Digital collaboration has been easy for a long time, and the technologies that make it possible have been available even longer. Nonetheless, for many years I have looked, waited, and looked again, searching in vain for a catalyst that would precipitate a much-needed digital boost to Danish companies. More efficient and flexible collaborative cultures were possible, but they were not being implemented.
And then – suddenly – it happened!
From one day to the next, the corona crisis pulled the rug out from under Danish companies and forced many of them to challenge the status quo, to think in new and creative ways, and to act differently.
But the truth of the matter is that there is nothing strange about having to wait for a major crisis to finally see Danish companies taking digital workflows and collaboration techniques seriously. Within the field of information safety, for example, it is a widely accepted fact that a company must experience a “compelling event” before safety is taken seriously. Companies tend not to change unless there is a compelling reason to do so. And, for digital collaboration in Denmark, it appears that the corona crisis has created that compelling reason.
Less wasted time. More freedom!
Several months into the corona crisis and companies have undergone unprecedented digital transformations. And the lessons learnt are now beginning to come to the surface. After lengthy conversations with several business leaders, one conclusion was clear: the online collaboration and new digital workflows adopted by companies in response to the corona crisis can, if properly rooted in the corporate culture, produce short- and long-term growth, not just in terms of business value, but human value too.
Many business leaders (and employees) have realized how much time is wasted during a normal pre-corona workday. The main culprit? An endless stream of in-person meetings, each one full of chitchat – before, during, and after – and often necessitating significant travel time too. To a large extent, this wasted time is automatically eliminated by online meetings – the new normal for many people. Obviously, online meetings have no travel time. What’s more, our digital behavior differs substantially from our normal social behavior – the tendency is to get straight to the point and to end the meeting once its goal has been achieved, rather than when the clock strikes the hour. Of course, the point is not that we should do away with all physical meetings, rather, it is to create an awareness that, in many situations, online meetings are a more productive alternative.
The same can be said about using digital collaboration tools within chat and project management, which many companies have embraced during the corona crisis. These tools have shown both employees and managers that an email inbox does not have to be one big mess, and that collaboration on a project can easily sustain the necessary momentum, even if the project manager or some key employees are physically absent.
Similarly, many companies realize that the digital work environment encouraged by the corona crisis has led to an increased awareness among employees that the flexible workday, which so many of them request, is in fact possible. The cat, as they say, is out of the bag. However, most companies have also realized that it is neither dangerous nor challenging to lead and manage a workforce in which some employees work from home, at least part of the time. I think that, if anything, the corona crisis has revealed that we do not necessarily have to be in the office from nine to five to successfully perform our work.
“digital collaboration has brought us closer together during the corona crisis – rather than drive us apart
NORLYS: New learning must be applied in the future
Denmark’s largest telecommunications and energy group, NORLYS, belongs to the band of Danish companies and organizations that appreciate the digital collaboration opportunities that the corona crisis has obliged them to seize. The company’s vice president of IT and business applications, Morten Sloth O’Donnell, agreed to tell me a little more about the lessons learnt at NORLYS:
“As an agile and innovative group, it is important for us to develop together and apply the lessons we learn on an ongoing basis – and there has undoubtedly been plenty of lessons learnt during the corona crisis. Among other things, we have experienced that online meetings work really well, are far more efficient, and can save a group like ours, with branches all over Denmark, lots of precious time, and spare the environment from CO2 emissions too. Already now, for example, we in my management team have decided that in the future we will hold every other weekly management meeting via Microsoft Teams so that we all can be at home and get the most out of the day.
“It has also been a pleasant eye-opener for us to see how digital collaboration has brought us closer together during the corona crisis – rather than drive us apart. Both management and employees have embraced the tools. During a busy day, it can be difficult as a leader to be visible, and it can be difficult as an employee to keep up with what is happening across teams. Since everyone switched to digital collaboration at once, it has lifted us as an organization and created a powerful unity online. It has been a natural thing to embrace the digital tools – and they have been used both professionally and socially.”
In the same breath, Morten Sloth O’Donnell also highlighted how the increased focus on digital collaboration even created a closer relationship between some of the group’s software developers based in Poland and other employees in Denmark. However, the challenge now becomes ensuring that the new workflows are firmly rooted in the company culture:
“But now, of course, the task will first and foremost be to anchor the most important of these new experiences in the company culture – also when we collaborate in the office. It cannot be the case that virtual meetings are always concluded on time or faster than planned, while physical meetings often drag on. This lesson about our behavior during digital meetings must be used to make physical meetings just as effective.”
I have also learned!
Despite my digital mindset and many years as an advocate for online collaboration, I have also learned some important lessons during the crisis created by the coronavirus.
In March 2020, I participated as a consultant in a comprehensive and complex final contract negotiation incorporating major IT operations and support agreements. Before Covid-19, I – like almost everyone else – had the attitude that particularly important meetings like this one should be held in person.
But to my surprise, and despite the fact that everything took place online and across multiple time zones, the process was smooth and in the end the negotiations had gone really well. We even experienced that unique feeling of knowing each other – the one you only get when you have spent large amounts of intense time with new people. What’s more, that particular client of mine is based outside Denmark, and therefore our online collaboration saved us days of travel time as well as large amounts of money for flights and accommodation. But these are minor benefits compared to the real value created by our digital negotiations.
I am convinced that our online collaboration produced a better result than if we had travelled far and thus had a fixed window in which to complete the contract negotiations. The online meetings were very effective, and although everyone wanted to reach the target, there was no time pressure for closing the deal. As a result, the contract as a whole was improved for all parties. The online meetings and the flexible timeframe for the final negotiations allowed us, among other things, to ensure that we worked our way through all the essential details, just as there was time to cross-check and reiterate where necessary.
A digital world of possibilities
To sum up, it is reassuring to see that from the ashes of a devastating global pandemic a new digital world may emerge – one that creates value and improves quality of life, whether you are a business leader or an employee.
For business leaders: We have seen that it is possible to lead and manage a large remote workforce by utilizing digital workflows and online collaboration tools. What opportunities are created by this new reality for your organization? One extremely relevant example could be that recruitment to an office in southern Denmark, for example, is no longer limited by geography. The media has been inundated by stories of Danish companies struggling to secure a sufficiently qualified workforce. But now your employees and management are ready and equipped with the technology and competencies to make the most of digital opportunities. You already know that your organization can handle online collaborations, and you have proven that it can be a success. All you have to do now is continue the journey and reap the rewards of the lessons learnt during the corona crisis.
For employees: We have seen that you can actually provide value-added work for your employer through online collaboration – even if you work from home. What opportunities are created for you if remote digital work becomes a permanent part of your company’s culture? Well, have you dreamed of spending half a year abroad? Of traveling with your children? Or do you simply long for an office free of noise and distraction – a place where you can concentrate? Perhaps you need to care for a sick or elderly family member? All this and more becomes possible when you embrace digital opportunities. You have proven that it can be done, and employers have seen that it works. Use it!