At SOULWORX we like to dedicate a whole month to one topic and concentrate our research and Social Media postings on the specifics of that topic. It’s always a topic we feel is important to explore, so as to better understand the Future of Work. This month – throughout August – we’ve kept our focus on #COLLABORATION. And in delving into many reads, sharing some of our finds via our Newsletter and Facebook Posts, I want to share my own perspective on why I believe Collaboration is the Future of Work.

Let’s look at three dynamics currently at play in the work environment:

    1. The AI genie has already been released from the bottle and there is no way to get it back in. Yes, automation and intelligent machines will eliminate jobs, however, we’ll definitely see an upsurge in new roles and opportunities for human workers to pursue. I hold positive about this debated future, knowing though we are going to have to strengthen our helping people identify the qualities they have, teach them the qualities they lack and equip them for work they love. Equally, we are going to have to revolutionize our educational system, quickly. One that puts imagination, creativity, and self-respect at the forefront, and is not purely focused on A+ performance and cognitive intelligence.
    2. The gig economy is here to stay. Statistics show more and more individuals in developed countries working independently, finding (financial) security and stability in that mode of work. As freelancers, they custom-assemble jobs and projects they’re interested in, so as not to engage in the old-economy working habits constructed around performance and up-the-ladder mentalities. Their approach to work is seeding the desire in all of us to have a more joyful, sustainable and balanced life over what seems possible in most jobs.
    3. Flex work and Home Office are new ways of working, offering a more gratifying work experience for the employee and recognizing the workforce is increasingly more mobile and self-organized. Yet, there is a struggle in how to best implement these new work desires. Shifts in work participation, having teams more distributed and fluid, are forcing organisations to find new ways to sustain economic growth and continuous innovation.

Now put these dynamics together and ask me, what is the Future of Work? You know my answer: The Future of Work is Collaboration. Collaboration reigns supreme. And collaboration is the number one factor that organisations, the C-suite, leaders, employees as well as freelancers need to master – particularly when taking the above three dynamics under consideration.

I like to speak of #collectivegenius. In fact, it is a term I’ve infused into the SOULWORX team. Because I love to believe we are more genius when we succumb to the power of the ‘Collective’. It feels more connected, more real. No one person, one entity is important. Only collectively – in collaboration – can we create for the greater good. That is what is important, to me.  

But fuck, collaboration is hard!

Why? Because, it means letting go of believing we are the ‘one and only’, letting go of our vanity and self-indulgence. Instead, it needs us to embody and manifest inclusiveness, and support cooperation and sharing. It requires the full understanding of each other and shaping initiatives to suit the needs and beliefs of each person or entity participating in the engagement. It necessitates openness to new work concepts so as to enable meaningful work opportunities for the individual as well as for the group. It demands everyone to be and feel responsible for their own and their collective efforts.

You’d think we’d have it all sorted at SOULWORX. Not only because of our small team of five, but also because we are the ones re-imagining and shaping new leadership and new work models, in order for large and small organisations to reach desired future states that not only serve their well-being, but also unleash the human potential and make work feel collective and meaningful again – with the intention of course, for the organisation to create substantial value for their customers.

Well, we are still sharpening our collaboration practice. Believe me. But, let me share with you three aspects I am diligent about at SOULWORX to help foster a sense of trust and opportunity in each one of us and thus enable the Future of Work:

    1. Ensure digital reachability across all team members. A given. Granted. At SOULWORX we work from different workspaces, hence we have to rely on digital collaboration tools to ensure inclusiveness, transparency, and visibility in all that we do. We use Slack for team communication as well as informal ‘coffee break’ conversations. Each day by 9.30 AM we’ve communicated to the team our key activities for the day on our ‘Daily Standup’ Slack-Channel. Just like a normal in-person stand-up, we comment and ensure dependencies on activities are clear. We use G-Drive for all our document writing and client work. We love the file collaboration and think it is a great way of also being transparent with our clients. All of our project management and task management is handled by Asana. The tool serves our needs because we’ve been able to keep the benefits of a Trello board, yet minimize our email correspondence by discussing and sharing a lot via Asana-conversation. All three in tandem work for us to foster collaboration pragmatically. However, the use of digital tools is not the only ingredient for ensuring collaboration within and outside a team.
    2. Grow inclusiveness through visibility. What I mean is ensure every team member – young or old, long-term or new to the team – has a voice and is being visibly heard. It’s a huge step towards inclusiveness. And inclusiveness fosters collaboration. How we make sure everyone is being visibly heard at SOULWORX? We make sure we get together in person. Despite all our digital tools, we arrange for a full day together every two weeks. It’s highly necessary! We look to express ourselves openly and directly. We are more and more open to admitting mistakes and learning from them. We debate important topics and learn to embrace different viewpoints and new ways of thinking – not always easy! We give input to business goals and challenge each other’s ideas and work practices. We facilitate feedback after every interaction. We share and take the time to help each other freely and voluntarily, not just because we are part of the same team. For example, when someone asks for information or help via our Slack channel, we respond in moments. It helps us work with a mindset that goes beyond structured project work or organized initiatives to a broader sense of a SOULWORX community. We make our work visible outside the smaller team before it goes out to e.g. the client. We have learned to be clear on roles and name the leader for each initiative. We also learned to be very clear on who owns what decisions and why. It all sounds very simple. But we’ve had our learning’s on the way. All in all, I feel creating a safe space where everyone is visibly heard fosters a further ingredient for collaboration. Yet, the most important however seem to be mostly forgotten. This ingredient being:
    3. Have a common purpose and a sense of belonging. Are we all working on something that is personally important for each of us? Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters? And do we carry the same work ethics and values? If the work is important to us, we as a group fundamentally believe the work we’re doing matters, and we share the same purpose and carry the same work values, then little if anything will hold us back to participate in the collaboration. Therefore, as an individual, as a team, as an organisation we need to constantly share in conversation our genuine common purpose and stand by our work ethics and values, so as to enable every person, every team, every entity to plug in and collaborate for what wants to unfold collectively at a greater scale. This is something we follow at SOULWORX, and it is helping us find new team members, grow our wonderful partner-set as well as clients, and it has helped extend our community ‘Humans Of New Work’. I can not stress enough, it is never one individual, it is the genius of the Collective following a genuine purpose. I hope we’ll soon honor Collectives with a Nobel peace prize, who have done the most or the best work for companionship between entities, for the reduction of following only capitalist interests and for realising purposeful intentions. 

The Future of Work is Collaboration – within a team, across teams, or across entities small and large. In order to truly manifest Collaboration, and not just use the term for the sake of jumping on the New Work bandwagon, I do believe we all need to initiate the three above aspects. And once we do, teams and organisations will gain in my view more substantial innovation, increased team satisfaction, a more joyful and participative culture and performance-wise an increased bottom-line for the well-being of the organisation.

(This article has been written in English to surface the content to a wider audience. Julia von Winterfeldt is German and works foremost in Hamburg, Germany)