work from home or other locations remain part of the organization. With effective teamwork in place, businesses can drive innovation and change programs, and reduce time to market.

Why businesses should prioritize collaboration

Collaboration is now accessible

Collaboration can deliver these important benefits because the tools are now accessible and affordable.

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), for example, includes audio, web and video conferencing facilities, together with messaging services that are available on any fixed or mobile device. As a result, collaboration is no longer confined to formal conference rooms with dedicated, expensive facilities. Employees can participate in virtual meetings from their desks, small meeting rooms or remote locations using a smartphone, laptop or tablet.

While collaboration is important to most businesses, priorities vary from company to company.

Supporting the changing workplace

For many, creating a workplace that mirrors the working practices and preferences of the latest generation of employees is important. Millennials now form an increasingly large part of the workforce. They have grown up with technology and social networks, and they bring the same collaborative style to the workplace.

Creating an environment that supports collaboration and provides a suitable infrastructure is, therefore, essential to recruitment and retention.

Sharing knowledge

The changing age profile of the workforce is another important driver of collaboration. Baby boomers, who started working in the late 1960s, are now retiring in large numbers, which can result in a loss of important skills, knowledge, and experience.

Businesses are understandably anxious to capture that knowledge so that it is available to the remaining workforce. By combining knowledge management tools with collaboration and social networking tools, employers can retain and build on knowledge before it is lost.

Businesses also recognize that they have subject experts on their staff that can provide valuable support to other employees. However, in a large, dispersed organization, it can be difficult to find the right subject specialist.

To overcome the challenge, businesses are setting up centers of excellence and using collaboration tools to make it easy for employees to find and work with experts. Access to specialist knowledge can help employees solve problems, make better, faster decisions and develop their own skills and knowledge.

Improving customer service

Access to experts also helps customer-facing staff, such as help desk or contact center agents, sales executives and service engineers deliver the best possible service to customers. Agents, for example, can quickly set up conference calls with experts if they are dealing with customers who need detailed information.

Sales and service staff can use smartphones to collaborate with colleagues or experts to solve problems or discuss sales opportunities when working at customer sites. That way, collaboration can make an important contribution to customer satisfaction.

Strengthening customer relationships

Collaboration with customers can also help build stronger relationships and increase satisfaction. At a simple level, collaboration during a call to a contact center creates a more personal experience.

Agents can escalate a voice call to a video or web conference to demonstrate products, explain a process or solve problems. If necessary, they can bring in a colleague to provide expert advice. Contact center supervisors can also specify video conferencing as a default channel for communicating with major customers. This helps differentiate the customer experience and provides a superior level of service.

In business-to-business markets, collaboration with customers takes on an even more important role. Businesses work with customer teams on projects to improve or customize products, reduce costs or streamline administrative processes between supplier and customer.

Collaboration helps build longer-term relationships based on value rather than price. That makes collaboration an important element of account-based marketing and helps businesses strengthen account control and build long-term revenue.

Successful customer collaboration depends on effective internal collaboration between different departments. On product development projects, for example, technical and engineering teams work closely with the sales executives that manage the relationship with the customer. Manufacturing and finance departments will be involved with their customer counterparts on cost-reduction projects.

With different customer departments also involved, collaboration tools that support virtual meetings are essential. VoIP makes it easy for participants from different organizations to collaborate, wherever they are located.

Driving supply chain value

A similar form of collaboration can drive greater value from the supply chain. Businesses can draw on their suppliers’ expertise in components, materials, engineering or other disciplines to improve the cost, efficiency, and performance of their products.

By working closely with suppliers, manufacturers can build relationships that benefit both parties. Manufacturers get a better product, and suppliers can be confident of a long-term relationship built on cooperation rather than price.

Supply chain collaboration also helps streamline supply processes, improve efficiency and drive down costs, while eliminating the risk of waste. Collaboration tools make it easy to bring together supply chain members to discuss business conditions or develop a joint response to changes in demand.

By coordinating manufacturing levels and delivery schedules through collaboration, members can avoid over-supply or stock shortages that result in lost market opportunities.

Supporting partnerships

In the technology industry, leading players have taken the concept of a supply chain further and set up ecosystems. Ecosystems are groups of companies that collaborate to meet joint business aims.

Lead companies build a source of reliable suppliers so they can deliver end-to-end solutions that feature best-of-breed products and services. Smaller members of the ecosystem gain access to larger markets through their relationship with lead companies. The aim is to build a network of partnerships that provide a win-win outcome for all members.

The partnership ethos is also important for businesses that work together on joint ventures. Here, companies with complementary skills or resources work together to tackle business opportunities that they could not win as individuals.

Collaboration tools are essential as they work together to develop joint proposals, communicate with customer decision-making teams, and progress their joint offering through to delivery.

Joint ventures are important for businesses trying to enter overseas markets where regulations favor local companies. By collaborating with a local company, exporters can improve their chances of market entry. And they can draw on the local knowledge and relationships of their partners to build a customer base quickly.

International collaboration with partners is easier when using VoIP’s web or video conferencing tools. These tools make it easy to set up virtual meetings, reducing travel costs and providing a platform for operating and managing the venture. Low-cost international calling over VoIP makes collaboration at this level practical and affordable.

Accessing expertise

External collaboration reaches beyond customers and suppliers. Businesses can draw on the knowledge of universities, research groups, and industry trade associations when planning business initiatives or developing new products. University research teams may also be looking for commercial partners if they want to spin out materials, products or technologies that they have developed.

Collaboration gives both parties access to expertise and knowledge or commercial skills that help them meet their individual goals.

Building teamwork

However, for most businesses, improving internal collaboration is the main priority. Executives want to build teamwork across departments and eliminate silos that act as barriers to progress.

Collaboration tools make it easy to set up and run project groups to develop new products or drive change and improvement programs. Teams can hold formal meetings even if members are based in different locations or work away from the office.

Virtual meetings make it easier to maintain progress and complete projects faster. Collaboration tools also help teams make better decisions. The ability to share content such as models, photographs, reports, spreadsheets, presentations, and documents during a virtual meeting ensures that team members have all the information they need to make informed decisions.

Improving decision-making

Collaboration tools aren’t just important to project teams. They can improve the quality and outcome of any business or management meeting. Because collaboration is no longer restricted to conference rooms, any meeting can make use of collaboration and screen-sharing services to improve decision-making.

In addition to improving the quality of meetings, collaboration tools also reduce costs, particularly for employees working in different locations. Collaboration tools eliminate the problem of distance and reduce travel costs.

Productivity improves too, even for meetings between people in the same location. They can set up meetings on demand and find out when colleagues are available to meet by using VoIP’s Presence feature—So they can meet at convenient times and not waste time waiting for people to join.

Supporting virtual organizations

That doesn’t mean collaboration is only a priority for large, multi-site enterprises. Small businesses and start-ups may use a model known as a virtual business. Instead of hiring full-time employees for specialist positions, they work with freelance or contract staff, avoiding recruitment and employment costs.

To make a virtual business work efficiently, companies use collaboration tools to maintain contact with remote staff and ensure they can work effectively with their full-time colleagues.

Strategic priorities

Collaboration has an important strategic role to play in businesses of every size. But because priorities vary by company, it’s essential to develop a collaboration strategy. The strategy should identify the collaboration opportunities that would add the greatest value or make the biggest contribution to cost reduction.

It should also identify the stakeholders and the participants that would benefit from collaboration. Finally, the strategy should identify the types of collaboration tools that will be needed to ensure more efficient, cost-effective and productive meetings.

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