Expert interview

Smart working needs to be learned

Everybody wants to be clever. Some companies do a better job, while others simply can’t get the smart solutions to work despite their best efforts. In a video interview, Bruno Messmer explains what makes the difference.

Claudia Bardola

Playgrounds, the atmosphere of a flat share, table football and free food in every lounge corner – modern office landscapes make it clear how desperately companies want their employees to collaborate creatively. “More and more knowledge is available at the companies. However, at the same time it is becoming increasingly difficult to find and bring together the expertise that is distributed across the individual departments and employees,” Bruno Messmer summarises the dilemma that is blocking many companies today. The head of workspace and collaboration activities at Swisscom has been addressing the framework conditions and effects of information and communication technology for more than 20 years. In this time, many methods were tried to break open the organisational and thought structures – and it is well known that one can learn from mistakes.


No collaboration without culture

The fundamental challenge to collaboration: all elements need to fit together. “It’s like the iPhone,” cites Messmer by way of comparison. “Steve Jobs certainly put in an extraordinary amount of work, but without 3G networks, high resolution touchscreens, energy-saving processors and a generation that was already bound to their mobile phones through text messages the Apple smartphone would have remained just another attempt.”


In order to work smartly, a technological infrastructure is required that simply works in every situation. The organisational structure needs to allow the employees the freedom to decide for themselves where and how they approach a specific task. The teams need rooms that support creativity and the exchange of ideas. “But the most important thing is surely the culture,” emphasises Messmer. “Creative discussions and the willingness to share knowledge don’t just happen by themselves.” For this, established routines and thought patterns need to be split open, working from the top and bottom at the same time, in a kind of pincer movement.


Youngsters demonstrate, managers follow

“Companies where the management levels have assistants do everything have it twice as hard, ” Messmer speaks from experience. The management should not simply preach about collaboration from above, but also use the technology itself when communicating with employees. However, even more important is the foundation. Youngsters play a decisive role here. The digital natives are extremely familiar with the modern technology from their training and private lives. They are the natural collaboration evangelists in companies.

«Companies where the management levels have assistants do everything have it twice as hard.»

But for the culture change from below to work, the Human Resources Department needs to join in. One component that, according to Messmer, is often neglected: “The ability to work in a team and openness to modern communication technologies need to be made a priority both for recruitment and employee appraisals.” Those who choose new employees based solely on functional criteria should not be surprised if the teamwork does not run smoothly.


Power users arouse envy and resentment

On the technological side, development is now greatly advanced. “For two years now the individual components have been interacting seamlessly and operation has become easy and largely self-explanatory thanks to the example of Dropbox and co.,” says the collaboration expert. By contrast, there is learning potential on the implementation side: “For example, practice shows that it is better not to start with a small group of power users. This leads to envy and resentment, thus blocking the further distribution.” In addition, in small groups the positive networking effects do not bear fruit. It’s like Facebook – the more people who are involved, the more interesting it becomes for each individual.

Start now

A short guide to smart working, individually designed workshops, best practice examples, studies: you will find inspiration here to help establish a contemporary work culture in your company.

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Dr. Bruno T. Messmer

Since his doctoral thesis, the person responsible for Swisscom Enterprise’s Workspace & Collaboration portfolio Swisscom Enterprise has been working in the area of artificial intelligence with the influence of digitalisation on business and society. To relax, he plunges into the sea or immerses himself in TV series such as “House of Cards” or “Breaking Bad”.

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