How to Stay Competitive by Maximising Two Key Digital Collaboration Opportunities

In today’s digital era, business boundaries are rapidly replaced. Gone are the days when the workplace was merely a physical space that employees occupied during regular office hours. Today’s always connected and instant access environment has blurred the lines between the physical office and the place where work actually happens. Establishing a digital workplace is crucial but with all the digital collaboration alternatives that exist, investments in this area could be wasted if not approached in the right way. These changes are further intensified by the increase in complexity and different objectives that employees have to handle. Together, these trends are reshaping the work environment.

To survive in this ever-changing environment, organisations must be increasingly productive, agile and innovative. Achieving this is not easy but finding new ways of maximising the potential in your people will do the trick. To succeed, organisations must start to properly leverage the great opportunities that have arisen as we have moved from just having phones, to e-mail, to the current smorgasbord of digital tools for faster and better collaboration. Two such key opportunities that often are wasted is the ability to work asynchronous and simultaneously improving the ability to share knowledge across the organisation.

This Point of View aims at illustrating these opportunities while also providing strategic, structural and cultural advice on how to take advantage of their full potential.

The knowledge exchange quality and quantity need to be high

In our previous Point of View ”The importance of optimising collaboration activities to support your business imperatives” we introduced the Knowledge Exchange Matrix (KEM), a powerful asset to have in mind when analysing and optimising the knowledge exchanges within your organisation.

In this Point of View, we will dive deeper into the KEM quadrant of asynchronous collaboration and high knowledge shareability. This stands for interactions that are independent of social presence, have a delay in time and are accessible by a larger group of people. To achieve this, you need to use modern digital collaboration technologies such as intranets, team spaces and communities.

The success of these technologies is dependent on the ease of finding and utilising knowledge that satisfies users’ needs. This, in turn, requires users to actively contribute with their knowledge, adding up to a large set of shared knowledge. In other words, high knowledge exchange quality and quantity need to be enabled and achieved, if investments in digital collaboration and knowledge integration tools are to be considered successful.

Figure 1. Matrix formed by the dimensions of knowledge exchange quality and quantity

Reaching this KEM quadrant and achieving high knowledge quality and quantity as pictured above is clearly highly valuable. It is also challenging as it requires creating Collective Intelligence* successfully on a macro scale and a high digital collaboration maturity within the organisation.

To create this, we need to look far beyond the digital tools. Instead we must widen our perspective and successfully manage the three dimensions introduced in our first Point of View “Towards Collective Macro Intelligence”: strategy, structure and culture. By working with these dimensions when building, restructuring or managing digital collaboration and knowledge integration initiatives, an organisation can be built where contributing to and making the most of the organisation’s shared knowledge is in the DNA.
Each quadrant of the Matrix represents approaches beneficial for certain situations. Below we have listed some success factors for you to aim for when maximising the quadrant corresponding to digital collaboration.

* Collective Intelligence: A model developed in research cooperation between Dr. Philip Runsten at Stockholm School of Economics and Influence AB, consist- ing of four abilities (relation, reflection, integration and representation) to be developed when improving collaboration and knowledge integration within teams.

1. Strategy as the foundation

Set a vision, goals and a purpose with your digital collaboration initiative the first thing you do
The importance of setting a clear vision, goals and a purpose together with key stakeholders cannot be stressed enough. This boosts employees to contribute to the success of the digital collaboration initiative and a clear direction to achieve long-term outcomes together. These will be your guiding principles in all decisions, making sure that you stay on the right track.

Continuously evaluate your employees’ capability to exchange knowledge digitally
Identify and target current and future knowledge exchange capabilities. To the extent possible, measure these to evaluate and secure the improvement potential. Finally, ensure this work is grounded in your vision, goals and purpose.

Set KPI’s to track and show joint progress
Showing figures aligned with the purpose is important to enhance participating employees’ confidence, encourage accomplishment of tasks and to make it possible for employees to follow the joint progress. KPI’s also allow for personal feedback, resulting in even greater triggers to develop and perform great work.

2. Structure as the enabler

Set clear and strong ownership of both the components and the overall initiative
Achieving a coherent and well-functioning digital workplace requires clear ownership of its different components as well as the overall initiative. The owners of the digital workplace need to make sure it develops in line with the users’ needs and the overall purpose. They also need to have a strong belief in digital knowledge exchanges and value everyone’s input.

Create a digital workplace consisting of different components that together form a whole
With e.g. separate team spaces and communities, all with separate purposes, obstacles set by language (spoken/written and jargon) differences are removed. This also enables for employees to connect with the right colleagues and understand each other’s needs, leading to employees contributing with greater intensity, frequency and breadth. It’s important that the digital workplace’s components together form a whole and that there is some form of hub connecting the different components.

Ensure that the benefit of knowledge exchanges is greater than the experienced cost in time and energy
Aim for implementing the most appropriate and intuitive IT solutions with the most essential functions to reduce time and energy spent when exchanging knowledge. Knowing about the expectations and the intended dynamics of the digital workplace also helps removing energy-draining barriers for exchanging relevant knowledge digitally. It’s essential to provide easily accessible and inspirational education and combine this with training of key users in e.g. tools, communication skills, norms, values and attitudes if employees are to be engaged and use the tools efficiently.

3. Culture as the goal

Build trustworthy relationships where interactions have a strong sense of reciprocity
Employees need to feel unthreatened by the increased demand for shared knowledge, and instead see it as their knowledge donations lead to a larger benefit for others and the organisation. By encouraging and enabling for trustworthy relationships, fair exchanges and reciprocated investment efforts result in favours being given and received successfully. Strong and trustworthy relationships also ensure that the right knowledge is being exchanged by knowing others’ needs and assets.

Adopt an inspirational and visionary leadership to influence others
Trust and commitment to a common purpose and goals are easier achieved with inspirational and visionary leadership. Other highly valuable leadership characteristics when building a successful knowledge exchange culture includes high availability, understanding and acknowledgement of different perspectives, encouraging self-initiation, supporting cooperation, performing inclusive decision-making, and providing relevant information, resources and training.

Let the culture develop step by step
By following the advice above when managing a digital collaboration initiative, your employees will start to engage in knowledge exchange activities and naturally educate and encourage others to join in. Seeing the benefits, they will at first enjoy sharing knowledge within areas they have interest in and are personally meaningful to them. Over time, this circle will extend.


Authors: Erik Högman, Viktor Svantesson Romanov
Co-author: Pierre Jarméus


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