Is your association relying on the wrong tools to help staff collaborate? Possibly, but the first question you should ask isn’t whether there’s a better option. Instead, find out why your current tools are losing out to email and phone calls.
Let’s face it: We live in an era when 9-to-5 doesn’t cover your on-the-job collaboration needs.
Your employees may not work in the office part of the time. You may find yourself on the road more often than not. And you may be the big decision-maker on some major projects, no matter your current location.
Despite all this, many organizations stick with old and staid ways of collaborating—or, at least, their employees do. A recent report by Technalysis Research [PDF] found that nearly two-thirds of business communication—whether with coworkers or people outside the organization—happens via email or phone. Add texting to the mix, and it’s around three-quarters.
And those cool tools like Slack or Box? Rarely used in many offices. The report found that emailing documents remained the most popular way of collaborating with coworkers, at 35 percent, while 19 percent of respondents don’t collaborate digitally with outside contacts at all.
When you’re trying to improve collaboration, don’t start with the tools—instead, focus on the problems you’re trying to solve.
Bob O’Donnell, the author of the report, noted on Recode that the problem comes down to habit.
“The key takeaway is that both technologies and habits rooted in the 20th century are keeping the 21st-century vision of the modern workplace from becoming reality,” O’Donnell wrote.
Plenty of offices, obviously, have pulled off the magic of collaboration, but plenty more have failed. Why is that? It’s often because the people supplying the tool don’t understand the needs of the people using it.
In other words, forcing a tool onto employees is a great way to ensure they never use it, as POPin Chief Marketing Officer Brian T. Anderson noted in a recent Entrepreneur op-ed.
“People willingly choose to use new systems when they can achieve actual benefits from them. On the other hand, people forced to collaborate against their will often resist the process until it becomes counterproductive,” Anderson wrote. “For this reason, the most effective organizations measure the success of new collaboration tools based on staff adoption.”
When you’re trying to improve communication and collaboration organization-wide, don’t start with the tools—instead, focus on the problems you’re trying to solve.
What could be preventing collaboration on your team? A few pain points that might be bugging you:
Poor content management. According to a recent report by Intralinks and the Cloud Security Alliance, four in five of the IT and security professionals surveyed were still using traditional file folders to share content. “When it comes to collaboration, the first step is to take a hard look at how data is currently managed, stored, and shared,” the report states. “It appears that many businesses still have a long way to go before they are ready for digital transformation on that front.” This creates problems with silos and data management within the organization.
Tools that don’t communicate with one another. Last year, I predicted that 2016 would be the breakthrough year of the application programming interface, or API. It hasn’t broken through to the point where it should, but it’s making plenty of progress, and collaboration tools like Slack are helping to make the case. (Also helping: mainstream voice-driven products like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Those rely on APIs, too.) If you’re trying to complete a task, you shouldn’t have to load up three apps to push it through: If you’re filling out a form, for example, you should only have to load up one app, and the data in that app should propagate throughout all the systems that need that data. If you don’t have that capability, you’re wasting a whole lot of time.
Collaboration for the sake of collaboration. But what if your problem is more fundamental? What if your organization is forcing collaboration into places where it doesn’t need to go—say, calling an hourlong meeting for something that could be dealt with through a short chat? What if you’re putting people into groups when they work better individually? And what if they’re doing so without a goal? That’s a risk that Deb Lavoy, the founder and CEO of Narrative Builders, recently pointed out to CMSWire. “Groups of people matrixed into endless ‘collaborative’ work teams, each beholden to a different manager with a different agenda, is not collaboration, it is muck,” she wrote last year. “People working together must share a mission that they are working toward.”
As I wrote back in 2015, the concept of “shadow IT” frustrates many IT departments. But it’s not because your employees are flouting protocol or security. More likely, the problem is that your organization’s collaboration offerings aren’t cutting it, either because your employees feel limited by those tools or are resistant to change.
That’s a problem that, for IT departments, along with the rest of the organization, requires some soul-searching.