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Collaborate to build organisational resilience

2020 was a year that created immense pressure on organisations as they rapidly adjusted to critical workforce health and safety changes, radical shifts in consumer behaviour, new service delivery models, remote working and supply chain disruption. Facing into all of these changes concurrently was incredibly challenging and we heard a lot of rhetoric that we would start to step into a “new normal”. While this sentiment provides hope for stability, we know that hope is not a strategy. 2021 has already shown us that there is no “new normal”. We must find a way to build resilience and thrive in the face of continued turbulence and change.

Deloitte’s Global fourth annual readiness report “Building The Resilient Organization: 2021 Deloitte Global Resilience Report”1 explored how organisations coped with the tumultuous events of 2020 and identified the traits that characterize a resilient organisation.

The report found that businesses that enable and promote nimble strategies, adaptive cultures, and effective use of advanced technologies can bounce back from unexpected challenges. These organisations are typically prepared, adaptable, collaborative, trustworthy, and responsible.

The challenge many organisations now face is that they are still using remote or hybrid work models that were created at the height of the pandemic in response to an immediate need. These work models were created to address a specific and urgent needs at a moment in time - often without careful consideration and design. We are now seeing the challenges that these models present and how they can help or hinder the organisation’s ability to be deeply collaborative.

There is a sense of missing out on the ‘sparks’ that come from in-office collaboration moments such as serendipitously bumping into colleagues, the collective energy of creatively brainstorming, and an intimate knowledge of the team by simply walking the floors. In these scenarios, a pre pandemic notion of collaboration has been applied to a Zoom enabled remote and hybrid work model. This has resulted in fatigue, isolation and compromised mental health and wellbeing.

While we have experienced gains in productivity from working from home, there is also nostalgia for the connections we create in person, and the long-term wellbeing gains that come from physical human interactions. Many organisations are struggling to unpick the activities that are better performed in person and those that work better in a virtual environment. Black and white statements fall short of capturing the nuance and careful design required to create an inclusive, productive, healthy and collaborative hybrid work experience.

So how do you build a collaborative organisation using a remote or hybrid working model?


GitLab is the world’s largest all-remote workforce with 1,200+ employees across 67 countries that has put effortless collaboration at the heart of the organisation. They believe remote working and clearly defined collaboration ways of working delivers unique operational efficiencies including a more balanced payroll; no owned/leased office space; a broader pool of job applicants (over 3000 a week); and high employee retention of 85% per year.

Collaboration is critical for optimal decision making, aligned implementation of business strategy and business efficiencies.

“Collaboration is important in decision-making and communication: When people work together, more perspectives can be surfaced in the decision-making process, and information can be disseminated more quickly…(and) collaboration can help an organization marshal resources from different areas to provide business continuity.” 

Building a collaborative organisation

To understand how to build a collaborative organisation you need to understand why people don’t collaborate. The greatest barriers to collaboration are: lack of psychological safety, lack of skills, lack of trust, lack of vulnerability, leadership role modelling, concentration of power and poor/no technology solutions.

Several of these antecedents of collaboration (vulnerability, trust, psychological safety) are inherent in face to face moments and can be more easily built and sustained when we are physically together. It’s not that innovations happen at the water cooler, but that psychological safety and vulnerability comes from those small moments when we have idle chat about our days, lives and work that build intimacy and trust. Elements that are essential for collaboration.  All these elements can be created in a virtual or hybrid work experience, but they need to be designed. We cannot rely on serendipity as much as we have in the past – we need to design for it.

Leadership, technology and carefully curated collaboration moments are critical design elements for future work models that are resilient and adaptable. Indeed, organisations that proactively collaborate leveraging cloud-based platforms and disciplined data sharing experience four times the revenue growth of peers.4 And organisations with a dynamic and self-directed culture are 56% more likely to get their products to market first.

Deloitte analysis has found that since the onset of COVID-19 lockdowns globally, over 75% of office workers have used at least two new types of technology to collaborate for work purposes. A case study example can be seen through the World Health Organisation, who have used ‘Workplace’ from Facebook (a Deloitte alliance partner) to provide press briefings, share resources, and create an online collaborative platform for its staff located across the globe.4

Globally, organisations across the world have been embedding collaborative work practices into their work models. Key examples are:

Nestle runs a “collaborating for positive impact” program for Creating Shared Value (CSV) to open up internal collaborative work methods and external partnerships with multilateral agencies, governments, academia, NGOs and industry bodies. Nestle has coupled this with agile work methods to recognise and kill bad ideas fast, collaborate efficiently with cross-functional teams and achieve faster time to market.

American Express established ‘BlueWork’, a workplace strategy for its 63,000 employees around a set of flexible working principles and collaboration across work styles. There are four work styles; home, roam, club and hub, and employees are grouped into one and follow guidelines set for each.  This has delivered better utilisation of existing real estate footprints, directly translating onto P&Ls and an increase in retention and reported productivity.

The first is to recognise that hope and “wait and see” are not strategies. Similarly, black and white “all physical” or “all digital” statements while enticingly simplistic don’t unlock the value and resilience that comes with integrated and future facing work models. Models that employees want, and that have enabled many ‘born digital’ organisations to thrive.

The first step is to look at design principles linked to the organisation’s strategy and purpose. How does each principle help drive business outcomes, talent attraction and reinforce the organisation’s strategy? If you play out each principle in the extreme as an incisive guide to make decisions, what are the benefits and risks of each option? How will the benefits be unlocked and how do we mitigate the risks with new rituals, ways of working and supporting technology?

The future of collaboration requires curated connections, supporting technology and a raft of new rituals. Resilience, adaptability and collaboration are underpinned by disciplined practices that are well designed. It’s time for organisations to carefully design, experiment and evolve these new disciplines to thrive now, and into the ever changing future.

  • Collaboration is a critical enabler to build organisational resilience
  • .Pre-pandemic modes of collaboration cannot be easily applied to a remote or hybrid work construct and must be carefully designed.
  • Technology is a key enabler of collaboration but must be supported by an adaptive culture with well-defined and disciplined ways of working and rituals.

1. “Building The Resilient Organization: 2021 Deloitte Global Resilience Report”

2. “The collaborative economy” Deloitte Access Economics for Google (2014)

3. “Together makes better” Into the new.  Accenture (2020)

4. Williams, R., 1995, “Self-Directed Work Teams: A Competitive Advantage”5. Deloitte, Rupert Darbyshire, 2020, “The future of collaboration technology is now.”