The Modern-Day Open-Door Policy: Embracing Virtual Collaboration

Anthony Leaper

The workplace and workforce are perpetually in flux. In the past few decades alone, we’ve experienced closed-door office buildings, open-door policies, open-office concepts, and remote work arrangements.

Each new evolution has necessitated a transformation in the way we conduct business and collaborate with our peers. Today, things like globalization and an increasingly remote workforce are spearheading the widespread use of online communities and virtual collaboration tools.

The benefits of openness

In my eyes, workplace collaboration revolves around two primary ideas: sharing and being open. But for many companies, these are alien concepts. Walk into any office around the world and you’ll likely find executives and other employees with the doors of their private offices closed.

The open-office workspace rose to prominence in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with innovative companies such as Google and Facebook literally breaking down the barriers found in traditional offices.

When this trend first caught on, I remember a number of my former colleagues finding the transition particularly difficult. After all, for years they had had their own private offices, where they could shut the doors and work in solitude whenever they’d desire.

But who was benefiting from that?

What my former colleagues didn’t understand was there were distinct advantages to cohabiting with their peers. And it wasn’t long before they finally began to realize the value.

The impetus behind instituting an open-office approach or open-door policy is to facilitate conversation, share ideas, and increase collaboration. In this environment, you may overhear a discussion that would benefit from your expert opinion. So you could chime in and impart your wisdom. Conversely, you’d be able to pose your own questions to a group of colleagues and gain insight from their knowledge.

Arguably, the most appealing aspect of this type of workplace is the instant connectivity it enables. A topic that may take you hours to research on your own may be easily explained by a colleague just across the room. So you could have answers to your most pressing questions in a fraction of the time.

The open-office concept of the future has arrived

With the invention of virtual collaboration tools, the open-office concept and open-door policy have entered into the digital age. Companies can now have a dedicated online community where employees can share useful information via message boards, blogs, wikis, videos, presentations, and more.

Best of all, knowledge sharing isn’t limited to the confines of a single office. Virtual collaboration opens up a whole new world to employees. Instead of merely relying on the peers within your particular workplace to help you with something, you could pose a question to a group of subject-matter experts – in various locations across the globe – and potentially have multiple answers in seconds. Sales professionals in London could benefit from the insight of their peers in Paris just as easily as marketers in New York could learn from their colleagues in Dubai.

Virtual collaboration tools also have certain advantages over open-plan office workspaces because they record the information shared, enabling them to help you to save time by reducing the number of e-mails sent as well as eliminating the need to answer the same question on multiple occasions. If an employee needs information on internal benefits packages, for example, he knows to visit the company’s designated HR community online. If a dozen other employees have the same question, they can visit the same site. There’s no need to reply to a single e-mail or to answer the question 13 different times.

In fact, according to a 2016 study by Forrester Consulting, the use of virtual collaboration tools can lead to a 15% increase in productivity by reducing the number of hours spent each week e-mailing, searching for information, and awaiting responses. It’s anticipated that this could lead to a $17.6 million increase in savings and revenue.

In addition, should the need for privacy arise, you have that option. Just as you would shut your office door in a traditional workplace environment, you can limit your exposure using virtual collaboration tools, as well. You can create private, invitation-only meeting rooms where you and your peers can discuss a specific topic. If you need to engage an employee for a one-on-one mentoring session, you can do that, too.

In other words, virtual collaboration tools can provide you with the same capabilities as a modern open-office workplace – with a number of additional advantages.

Virtual collaboration will transform your organization

The Latin aphorism “scientia potentia est,” which translates to “knowledge is power,” dates back hundreds of years. Today, the phrase is just as relevant as it was centuries ago – maybe even more so, because it’s how you gain, use, and share that knowledge today that makes it even more powerful.

What’s fundamentally changed is how people go about obtaining knowledge. In the past, education largely revolved around direct, person-to-person knowledge transfer and book learning. And while those methods certainly remain, individuals – particularly those in the working world – have discovered new means to educate themselves and others through virtual collaboration.

By leveraging virtual collaboration tools, you can ensure your organization reinforces a culture of continuous and collaborative learning, engages employees, and facilitates collaboration – all while positively impacting your company-wide business outcomes.

Another thing that’s changed is the way you can share and leverage knowledge to deliver value company-wide – not just in your local team, office, or country but globally, within your areas of business expertise and beyond. For example, a service agent in the field can provide valuable information on how to reduce repeat failures in the future to product design because of his or her intimate experience of how the fault occurs.

Our ability to learn and share knowledge leads to better levels of engagement and creates stronger, more productive working environments. With today’s modern technologies, the original desires and benefits of open-plan offices can impact business on a much wider scale.

For more strategies that increase collaboration and workplace engagement, see The Essential Ingredient For Innovation.

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About Anthony Leaper

Anthony Leaper is senior vice president of the Enterprise Social Software Business Unit at SAP. He is responsible for worldwide business development of SAP Jam social software. Anthony is focused on developing market opportunities for social collaboration platforms that enables SAP customers to connect more with their customers, partners, and employees through digital, socially inspired, interaction models.