A recent study by Gallup revealed that 85 percent of employees worldwide are not engaged at work. In the U.S., 65 percent are disengaged. Top-line contributions from innovation and bottom-line contributions from potential efficiency gains are at risk when a company lacks an engaged workforce.

In contrast, those companies that deliver a great employee experience are twice as innovative as those that don’t, and have 25 percent greater profitability, according to 2017 MIT Sloan Center research.

Importantly, such companies also provide higher levels of customer satisfaction. If to work essentially means to create value, then corporate productivity is a measure of employees coming together to create that value for customers. Especially today, “coming together” through technology is more important than ever.

Businesses need significant input and effort from a diverse array of contributors to have a well-oiled innovation engine. With the wealth of information readily available, and the ability to immediately connect with each other, innovation has become cross-regional, cross-cultural and cross-organizational.

When we think of those who are best at collaboration, we think about people who are open, passionate and experienced. They also have a sense of collective responsibility. They apply their experience, knowledge and mix of skills toward achieving a mutually desired outcome, whether that is driving innovation or driving out inefficiencies across organizational siloes and roles.

Obstacles to effective collaboration

But our collaborative processes are not designed to create innovation nor weed out inefficiencies in a timely way.

Anything that doesn’t create value is a drag on the company, but we get caught up in things where very little value is created or delivered. We love meetings, for example, and naively think that having a flood of meetings creates value. In fact, being overbooked becomes a sign of prestige! Yet, it’s almost impossible to be productive — that is, produce value — when you’re always in meetings.  Think about how many hours you spend in meetings each week, and how many are back to back, especially these days. Since we’re never away, we’re “available” for overbooking. Yet, we need breathing room to be productive, and especially to be innovative.

Sometimes our energy is completely spent just trying to identify the right people for a “pop up” project team, only to discover a lack of attention, trust and alignment within the group. This lack of true engagement is the most common barrier to productive collaboration.

So, how do we rethink collaboration for efficiency and innovation?

Unpacking collaboration

We must minimize the time that team members spend in meetings about work, and maximize the time and ability to engage collaboratively to create the company’s core value — that is, work. In most business meetings teams exchange information, discuss issues or make decisions. In contrast, whether to create something new or weed out the extraneous, the purpose of collaboration is to get stuff done, together.

Collaboration platforms can help teams share work components, make immediate decisions and design/build faster on a myriad of devices from wherever each person happens to be. These platforms enable global team members to tap into each other’s work, both in real time and “following the sun,” so that everybody can pull in the same direction.

New collaboration tools working their way into the mainstream include virtual assistants, auto transcription, machine learning, sensors and voice processing, and even augmented reality. Such technologies enable team members to engage more richly and efficiently with their peers and thereby focus more on value creation than on administration and logistics.

We are at the precipice of a major technological revolution. A more engaged workforce, accelerated connectivity and cognitive tools are ready to change our work environment, regardless of the unexpected places work is getting done today. Technology must enable companies to get the best out of people and enable people to get the best out of the company experience. It must bring people together, virtually. The workplace of the future is all around us, literally, and organizations need to redefine how value gets created. Collaboration tools can enable full opportunistic engagement to drive both efficiency and innovation, which means growth.