Digital Collaboration Tools - All together now!

To produce first-class work, you need greater cross-office collaboration. But how can you collaborate successfully in a modern, flexible office where team members sit in different locations? That was the challenge facing DHL Consulting – and the solution was to introduce a number of digital collaboration tools. Martin Ullman, Associate Partner, was part of the team responsible for testing, implementing and gathering feedback on the new tools.

Author: Interview with Martin Ullmann

Published: Last updated:

Culture & Career, Data Analytics, Future of Work

Office meeting in DHL office with DHL logo as graffiti in background

Why Is Cross-office Collaboration Essential in Business?

We believe we do our best work if we bring different minds together to generate new ideas and give constructive feedback. At DHL Consulting, we generally work to tight timelines, so good collaboration is vital.

The changes we made in our office did pose a challenge in that direction, however: we now have a more flexible office space, we’ve implemented mobile working opportunities, and we wanted to go paperless. So we had to completely rethink the way we facilitate cross-office collaboration.

How Did Teams at DHL Consulting Collaborate Before the Changes?

Traditionally, a team would sit together, have discussions, write down ideas on a white board, make a PowerPoint or Excel presentation and deliver it to clients. But because of the changes we’ve made to our office, that model simply doesn’t work for us anymore.

For example, many of our people don’t sit in a team now, so we needed to think about how they could work together when they’re spread across different locations and greater distances. How could they collaborate on content so that they can work on the same document at the same time in order to share workloads and review material?

What Was Your Solution to This Issue?

We brought in Microsoft Office 365, which comes complete with digital collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, a collaboration hub which allows team members to communicate with each other when they’re not sitting together. They can also file share and edit documents as one.

Plus we’ve brought in digital tools to improve the way we work in the new flexible zone-based spaces we’ve introduced.

Such as?

For example, we have two large screens at each office entrance which highlight where free spots are available around the office, so that people can immediately see the occupancy of a particular work zone.

We’ve also introduced a system that shows which desks are free and which are occupied. If a desk has a green light it’s free. If it’s red, it’s taken. If it’s yellow, someone was sitting there but has been gone for a length of time.

Soon it will also be possible to book a meeting room now simply by pushing a button on a room panel. Each meeting room is equipped with infra-red sensors which recognises if someone is in it or not, and communicates this to the person outside.

Plus, we’ve introduced a DHL Consulting app which is available on people’s phones, and there’s an app for the desk and room sensors, too. And we’ve introduced new hardware, such as PC laptops with pen-writing capability.

Portrait of Martin Ullmann

Traditionally, a team would sit together, have discussions, write down ideas on a white board, make a PowerPoint or Excel presentation and deliver it to clients.

But because of the changes we’ve made to our office, that model simply doesn’t work for us anymore.

Martin - Partner, DHL Consulting

What Were the Challenges of Introducing These Digital Collaboration Tools?

It was a learning journey for all of us that we undertook together with our IT colleagues. We found that if you know exactly what it is that you want to achieve and have good support from your IT colleagues, and they get involved earlier on in the process, it makes everything so much easier.

The room and desk sensors – which are bespoke to DHL Consulting – were fairly easy to implement, although IT needed to revamp some network infrastructure to get them up and running.

Was It a Challenge for Staff To Learn How To Use the New Digital Collaboration Tools?

It was, simply because the sheer number of digital collaboration tools we introduced changed everything for a lot of people. For example, Microsoft Teams is quite a complex program if you aren’t familiar with it; and hardly anyone knew how to use Microsoft Planner, a project planning app.

So we ran half-day change management workshops for 120 people to help them understand what was different about the new technology, how it behaves, and why the changes were necessary. We also made some videos demonstrating the technology – we call them ‘knowledge nuggets’ – and uploaded these to a central share where everyone could access them.

If people are new to the company, and were therefore not part of the initial workshops, we have a mandatory onboarding session of two hours to introduce them to all our tools. We also held “town hall” meetings to explain how the sensor technology works.

Was Privacy and Confidentiality a Consideration in the Changes You Were Making?

Of course. Office 365 is a cloud-first application, and people always have privacy and security concerns about the cloud. But it’s important to stress that DHL has very strict guidelines around data protection and we are not about to circumvent them just because we want to be modern and go into the cloud.

And, as a Group, we have framework contracts with Microsoft that ensure data privacy and security. It’s of paramount importance to us that everything we do is secure and confidential. I would say the main challenge was the time it took to secure the various internal approvals around security and privacy issues.

Did Staff Have Concerns That Their Personal Data Might Be Captured by the New Sensor Technology?

People did have questions, such as: ‘Do the desk sensors identify me as an individual?’ The answer is no they don’t. They simply recognise that someone is sitting at the desk, but they don’t know who, and no data is being shared with another company.

What Have Been the Benefits of the New Tools?

File sharing is so much easier now. The file-sharing platform we had before was a bit cumbersome. And the new tools have enabled us to go paperless where possible, and where we’re not required to have a paper trail by law. These days we try not to print presentations for customers because, with today’s technology, it’s just not needed. The fact is that digital tools make life easier because everything is in one place and is automatically backed up, so from a service perspective it’s a huge improvement and a big step forward.

Have these digital collaboration tools changed the office culture? Hmm. I would say these tools have enabled us to change it. How we use them to our advantage and so get the best out of collaborative working – well, that’s really up to us now…

Text by Tony Greenway

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