Unlocking the benefits of collaboration for government



By Tony Sandberg, Director, Solutions and Industry Marketing Asia Pacific at Polycom.

I had the pleasure of hosting discussions during the OpenGov Leadership Forum in Canberra last month. It was a chance for government departments across a broad range of sectors and geographies to collaborate and share insights on how they are hoping to use technology to ‘do more with less’ – in a bid to become more collaborative, while also transforming their workspaces and culture to create a ‘workplace of the future’ today.

Perhaps this need for change is not all that surprising given the Government’s current innovation agenda. Deloitte Australia also estimates that by simply collaborating more than they do right now, Australian businesses can add up to AUD$9.3 billion per year to the economy1. If this is the case, then it stands to reason that government will also reap massive rewards if they can successfully adopt a more collaborative culture inside their own departments.

However, in Canberra, it became apparent very quickly that, while there is clear intent to change, there is still work to be done in order to embrace the benefits of using collaboration technologies within all levels of government.

Understanding the Role of Email in the Collaborative Workspace

It’s human nature. We don’t like to change and are often drawn to what’s familiar. The same applies to our technology preferences. For example, the majority of delegates said they still use email as their main collaboration tool because of its familiarity and ability to act as a record keeper of conversations and decisions.

Interestingly, a recent Polycom Workplace of the Future2 survey found that, despite 97% of ANZ businesses believing technology-enabled collaboration is key to remaining competitive, most still rely on 20th century technologies such as email and phone.

That said, there did seem to be a genuine desire among the government agencies present to be less dependent on emails in favour of real time communications and face-to-face collaboration.

Effective Collaboration Needs ‘Location Liberation’

It was also encouraging to hear that some departments are already using collaboration tools like video to meet with their own geographically dispersed teams, other agencies, and international stakeholders. These departments already understand the benefits of using face-to-face collaboration technology to improve their service responsiveness, efficiency and productivity. Interestingly, the heavier users of video conferencing had also noticed less emails being sent and less email dependency.

Today, most video collaboration within Government is still happening inside traditional meeting rooms. These spaces are often difficult to access as they are heavily booked. To overcome this meeting room bottleneck, some departments have already started using video from their desktops, mobile devices and ‘huddle rooms’ – smaller meeting spaces. For others, the need for “location liberation” was seen as key to allow them to use video more frequently outside the traditional conference room environment.

Rethinking Workspace and Workplace Policies

Government teams across industries and geography shared how they are starting to re-design workspaces and how workplace behaviour is also starting to adapt around them. It was no surprise that improving office design and layout was seen as an important enabler for the effective use of collaboration tools.

While modern government offices have been designed with collaboration spaces in mind, many older buildings still lack the flexibility of being able to access collaboration technology outside the conference room. There was also a call for less bureaucracy and policies surrounding the use of video conferencing to move it out of the boardroom, ensuring greater flexibility and alignment with end user needs.

Education Seen as a Key Driver to Workplace Adoption and Cultural Change

The cultural change of using more real time communication instead of emails was recognised as one of the main hurdles to be overcome. Employee education around the ease of use was identified as a major driver for adoption. Essentially, when people start to use video collaboration and see the benefits it can drive the change in culture. One delegate summed it up by saying “people need to talk more with each other”.

Over time it’s expected this work culture shift will also bring to the fore integrated solutions and workflows for ease of use such as integration with Skype for Business and Office 365.

Five Key Tips for Improving Collaboration in Your Workplace Today

Whether you are just starting out on your collaboration journey or actively planning the future state of your workplace, the tips below should support you on the journey:

  1. Measuring the uptake and utilisation of existing collaboration tools can help you discover quick win opportunities for improved productivity gains, e.g. number of team video conferencing meetings held in a week.
  2. Establish current collaboration usage and combine this with a strategy to address issues (such as the availability and type of tools, adoption programmes or workflows), your teams can improve their collaboration significantly.
  3. Choose a solution that is easy to use. Video collaboration adoption requires systems to be easy to use and manage, and also deliver a consistent, great experience anywhere and on any platform.
  4. Integrate and streamline, again for ease of use and quick adoption. Users need new collaboration technologies to be integrated with popular communication platforms like Microsoft Office 365 and normal day to day workflows. Choose solutions that are interoperable and provide secure access regardless of location, network or device.
  5. Work with your IT Team to update Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies to accommodate the needs of flexible workers and contract staff to ensure they remain productive and connected regardless of location.


Looking to the Future

The Australian government is in many areas ahead of other Governments within Asia Pacific in recognising the importance of collaboration tools.  Additionally and perhaps reassuringly, other governments around the world also face similar challenges in regards to cultural workplace changes, adapting policies and promoting ease of access.

For now though, the focus for many Australian government departments is how to take that all-important next step for a connected workplace of the future – where internet, innovation and productivity work in unison. And, they want solutions that will improve workflow, experience and productivity – today.


About the Author: Tony Sandberg, with a background in the telecommunications / IT industry, focusing specifically on Service Providers, Enterprises and Government, is the Director, Industry Solutions and Market Development for Polycom Asia Pacific. He is a leader in collaborative workspaces and interactive videoconferencing. For two decades he has held senior roles in business development, sales and marketing, solutions management and partnerships. He holds a Master’s of Science in Business Administration and Economics from the University of Växjö Sweden.


1As summarised in their Global Human Capital Trends Report 2016.

2The Polycom Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) Workplace of the Future report captured insights from 1,500 plus employers and employees across ANZ. For many, the focus at OpenGov was on how to take that all important next step in their digital transformation. And they want organisation-focused solutions that will help them to create a true Workplace of the Future by improving workflow, experience, the workspace and ultimately, stakeholder satisfaction.

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