Collaboration in the New Normal

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Benjamin Hellman

Managing Director

Sharesuite GmbH

Benjamin Hellman

Managing Director

With increasing connectivity, collaborative tools are becoming more and more important for companies. The year 2020 has shown us that digital collaboration must work regardless of location. One comprehensive collaboration and project management software is sharesuite. We spoke with Benjamin Hellmann, managing partner at sharesuite GmbH, about this.

Currently, collaboration is more important than ever. Industries and companies have been virtually forced to integrate digitalisation as quickly as possible. What exactly does collaboration mean to you?

For me and our team, this means the opportunity to stay in touch in the digital world, no matter where we are and, especially, no matter where we are working from.

The market offers countless applications in this field. What are the top features that a collaboration software must offer in your opinion?

From my point of view, the most important thing is that it must be clear to everyone in the team or in the company at all times which tasks are to be completed, regardless of whether they are their own tasks, those of the team or those of a specific project.

Everyone must always be aware of the current status and should have an easy way to directly exchange information via the software. Despite the simple communication and distribution of tasks, the tool must also include more advanced topics. Otherwise, in my opinion, you run the risk of having numerous isolated solutions. This makes it easy for employees to lose track of everything and it is no longer clear where to find what. This not only saves time, but also makes daily work easier for employees. As a rule, these tools are only the means to an end in order to be able to achieve the actual goal of the company.

Sharesuite GmbH was founded in Hanover in 2009. Was that already the goal at that time or was there a vision?

In fact, the primary goal was to offer project management as a cloud-based solution; however, the ‘suite’ in the name was not chosen arbitrarily. We had the vision early on that it would be ideal if everything important for daily project work could be brought together into one tool. For almost every project there are different tasks, documents, discussions, contacts and much more, from acquisition to invoicing, which we have integrated into the software as individual modules. Especially the possibility to archive e-mails directly related to a project is currently attracting a lot of interest. Generally, only one employee has access to their mailbox, so the other project participants are left out and have no access to the individual e-mail histories. Thanks to our e-mail archiving, all necessary e-mails are collected and stored for the respective project, so that everyone is on the same level. Thus, no important e-mails are lost anymore.

Overall, we want to increase the productivity of the company and the individual with our product. Our claim is to have software that is intuitive and self-explanatory, and that it is also fun working with! We are constantly working on this goal and regularly exchange ideas with interested parties and customers about possible improvements, wishes or problems. Even after more than ten years, this is still an exciting task that continues to inspire me.

That sounds exciting! We’ve already talked about industry-independent modules, but collaboration means working together not only internally, but also externally. However, other companies don’t use the same software. To what extent does sharesuite help to successfully collaborate with each other here?

Sharesuite offers a shared data room. That means that external parties can get access to shared documents or files via invitations. Also seen was that our customers have co-acquired guest access for external ones, so that everything is centralised in sharesuite.

How important is collaboration in the workplace? What do you think contributes to a team functioning successfully and how do you foster teamwork at sharesuite?

The success of a company and projects depends to a very large extent on communication and teamwork and is, therefore, a very important factor. In my opinion, open communication is essential, especially as a manager, and the proverbial door (including the digital door) should always be open. A shared sense of WE is not only more fun, it also moves each individual and the entire company forward. Especially in the vastly changing world of work or the ‘new normal’, this has become even more important. The classic random conversation at the coffee machine is of course difficult to digitise, so it is important to give employees the tools to continue to communicate easily and quickly with each other. This should definitely be encouraged and is a decisive factor for the company’s success.

As a manager, is it difficult to trust that all employees will continue to be as productive from home as they are in the office?

Basically, I’m convinced that productivity has nothing to do with the location itself, but rather with the conditions being right for everyone. This also depends very much on the work and the individual themself. Our software allows us to work remotely, but I have to admit that until the beginning of last year, we only allowed working from home in exceptional cases. I think people are simply used to travelling to work and the topic of remote work is linked with some prejudices. However, it has quickly become clear that home office is something you can rely on, but you do not necessarily have to. For example, we coordinate the projects and tasks with the individual teams and employees who, in turn, record and exchange their information directly when something is going to be finished later than planned or, in general, what their current progress is. In this way, everyone, at any time, can see what the current status of the individual topics is; thus, it is completely irrelevant from where this is done.

