The word collaboration is so overused and overhyped in the enterprise circle that its meaning often gets diluted. Managers sometimes refer to social components such as chat, messaging and document sharing activities as collaboration. Sometimes even terms such as collaboration, cooperation and coordination are used interchangeably to explain ‘effective teamwork’. All these make enterprise collaboration a confused term. What’s more, this lack of knowledge also creates a barrier in creating powerful, collaborative workplaces.
A Salesforce research reported that as high as 96% of CEOs believe poor collaboration and communication as the primary causes of workplace failure and most of it occurred due to lack of clarity and confusion on the understanding of collaboration as a concept.
Then, what is collaboration, really?
According to a definition on Webopedia, enterprise collaboration is a communications system used by employees to collectively complete their tasks across departments within the enterprise. Enterprise collaboration combines a number of tools, Internet, extranets and other networks as needed to support enterprise-wide communications, such as sharing documents, enterprise email systems, videoconferencing, project management tools and others.
To simplify this, it can be said that collaboration is ‘working in support of a shared vision with the help of people, tools and processes to solve a problem or create something new.’ The key points are that it is not through individual effort, but through shared goals that the problem can be solved or the innovation can happen.
In that sense, as an organization grows, collaboration becomes more mission critical. Several research showed that organizations with high collaboration maturity achieve better outcomes in the areas of employee productivity, enhanced customer experience and accelerated innovation.
Why email fails as a collaborative tool?
All said and done, business leaders – until recently – thought email can serve most of the collaboration challenges within the organization. While there is little doubt that email continued to be a powerful communication tool, in the age of collaboration, experts have often termed it as a productivity killer.
Several cases highlight that time spent on email can reduce productivity. As a result, French Company Atos removed email altogether from its 74,000+ team and improved productivity in no time. Also, too often information gets lost in email because of forwarding, CC’s and BCC’s and the long email threads that follow. The right message may not reach the right person, thereby leading to confusion and mistakes.
In this context, a McKinsey report noted, time spent on email can be cut by 25%-30% by introducing social networking communications platform for easy access and sharing. This can help prevent information silos and decreased productivity through disengaged employees.
Enter collaboration tools, but are these enough?
The answer to the problem of employee engagement can be undeniably solved by using of collaboration tools that would enable employees to collaborate in improved and innovative ways. However,it has been observed that several collaboration tools that claim to solve the problems with employee engagement, ultimately failed in addressing workplace collaboration.
These tools fail to recognize the fact that different companies collaborate differently, and a particular method of collaboration isn’t necessarily better than the other. Yammer allows users to collaborate via ESN (Enterprise Social Network), while Slack believes the best way to facilitate teamwork among employees is through chatting. Both have valid arguments for their claims but fact remains that the total collaboration package should be a blend of both, along with CRM, intranet, and a host of other tools.
A mid-sized media house in Singapore with offices in the US and India felt that as conversations in Slack happens on a one-way conveyor belt, their team was going crazy as they had to stay constantly connected to keep up with the communication. “This became a challenge for a remote-based company like ours, as team collaboration was problematic, and it wasn’t helping us focus on the hard work that really moves projects forward,” the project head said.
The CEO of a small retail firm explained the disorganized nature of these collaboration tools. He said, with multiple, simultaneous conversations happening inside a single Slack channel, we began losing track of things. Ideas were proposed, discussed for a bit, and lost. As a result, the same questions and issues were often brought up multiple times, leading to zero results.
Studies also showed users reported that tools such as Slack and Yammer were troublesome for big-picture discussions and some felt these was slowing down their computers.
Furthermore, most collaboration tools only focused on collaboration between humans. In a world where computers and bots have taken over virtually every task, this is indeed worrying. Experts noted, the ideal collaboration software would be robust and provide room for machine-people collaboration.
With these current limitations of collaboration software tools, we see that none of these tools canoffer big data value to the business beyond the obvious instant messaging and coordination functions. It is little surprise then that theinvaluable data relationship between humans, data and the applications remain a big gap in the enterprise collaboration today.
The way forward
Collaboration remains a confusing term to most business leaders; Even if they use some kind of collaboration tools, they continue to seek the real solution to their problems. The need to collaborate ‘real time’ to solve critical business problems and also to have a collaboration tool that will solve almost all the above mentioned problems. For example, by building corporate intelligence through smarter engagement, experts at Giggso, a US-based collaboration company, are addressing the vital components of collaboration by offering a 360 degree view to contextual and relevant information across applications.
Ravi Venugopal, CEO and founder at Giggso explained, a key challenge for most organizations is that – the huge amount of data generated continues to remain in silos. “There is little cross-referencing or integration among the varying data sets. Giggso’s intuitive integrated enterprise platform with social intelligence features allows search content across apps and messaging platforms, thereby offering greater accountability and smart engagement. This not only ensures information continuity and workflow automation, but also allows inter-application dependencies when it comes to information sharing,” he added.
These tools should also have rich features such as usage tracking and metrics for ROI analysis. Experts believe that collaboration works best when all members on the team get engaged in a project and through ‘shared vision’ deliver the desired outcome ensuring workplace productivity and efficiency