Fun fact: Thomas Edison recruited specialists in mechanics, mathematics, clock-making and glassblowing to help with the development of the light bulb.
Edison acknowledged his own limitations and recognized that in order to achieve his goal, he needed to bring in experts across other fields – even if it meant bringing them in from across the globe. Had he not embraced his own strengths and weaknesses and chosen to collaborate with these experts, there’s no telling how long we would have had to continue working by candlelight.
In the same way, collaboration between departments and locations encourages innovation in the workplace. But it’s difficult enough to get employees to work together when they’re under the same roof, let alone in a different state or country.
Here are three creative ways to boost workplace collaboration, no matter where employees are located.
Put Employees with Complementary Skills Together
Every member of your workforce possesses a unique set of strengths and weaknesses, and it’s important to take this into consideration as you build teams.
The project can only succeed if each team member takes the time to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of one another and work together to ensure every task is assigned to the individual best equipped to complete it. Whether the employee is local, at another office or works remotely is moot – the only important element is what needs to be done in order to complete the project.
Schedule Virtual Get-Togethers
If the only ways an employee can communicate with her colleagues in different locations is via emails and phone calls, it will be difficult to form a meaningful connection. Without face-to-face interactions, a coworker simply becomes words on a screen or a voice on the other end of the line. And how can you expect an employee be excited about collaborating with a disembodied voice?
If you want to improve workplace collaboration and help employees in different locations feel connected to one another, you need to give them the opportunity to actually see each other. It’s probably not feasible to arrange dozens or hundreds of trips all over the country (or the world) so all of your employees can meet in person. What you can do instead is schedule virtual get-togethers for special occasions or holidays.
Set up a video conference call in meeting rooms at your various locations, create teams made up of employees at different offices and then enjoy some team building activities. It’s an easy way for individuals to get to know their colleagues on a more personal level and build stronger relationships. And when an employee feels more connected to her coworkers (and actually has faces to put with the names), she’ll be more enthusiastic about collaborating with these colleagues in the future.
Give Everyone Access to the Same Resources
Each member of a team will have different backgrounds, professional histories and competencies, which means the team member will contribute to the team in a distinct way. What has to be the same across the board, however, are the tools and information each employee is provided by the company.
If one employee has the most powerful version of a software and another has the basic package or if one team member has a brand new MacBook and another has an ancient Compaq, there’s bound to be jealousy. And the individuals with the second-rate resources probably won’t be too thrilled about working with a colleague who appears to be getting special treatment, even though everyone has been assigned to the same project.
Since you’re already trying to overcome the hurdles of promoting workplace collaboration between employees in separate offices, don’t make things harder on yourself. Make sure everyone is on equal footing by supplying hardware of equal quality, giving each employee access to the same software capabilities and features (when appropriate) and providing visibility into all of the same data.
Even if the ways an employee contributes to the organization (or the location from which she contributes) differ from those of her colleague, at the end of the day every employee is invested in the same thing: the future of the business. If you see consistent hesitation towards cross-office collaboration, be sure to remind your employees that you’re all in this together.