For the past two years, we’ve talked a lot about The New Normal and how this will look. We are now supposedly well into this new workplace reality, and it’s still a blur for the most part. With The Great Resignation forcing companies to look for employees wherever they can find them and with hybrid work becoming the norm, it seems like preventing working in silos is nearly impossible.
The paradox is that the sudden move to remote work, followed by today’s hybrid model, led to amazing innovations in communication and collaboration tools. Platforms we hadn’t heard of before 2020 are now part of our daily work lives and make working with others straightforward. So, what exactly is happening, and how can companies prevent employees from working in silos?
What does working in silos mean?
The characteristic of agricultural silos that made them such a powerful metaphor for lack of flexibility and collaboration is that they are enclosed spaces. Organizations that have a silo mentality show little propensity towards innovation. Individuals and teams work in fragmented groups, often failing to communicate and collaborate properly with colleagues who are not close to them.
To some extent, it’s normal to have people work closer together when they handle the same projects or have similar qualifications and skills. However, it’s a real problem when this excludes all others, leading to poor resource management and underwhelming results. When there’s the question of working in silos versus collaboration, the latter is the only real option for progress and innovation.
Is the hybrid workforce conducive to working in silos?
At first glance, we’d be tempted to say no. After all, the switch to a hybrid setting has boosted the use of collaboration platforms and leveled the ground for employees. That’s only partially true. Employees who prefer working remotely may find it hard to connect with colleagues or have their opinions heard by managers. Those who go into the office can have face-to-face conversations and collaborate easier when obstacles emerge, sometimes forgetting to include their remote teammates in the decision-making process. This only leads to frustration and an even more significant disconnect. It takes an active effort to stop working in silos and gear towards collaboration and innovation.
What types of workplace silos are there?
Workplace silos didn’t appear because of the shift towards hybrid work. They already were a problem in the corporate world when the pandemic hit, and HR departments were doing their best to mitigate silo work and mentality. There are several types of workplace silos that everyone should be aware of:
- Geographical silos – when companies have team members scattered through various areas. The time zone differences make it harder to collaborate;
- Departmental silos – employees are focused solely on their internal tasks and don’t collaborate well with other departments, even if the project cannot be completed otherwise.
- Hierarchical silos – appear when there are workplace communication problems. These are especially dangerous in climates like the one we have today – where there’s a generalized worry about the future.
What leads to workplace silos?
People naturally tend to get along and work better with those who are like them. Common cultural backgrounds, skills, and geographically restricted preferences (such as rooting for the same sports teams) make it easier for employees to connect. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they will be reluctant to welcome new people into their teams. It’s all a matter of company culture. Diversity needs to be a top priority, and not only on paper. Many companies have Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs, and a great majority of employers (95%) and employees (83%) say that they work. However, the consensus is that there is still a long way to go.
Furthermore, how companies communicate, internally and externally, sets the tone for how employees approach communication. Lack of organizational transparency and the absence of feedback channels are essential factors that lead to the creation of a silo mentality.
What can companies do to mitigate workplace silos?
The first step is to become aware of them and analyze the factors that led to their existence. Given the natural human propensity towards the familiar, asking employees to avoid workplace silos won’t work. You’ll need well-planned strategies and the grit to follow through on them even when other issues seem like they should take precedence over everything else.
It’s essential to foster a culture of collaboration and communication, starting from the very top of the company. How leaders act on this will set the tone. When it comes to hybrid teams, they need to have specific guidelines for collaboration. Setting the right expectations from the start and measuring the desired behaviors and contributions is essential.
Is technology your ally or your enemy when it comes to workplace silos?
It can be both. You can’t make a hybrid workplace (or a regular one, for that matter) function without technology. Your company likely already has an infrastructure of digital collaboration tools. However, while these are generally very good and offer everyone equal opportunities to collaborate, not all employees are equally comfortable using them. It’s essential to provide appropriate training and ensure everyone is sufficiently tech-savvy to make the most of the platforms and tools.
And since we are on the subject of learning, your corporate learning platform is the first line of defense against workplace silos. The best choice is an Intelligent Learning Platform (ILP) as not only does it boost collaboration but also helps hybrid teams to be more productive.
Learning is a sure way towards innovation and breaking away from a silo mindset. An ILP will help employees improve their skills while providing ample opportunities for interaction and collaboration with colleagues. For example, employees with the same learning goals can ask questions about the training content and support each other. It is also a space for coaching and effective mentorship programs.
Avoiding working in silos
Workplace silos have been a part of the workplace before it became hybrid, and current circumstances may also lead to their formation. However, working in silos can be avoided. It takes awareness about what they are and how they appear and an ongoing effort from leaders and HR professionals to create a culture of communication and equity.
Most importantly, it takes the right technology and the support to use it to its full potential. With everything going on now in the business world, it’s easy to overlook intangible aspects such as mentality. Yet companies who want to stay competitive must foster innovation, so they must stop working in silos and focus on collaboration.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.