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The increase of globalization, access to digital technologies, and decentralization of knowledge, has greatly influenced the shape of the current workforce. One cluster in particular – the remote workforce – has exploded, growing by 159% since 2005, more than 11x faster than the rest of the workforce. Switzerland-based serviced office provider IWG found in their survey of 18,000 business professionals across 96 international companies, that 70 percent of professionals work remotely at least one day a week and 53 percent work remotely for at least half of the week. The response from organizations has been swift. Social collaboration and communication platforms have steadily risen in value and importance, making them one of the most important investments for CEOs in recent years.

According to a study by McKinsey, eighty-five percent of all respondents say their companies use social technologies for internal purposes – up from 49 percent in 2015. Digital collaboration tools are no longer just for sharing files and setting up meetings, they are now the hub of innovation, community, productivity, and data sharing.

Scientific research has found that a defining aspect of human society is that people want to work together toward common ends. This innate motivation is quite strong. A Stanford study found that the mere perception of coworkers collaborating increases intrinsic motivation on individual tasks. It makes sense then that according to research out of Queens University of Charlotte, 73% of employers rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important”. When employees are able to perform together as a team, it can positively impact culture and the bottom line. It’s likely why collaboration is not just a buzzword but a necessary strategic priority for managers.

In firms around the world, people are doing virtually everything – virtually. From grabbing lunch over web-conferencing, or editing a document simultaneously in Hong Kong, Toronto, and Paris, or supporting well-being and mental health; collaboration tools are integrated into all areas of both work and life. Possibly most important of all, communication platforms have transformed how and where culture lives inside an organization. This is a powerful shift, and with the right governance and intention, social collaboration tools can support a healthy, happy, and high-performing culture. Managers take note; technology that is so integrated into the everyday life of an employee shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Research from the workplace chapter of the UN Global Happiness Council revealed that people will take 37% less pay if they feel meaning in their roles – a signal that passion over perks is the strongest motivator. Collaboration platforms can drive passion and purpose if leadership consistently reinforce mission-driven goals, advance well-being strategies, nurture friendship building, and support transparency when leveraging this communication tool. This mode of communication is particularly helpful when change is imminent. This way leaders can be proactively managing the impact of shift, before it hits.

Another real benefit of these virtual hubs is the ability for managers to monitor for signs of burnout and stress-related language – and watching for employees who are “always on”. Most managers aren’t aware that high performers are more prone to burnout than staff who are disengaged – which is a massive blind spot for most leaders. Supporting well-being has never been easy, as signs of burnout are tough to detect. Managers need to work much further upstream to protect their most highly-engaged people from burnout – a rapidly growing health threat also impacting remote employees.

Collaboration tools are now trying to tackle this risk by incorporating data and personal analytics to generate individual self-awareness right inside an employees’ workflow. One example is Teams, a Microsoft innovation, that leverages AI to help employees better understand their state of well-being. The MyAnalytics Wellbeing page shows Teams members how well they are disconnecting from work during their time off and suggest ways to reduce stress and burnout. Here employees can monitor analytics like their “after-hour” load with guidance on ways to reduce overworking if the data finds signs that is the case. They are made aware if they aren’t taking enough quiet days, when the out-of-office should be turned on, and/or when to turn off notifications. If employees are ignoring their well-being, employees are counseled to seek out readily available programs and suggestions, so they change their current work patterns to improve work-life balance.

Digital collaboration and communication tools have taken root and they are here to stay. If managed in a healthy and holistic way, these platforms can strongly influence the happiness and healthiness of the employees who engage with them. Managers should consider these digital spaces as happiness hubs – where the culture and mission live virtually, and well-being is a first priority. If leaders leverage their platforms in this way, they will realize an incredible opportunity – scaling optimism. As all good leaders know, a thriving culture is the holy grail to the most innovative, engaged, productive, and successful organizations.

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