Like many other companies, you decided and acted quickly last year and made remote work possible for everyone. Were there any difficulties and how quickly did the changeover go?

Of course, we had already managed a large part of our company via sharesuite for a long time and all information, such as current projects, tasks, emails invoices, processes (e.g. vacation approvals), in this way. Besides purchasing teams for virtual meetings, we did not have to do anything else. We made the decision in the morning to enable 100% remote work immediately—the next day, the office was already empty. Nothing has changed in this respect at the moment. The quick and successful changeover and the possibility of simply continuing to work ‘as normal’ makes us a little proud.

Would the current model with five days of remote work also be something of a permanent solution for you?

Even if the prerequisites for this are there and it works as the last year has shown, I think that this is a good solution, but I still don’t think it’s ideal for the long term, especially long-term collaboration. If a personal, stable team is to be created, there is no substitute for personal contact in the end. I have the impression that many people find these new opportunities exciting and positive, especially at the beginning, but after a while there is an increased desire to return to the office. I think that a flexible model with a good mix of remote work and in-office work is becoming established in many companies: this possibility has become increasingly important for companies to be attractive for applicants and employees. A flexible working model is one of these criteria. Therefore, it is important to provide employees with the appropriate working conditions and tools.

You talked about tools being given to employees. As we know, restructuring is often difficult to implement, especially in large companies. If a company decides to use sharesuite anyway, what is the onboarding process like? Have you personally been able to gain personnel experience in the last year?

I can confirm that, although even in large companies, more and more possibilities are emerging in terms of using different tools for specific individual projects or teams. This is not always a company-wide decision.

For this very reason, we started early to design sharesuite in such a way that it can be used in a relatively flexible way. For example, we have customers who initially only shared their To Do’s and tasks between employees. Subsequently, they have switched the entire project planning to us and are now writing their invoices through us. This flexibility was—and still is—very important to us, and of course, it makes it much easier to get started. The existing tools do not have to be replaced immediately.

However, the onboarding process does not end with the introduction of a new software itself, but every new employee must also familiarise themselves with the existing tools. For example, we have added new employees to various teams within the last year and were faced with the challenge of being able to train them without personal contact. I’m pleased that this went very smoothly and that a sense of belonging to the team even developed quickly as a result of working together—albeit, purely digitally.

Nonetheless, I am very much looking forward to working with each other again in person and to organise social events together. Here, we can talk about private matters away from work and get to know each other better, which still works best while drinking a beer. In the end, we all spend a lot of time together, and I think that’s part of it.

What is the best way to encourage organisations to collaborate? What is the added value of such a software solution?

I think many people have already realised that something needs to be done here, or at least that they are not yet optimally positioned. We also notice that many are motivated to look for a solution for their own company and want to be able to use the modern possibilities of collaboration on a daily basis. However, it is often the case that companies have a certain ‘fear’ of change, which means that important decisions are delayed for a long time. This is another reason why a large part of our daily work consists of making these barriers to entry as low as possible, although we are also very happy to talk directly and accompany the introduction.

That sounds great! I think a lot of companies need someone to take them by the hand. What do you think we can take away from the current situation for the future? What opportunities do you see for the future world of work?

Much more is possible than one often expects, and even rigid structures can be eased with the right tools. I’ve always been fascinated by the possibilities of digitisation and I think many people have been surprised by what is already possible and what opportunities there are, in general. Here you have noticed, both professionally and privately, how digital togetherness is becoming the ‘new normal’. We should build on this and continue to advance digitisation. We should not see it as a danger but as a huge opportunity because it enables a flexible working world that can bring enormous benefits, both for companies, and for everyone personally. In the end, we must not forget one thing: digital collaboration doesn’t work without people, and it’s important to bring everyone along and turn the ‘new normal’ into something positive for the future world of work!

Benjamin Hellmann
Managing Director Sharesuite