Collaboration is in the Eye of the Beholder

I recently read Fortune’s CEO Daily that focused on the post-pandemic hybrid workplace. Andy Cohen, co-CEO of design and architecture firm Gensler noted “collaboration has dropped off by 40% during the pandemic. People just aren’t collaborating as much. They miss the interaction.” Fortune’s Alan Murray pointed out that employees also want flexibility to decide when they go to the office and executing on the vision of a hybrid workplace is no simple task.

Sure, there are people who yearn to be in an office after a year of working from home, but I still found this statistic to be a bit startling. I decided to test the notion of collaboration with colleagues, friends and family and found the conversations also led to fundamental questions such as: how collaboration is defined and how collaboration can be measured.

A family member, who is in marketing and PR, shared that a client of hers has had a ‘work from anywhere’ culture since long before the pandemic and with this type of culture, collaboration is not constrained by office walls. The company is headquartered in San Jose, but people are based all over North America; the CMO, the VP of Marketing, the Director of Content, and product specialists are all in different locations. This sort of structure enables the organization to gain the talent they need and are not restricted by location. Separately, some shared the view that executives who feel employees must work in an office setting are old fashioned, and that this type of mindset can lead to a culture of distrust.

A colleague who partook in my informal poll said she considers Zoom calls between people as collaborating. She also noted that “companies with flexible models that figure it out will be able to hire and retain the talent they want. The talent pool available to organizations grows so large when employees can work remotely.”

A marketing leader with decades of experience in the telecom industry offered that “Collaboration is the hardest thing to achieve in companies. There is so much focus in society and life on personal glory. Collaboration is not a factor of being in an office, it is more about hiring a team of people that want to work together and are driving for shared objectives and shared rewards. If you all win together, it is a very different environment.”

My personal view is that collaboration is what one makes it, and collaboration comes in all shapes and forms. Collaboration is a team call on Webex with individuals in different time zones and countries weighing in on and contributing to driving actions to outcomes. Collaboration is writing a meeting brief and passing it to the next person for review and input. Collaboration is being in a room, rolling up the sleeves and hammering out an action plan to move a strategy forward. Collaboration is being in an advisory council meeting, with each person playing a specific and significant role to help achieve the end goal of gaining strategic insight and advice for the sponsoring organization.

What is your view on collaboration and how has your pre-pandemic view on collaboration shifted to something different?

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