Collaborative working is forcing IT directors to learn new skills

By Rachel Fielding
23 Aug 2010 View Comments
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Skills in managing remote staff are essential

A trend towards flatter and more collaborative structures in the workplace is driving demand for IT directors with the skills to manage virtual teams and motivate them to ensure the smooth delivery of projects.

As the trend towards less hierarchical structures continues, it will become increasingly important over the next decade for businesses to focus on the value of human interaction, a recent report, The Decisive Decade, from Google Enterprise and business trends think-tank The Future Foundation warns.

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It predicts that new opportunities to collaborate will fuel innovation and transform workplace dynamics. As a result, the role of the IT director will become more closely aligned with the HR director – with both tasked with overseeing virtual teams, managing the collaboration process, motivating staff and ensuring smooth delivery of projects.

The study – which gathered opinions from 3,500 employees across the UK, France, Germany, Japan and the US plus 12 experts in innovation and business transformation – explored how new technologies will influence working practices in developed economies and affect the creativity and productivity of employees.

UK employees who are given the opportunity to collaborate at work are almost twice as likely to have contributed new ideas to their company (62 per cent versus 38 per cent). But the report warns that companies will need to address significant cultural and organisational changes to become leaders in the ideas economy.

However only 12 per cent of employees surveyed expressed satisfaction with the technology available to them at work to allow collaboration and 44 per cent said the technology they use in their personal lives is better than that available to them in the office.

Dr Carsten Sørensen, senior lecturer in information systems and innovation at the London School of Economics and Political Science, blamed geography, a social tendency towards "ideas hoarding" and the inability of dispersed teams to work together on shared projects as barriers to progress.

“The companies that come to dominate the next 10 years of innovation will be those that are early to embrace online collaborative technologies and these new ways of thinking. They will also be those that work out how to motivate and reward the teams of people who generate the ideas that create new opportunities for their organisations,” Sørensen said.

Sue Chick, IT project manager for communications agency Imagination, added: “The consumerisation of IT in the enterprise is starting to have a massive effect on the skills IT departments need to add value to a business.”

“We are having to talk to staff to understand their roles, and explain how new technology can help individuals be more productive, efficient and innovative,” Chick added. “The skills we need to do this are softer, more human-focused – and driven by a need to help teams of employees work virtually together.”

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