Working better together and apart: Learn from Europe’s business leaders

by Jenny Gruening

When work moved from the boardroom to the kitchen table, virtually no one was left untouched by the shift. In 2020, the International Labour Organization found that 94% of workers lived in countries with at least some closures of workplaces – and despite the promise of mass vaccination, it’s evident we won’t be going back to the old world any time soon. 

Yet even with the benefit of almost a year’s experience, navigating the new normal continues to be a complex process. Employees are delivering across distances, time zones, working environments – and even the barriers of their own individual circumstances, like childcare. What we do know is that, whether you’re a busy parent catching up on projects at night, or managing a team of colleagues from 200 miles away, effective collaboration has never mattered more. 

A focus on nurturing collaboration and improving how we work together remotely will strengthen business’ ability to overcome the challenges that face them in the coming years. But what does good collaboration look like in the project management office (PMO) – a group who often take ultimate responsibility for making sure projects and plans succeed?

From gaining visibility and the flexibility to pivot when needed to establishing a secure plan for the future: here’s what you need to know, and wisdom from business leaders with experience making it happen.

"[Remote working] had always existed... What we never envisaged was that we would have to do it at this scale. So the technology solution existed, but it was not tried and tested on scale." 

–Operations Voice in Production

Learn how business leaders can find better solutions  by checking out the new, interactive Smartsheet report "Collaboration Beyond Communication."

View the report

Flexibility, visibility, agility 

Great project managers already know the value of communication. And at this point, most of us have got to grips with tools like Slack, Teams, and Zoom – and seen their value. But effective collaboration is about more than just talking, and hybrid working environments – in which remote teams collaborate with in-office staff – particularly require communication to be aided by tools that facilitate flexibility, working ‘anywhere’, and clear visibility of projects, regardless of how scattered a workforce is. 

Project managers should also be mindful of the dangers of over communication. Tools like Slack are invaluable – but sometimes, employees can get bogged down with unnecessary messages, and miss the updates they really need to respond to. For everyone to work towards defined timelines and respond to key communications in spite of changing circumstances, businesses should consider collaboration tools that go beyond sending messages.

For communication to be effective, it must then be coupled with collaboration tools that offer a range of capabilities – like timelines, dashboards, reporting, and file sharing. Combined, these tools can ultimately ensure that everyone has a defined goal, a single source of truth, and access to the right information – no matter where they’re working from. 

"One of the big needs on the market is your communication platform. Everybody's using WhatsApp, but WhatsApp is not a business platform. You don't have flexibility, encryption, security, and file sharing. So what do you do about that? This thing is going to be a huge point for us. And we are not going to develop some tools. We are looking for players to come in the market and offer something."

– IT Voice in Logistics 

Plan for the future 

No business could have anticipated the fundamental transformation we’ve been forced to contend with over the past year. Unfortunately, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that major disruption can crop up at any time. So, smart businesses are now ensuring they have a higher level of flexibility than ever before to make responding to challenges easier.

That’s why it isn’t just a case of investing in tools that provide visibility: platforms themselves should be flexible and preferably cloud-based, meaning project managers are able to focus their resources on business priorities and quickly pivot as situations shift. To survive in constantly changing environments (with fluctuating budgets and evolving teams), the ability to establish and alter comprehensive project plans and schedules is fundamental.

It’s also worth considering practical concerns – like the devices required to operate collaboration tools successfully. Whatever happens in the future, it seems safe to say that office employees will work across locations. In a hybrid working world, tools have to work across mobile apps, laptop browsers, and up on the screen in a (socially distanced) boardroom meeting. 

The power to integrate

Dozens of valuable business tools are used every day by employees to enhance communication and collaboration. But if these methods of communication aren’t integrated, they run the real risk of becoming silos – which duplicate, rather than streamline, staff workloads. 

Having all of the tools to achieve everything from task management to complex portfolio management accessible on a single platform is a no-brainer. Not only will it reduce the cognitive load for staff, it can drive uptake for all employees, ensuring that everyone’s on the same wavelength.

“Some creatives are very adverse to corporate tech [...] They want the other stuff to ‘just happen’. So the only way to make it work is to seamlessly integrate."

– Operations Voice in Entertainment

Beyond talk, into action

Leaders in the project management office already know the value of collaboration and understand how doing it well can improve how their business operates. In the new world of work, collaboration isn’t just about the right strategies and culture. It’s a case of having flexible and easy to integrate tools, too – and with all this in place, project management professionals can streamline workflows, eliminate silos, and achieve more. 

Learn how business leaders can find better solutions  by checking out the new, interactive Smartsheet report "Collaboration Beyond Communication."

View the report