Growing your business: the power of the network

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The way people work has changed dramatically in recent years and for many this change has added huge amounts of pressure on traditional working structures and practices.

Running a successful business and having ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ is no longer only about developing an innovative product that people want. It’s also about creating a dynamic culture, where employees can thrive, be productive and create amazing things they’re proud of.

Transforming your culture

Technology has played a major role in transforming company culture and disrupting work as we know it. The traditions of working nine to five are fading fast. With the need to work outside of the office and are tired of old, restrictive IT systems, employees have turned to their own personal devices and new simple-to-use services to get their work done, from anywhere.

An example of this is a recent project called No Man’s Land. In October 2015, researchers at Royal Holloway and the University of Durham embarked on a 6,000 mile, five-week expedition around Europe, Africa and the Middle East to chart some of the last truly unclaimed spaces on earth. One of the challenges they faced when planning the expedition was finding a way to store large amounts of data - photographs, videos, sound recordings and documents collected along their route.

It wasn't just about data storage. The team wanted an easy to use solution that would give people insights into the work they were doing in the field, an almost real-time experience of voices and sights encountered. They also wanted to be able to invite people around the world to contribute to the project online. Dropbox Business became that central collaboration platform for them, letting them share incredible insights with their teams and access critical information from the deepest, darkest parts of the world.

Even in my own office, the realities of flexible working are having an impact. A number of my team work on the move while meeting with customers and visiting other Dropbox offices around the world.

We also have a flexible working policy so people can work from home when they need to. It’s my experience that flexible working makes for a happier and more productive workforce, but it also means we’re set up to work outside of the traditional office environment.

Digital transformation of work

From the education and public sector to retail and creative industries, the rise of tech-savvy employees is evident and has contributed to the digital transformation of work that we see today. The power of digital networks has led many to invest in building relationships and connections via social media platforms and has seen collaborative technologies become vehicles for dynamic teamwork. This new way of working has made things like being able to connect and share information with others absolutely vital, no matter where you are, or what size your organisation is. As a result, the speed in which you share and connect with others has become critical to modern business.

Peter Hinssen, thought leader and author of The Network Always Wins, writes: “Networks are flat and hyper-connected environments. That makes them fast. Those still using traditional hierarchical structures lose out on the power of the network because their org chart obsession makes them terribly slow and rather blind to change.”

To embrace the concept of a ‘network’, Peter believes that information must flow freely and fast through the company, a major challenge for organisations with legacy systems and silos of information.

The challenge for businesses now is understanding how they can tap into the power of these collaborative networks, which are already loved and adopted by their employees.

One of the most common silos is email, which has become the hub for everything that happens in the workplace. It’s simple, pervasive, and incredibly flexible. It’s used as a to-do list, file system, discussion board, notification channel, and many other things. The problem is that email was never designed to do any of these well, so the result is an experience full of compromises and inefficiencies. For example, the typical person spends 30% of their day battling disorganised inboxes and context-switching between completely unrelated messages.

Everyone knows all too well the pains of a clogged inbox. I am a fan of anything that keeps the volume of messages to a minimum. My team uses a Whatsapp group to ping each other quick messages when needed, and we try to make changes to documents in the cloud rather than adding to growing email chains.

These examples really highlight how collaborative cloud technology is helping to break down silos such as email by creating a central place where people can easily access, share and collaborate on work.

The year ahead

2016 is a tipping point for collaborative cloud technology as business leaders acknowledge the blurring of the lines between consumer and professional, and begin to accept that the products most loved by employees in their personal lives are often the best solutions for business. 

Of course, there are many benefits to having a product that is familiar and already highly adopted by your employees and the external teams they work with. Being able to access information and collaborate with others easily, from any device, means that today employees can be more productive no matter where they’re working from.

Popular, collaborative technology also provides businesses and its employees with access to a network of knowledge across the whole organisation. Being able to harness this expertise is highly beneficial and will prove an invaluable resource as a company grows and its teams become more dispersed. In simplifying the way people work and equipping them with the knowledge they need, businesses can expect to see greater creativity from their employees, which is something that is advantageous in a marketplace where companies battle to differentiate themselves.

The challenge for businesses now is understanding how they can tap into the power of these collaborative networks, which are already loved and adopted by their employees.

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