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Happier Employees, Better Productivity, Smarter Ideas - What's Technology Doing for YOUR Company?

November 05, 2010
Smart Shift

Brian Halligan, co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, doesn’t have an office. Neither does any member of his management team. In fact, no one at the Internet marketing software company has a door that they can close.

The reason? Ease of collaboration. In a new book by David Meerman Scott, Halligan says, “it feels like there are fewer layers in the organization when anyone can just walk up to you with ideas.”

HubSpot works on the Agile Scrum philosophy - a software development approach pioneered in 2001 in order to create better programs and bring them to market faster. The Agile Manifesto is based on four key principles:

1) Put individuals and interactions ahead of processes and tools.
2) Create working software rather than comprehensive documentation.
3) Focus on customer collaboration, not contract negotiation.
4) Respond to change instead of following a plan.

The theory is that by communicating constantly, updating your concept as you work, and creating new products on a short time-scale, you foster a better culture of innovation and respond to the market more effectively.

It’s a good theory, and one that has paid dividends for many companies over the near-decade since it was introduced. But the reality for many organizations is that a completely open and agile workplace (one without any doors, for instance) may not be an attainable, or even desirable, goal.

Collaboration tools for the 21st century

Henry Ford, the great industrialist and founder of Ford Motors, had this to say about collaboration: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

The importance of working together toward a unified set of goals hasn’t changed since the beginning of the twentieth century. The technology we use to collaborate and define those goals, however, has.

Even in 2001, when the Agile Manifesto was created, social networks had not achieved anything like the saturation that they have today. Few could have imagined how many of our communications and transactions would take place online. While social media has garnered attention mostly as a leisure-time activity, businesses are increasingly using similar technology to foster a more open and efficient workplace.

The tools have evolved from the old days of static communication via email. Independent technology consultant Phil Simon says, “email is not a collaborative tool.” New technologies have emerged to allow employees to work together instantly: “companies use different tools like Yammer - which is essentially ‘Twitter for the workplace’ - Wikis, screen sharing, or Google Documents to really collaborate in real time.”

These tools and others are designed to achieve immediate results by helping people work together seamlessly. Even in a company that’s spread across several continents, applications like these allow people to work as if they are in the same room, and build on one another’s ideas directly.

Benefits

Social technology, collaborative applications, and digital workflows have obvious benefits for business - they allow people to find and use the resources they need, and share ideas in real time. This allows workers to innovate and create more easily, and deliver concrete results faster. But there are other, somewhat less tangible positives that may be less immediately clear.

One such benefit is happiness. HubSpot, for instance, was named one of the best companies to work for in Boston by The Boston Business Journal. The organizers of the award ceremony praised the company’s “fast-paced yet casual work environment,” saying, “you’d be hard-pressed to find an unhappy employee.”

Although happiness is difficult to quantify or guarantee, helping employees reach their full potential by creating a more open, less frustrating environment with fewer barriers to innovative collaboration is a great first step. For many people, succeeding in one’s job, both as an individual and a team, is a path to greater happiness.

Happy workers are also more likely to be loyal. Employees who feel their company is successful are pleased in the abstract. Employees who know they are responsible for ensuring that success, and who can see clearly what their role is and how to achieve it, are almost certain to feel fulfilled in their job, and therefore to work hard to keep it. Collaborative technology solutions make it easier for people to define their goals, and then work as a team to achieve them by sharing ideas, resources, and comments in real time, regardless of location.

An open, collaborative workplace embraces change, just as the authors of the Agile Manifesto envisioned. By emphasizing interaction and novelty, new technologies allow organizations to respond quickly and cleverly to the needs of the market, while fostering innovative solutions. You may not be able to remove all the doors from your office. But a smarter workplace makes sure that all your doors are open.

Happier Employees, Better Productivity, Smarter Ideas - What's Technology Doing for YOUR Company?

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