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The next generation of digital collaboration tools must enable creativity, not just collaboration

Statistics aren’t needed to prove that the pandemic thrusted digital tools into our lives on a previously unimagined scale. Schools shifted to Teams, after-work drinks were shared over Zoom, and we had video calls with our GPs. Technology became an inherent way for us to socialise, and on the whole, it worked.

"Despite the array of tools on offer, many of us still feel a strong need to meet with others to collaborate in person"

The latest generation of digital tools represents a marked improvement on the last. This is not just in terms of bringing multiple features under one roof (such as file sharing, storage, video calls and chat), but also in improving user experience through better video and audio experiences, all of which have helped to make it ‘feel’ a little more like we were together.

These developments have been a significant move in the right direction. However, there remains a strong sense that these tools still fall someway short. As we all return to some semblance of normality, there is a real risk that the world of hybrid work leads us to suffer a collective loss of ideas and innovation. Indeed, despite the array of tools on offer, many of us still feel a strong need to meet with others to collaborate in person. So why is that? 

Here at Oaklin, we look beyond just the tools and technology, helping our clients exploit the full power of collaboration tools like Microsoft 365.  And it’s here where the answer lies – in what I like to think of as the complete ‘Human Creativity Cycle’ (see below).

"Next generation collaboration needs tools to help foster a next generation collaboration culture."

This cycle is intended to convey a very simple truism: Whilst we might all like to think our ideas are purely the result of our own personal brilliance, the reality is that we create ideas based on the active and passive input of others – human innovation has been predicated on the ability to record and pass on experience and insight, so that we, and others can use and evolve it. Whatever our field of expertise, we are all “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

Whilst today’s collaboration tools have focused on the collaboration aspects of creativity, they have not necessarily helped to address the rest:

  • Record: If it’s not written down, it’s not true: The tools we have today often do not enable individual collaborators to contribute in their different ways to the outcome or record of the collaboration. Take a moment to think back to a time when you took part in an effective face to face workshop. How were people in the room sharing and capturing ideas? I imagine some people wrote words on sticky notes while others drew images on a whiteboard. There may have been someone who told the room a story instead of posting something on the wall. Collaboration tools should allow people to contribute their ideas in a variety of ways – just as they would if everyone were together in the same room, and for these all to form part of the collective record.   Not only does that lead to more effective sessions, but it also supports diverse thinking and inclusivity, both well-proven to have a positive business outcome. 

If these tools can help us create a richer record of our collaboration, then we are helping to complete the creativity cycle.

  • Share: Sharing is caring: Whilst we’ve all got the tech, many organisations are still held back by elements of a retained ‘knowledge is power’ based culture, where information is available to an individual on a ‘need to know’ basis. Sometimes this is based on the formal hierarchy of the business, but more often it is also based on an informal network.

What is needed is more than a file storage facility, rather a collaborative ‘Knowledge Zone’, with everyone accepting a collective responsibility to share their ideas, in return for the same from others (yes, it comes down to culture again!). There is most certainly a technology angle to this too. As the volume of information at our fingertips expands exponentially, the humans in the chain need our knowledge zones to help us filter, extract and refine based on our naturally diverse ‘fuzzy logic’.

Next generation collaboration needs tools to help foster a next generation collaboration culture. To help the workforce of the future perform even better, tools will also have to play a different role. This new role will be to help us change our own behaviour – and to challenge popular narratives and attitudes to knowledge. 

As we enter a phase of new hybrid working, it’s important to think about how we work – both individually and collaboratively. Choosing the right collaboration tools for your organisation requires an understanding of how people will willingly share ideas and the recognition that diverse thinking must be supported by diverse functionality. Keeping people and creativity at the heart of your Digital Workplace strategy will help you thrive in the hybrid working world.  

To enable us all to do this, the new tools need to be more human. Digital tools can help organisations get more out of their people, but only if these tools are designed in a way that makes it easier for us to collaborate and innovate. With the rise of the new ‘new normal’, and concepts like hybrid working looking to stick around, the requirements that we have for these tools are becoming more varied and of increasing importance, and what is central to this need is the capacity for tools to help us share and record ideas.

Simon Mould

Associate Partner
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Simon Mould

Associate Partner

Simon is a highly experienced Programme Manager and Business Architect, who understands how to align an organisation’s strategic vision and needs with business and technology solutions into a transformation strategy.  This is supported by a desire to organise, deliver and lead subsequent change programmes.

He is a proven digital business transformation leader, working across a variety of sectors, renowned for his ability to motivate and support diverse teams to deliver sustainable results.