Future of work

How to foster business growth and collaboration in 2021

Following on from a year of disruption, Stuart Templeton, head of UK at Slack, shares his advice on continuing workplace transformation throughout 2021.

With the UK business landscape remaining in pandemic limbo, it's clear that a move back to office-based working is not a priority. 2020 saw the biggest transformation in the way that we work and this permanent shift will continue to evolve into the new year.

Looking forward to 2021, how can businesses become more agile, and turn challenges into new opportunities?

The office as we know it is no more

Although remote working was a first for many this year, it is not a new practice. Certain businesses have encouraged remote work for years, and some of tech’s biggest players will no longer require workers to attend a physical office once returning is considered safe. In fact, Slack’s latest Future Forum research shows that only 8.4% of respondents would prefer to work in the office full time. The pandemic has proved that it is not essential for teams to remain in a central location in order to get quality work done.

Thanks to technological advancements in cloud computing, collaboration platforms, and mobile networks, remote working was already on the rise. This has been accelerated greatly due to the pandemic, which has highlighted that a physical office is not essential for effective work, while fast tracking the digital transformation of businesses.

With a hybrid approach, where employees work from the office some days and work at home other days, people can benefit from an improved work-life balance and companies can reduce costs associated with the daily running of an office.

However, simply adopting remote working and, for example, a video conferencing tool, will not meaningfully transform a business for the better. Companies that want to thrive moving forward must use the demise of the office as a starting point to place agility and transparency at the core of their operations.

Creating a mindset of agility and transparency

Just like remote working, agility and transparency are values that some businesses were looking to embrace even before the pandemic. A good example of the power an agile and transparent mindset can have can be seen in the banking sector. In recent years, fintechs have completely disrupted the industry and have driven new innovation. Recent research from Financial Technology Partners states that over half of all Europeans switched to digital forms of banking in 2017, leaving many incumbents behind.

Relying heavily on top-down decision making behind closed doors slows down operations and is often unnecessary.

Business leaders need to take a leaf out of the neo-bank playbook and double down on agile work practices. One way of encouraging agility is by rethinking the decision-making process. Relying heavily on top-down decision making behind closed doors slows down operations and is often unnecessary. Investing in technology that empowers employees to make decisions by offering them transparent access to the information they need means that teams can take a more agile and autonomous approach to work.

On top of a changed mindset, adopting a channel-based messaging platform – which helps to streamline business communication – can drive further agility and transparency. It gives everyone involved in a project transparent access to the tools, people, and information that they need to make work a success. In comparison to email, which silos information away from teams, collaboration platforms put the documents, team members, and information workers need at their fingertips.

Moreover, email does not offer the seamless integration of different tools into one platform, which saves time switching between apps and allows teams to focus attention on the work that matters. Recently, Slack helped all 1,400 global employees at London-based investment firm Man Group transition entirely to channel-based communication. From this, the company saw supercharged collaboration and transparency, even though its teams are distributed across 19 offices around the world.

Fostering growth through culture

However, even with the greatest tech tools, the most successful organisations know that building and fostering a great corporate culture that includes both remote, hybrid, and office workers is the best way to maximise investments in their people and tools. Our research shows that issues relating to wellbeing, such as loneliness and fears of losing connection to colleagues, were some of the biggest concerns for remote employees.

While there are many benefits to distributed work, to get the culture right, organisations need to open a dialogue with workers and experiment with different communication approaches to find what works best for them.

In addition to this, our survey found that work-life balance is the attribute which saw the highest improvement amongst UK employees when working remotely, rising by nearly 30%. However, 43% of people are also feeling less stressed and anxious about work overall.

This is a chance to rid ourselves of legacy systems, processes and work cultures.

These findings reveal the need to take action in transforming business culture to cater fully to employee needs, for example by offering flexible working and accommodating for childcare wherever possible. By encouraging feedback cycles and creating dedicated spaces where teams can receive tailored support, mentorship, or even just schedule a casual chat, culture can be bred to accommodate teams wherever they are working.

Moving forward together

Every business has experienced the effects of the pandemic at a different scale. For some, hybrid and distributed working was already the norm, whilst for others this required a huge shift in mindset.

What we all now have in common is the chance to rethink the way that we work to boost growth and create more seamless collaboration in the new year. This is a chance to rid ourselves of legacy systems, processes and work cultures that have proved ineffective and replace them with new values that create a more agile and transparent approach to work.

We should take comfort in the fact that we have learnt a lot in the past year. Let’s continue to apply this knowledge and experience in 2021 and transform the way we work with the understanding that today’s efforts will improve our working practices for years to come.

Main image credit: Headway on Unsplash