Employee Collaboration On The Upswing

In the information age, businesses say they take a more enlightened view of a workforce that toils mainly in the fields of knowledge.
To Karl Marx, industrial laborers of the mid-19th century were "a commodity, like every other article of commerce." But in the information age, businesses say they take a more enlightened view of a workforce that toils mainly in the fields of knowledge: They're not an "appendage of the machine," but the engines whose ideas and contributions drive the system forward.

Evidence of the change--admittedly centuries in the making--can be found in the results of a recent InformationWeek Research survey. Eighty-four percent of 100 business-technology professionals say their company is in the process of improving collaborative practices with employees. Fifty-nine percent of respondents also say that they expect collaborative initiatives with employees to increase in the next 12 months. Those companies have good reason for taking these steps: Empowering people to be instruments of development and change benefits a company's bottom line.

chartDesign collaboration is one area in which companies are seeking even closer collaboration among employees (as well as external partners). Moving face-to-face meetings among product engineers online, for instance, facilitates more frequent contact, increases the opportunity to hash out details, and cuts product development time while speeding time to market by providing instant updates to all team members whose work will be affected by a particular change. Close collaboration with employees intimately involved in a product launch can potentially decrease the odds that problems with quality will result in costly recalls.

But collaborative practices aren't being driven solely by internal benefits. Almost half of survey participants, 45%, say events of Sept. 11 helped move efforts forward and caused their company to take such strategies more seriously.

The wheels of collaboration aren't always frictionless. Fifty-four percent of companies surveyed say budget limitations are the biggest obstacle they face in improving collaborative efforts, not just with employees but also with business partners and customers. One in three are grappling with developing a comprehensive collaboration strategy and with resistance to change by employees.

What role will collaboration with and among employees play in your company's plans this year? Let us know.

Jennifer Zaino
Senior News Editor
[email protected]

Obstacle Course

chartNo good deed goes unpunished, or so the saying goes. And although increased business collaboration, whether it's among employees or with suppliers, vendors, and business partners, promises many compelling benefits, it also comes with a variety of issues that companies must be prepared to confront and resolve.

For 27% of the InformationWeek Research study's 100 business-technology participants, business-collaboration efforts are being stymied because of complex and confusing processes. Twenty-six percent report that real headway is being hindered by complex and archaic legacy systems. And for 15% of respondents, collaborative efforts have resulted not in company gains but in security risks and compromised business secrets.