Information sharing is the lifeblood of many businesses today. “Sharing” implies a two-way exchange, and that’s really what business meetings are all about. Technology has had a huge and unpredictable impact on how we share information. Consider how collaboration software and technology has affected the corporate workspace.
Email alone not enough
For years, pundits have been saying that email is not just on the way out—it’s as good as dead. Yet it has proven to be remarkably resilient as a communication tool—an effective, if somewhat informal, way to get information out to a large number of people. But that’s not collaboration; that’s just telling. And getting input from a dozen others in a conversation stream and trying to keep track of every “Reply to All” response can be a heartbreaking waste of time. A more time-efficient method was needed for collaborative tasks.
Sometimes called collaborative or group software, these tools can help a team come together to accomplish a joint goal. Common access to documents, files, and various forms of media, with controlled editing rights, will help a team more effectively collaborate on the task at hand.
PC Mag defines collaborative software as “Software that allows people to work together on the same documents and projects over local and remote networks. IBM Notes (originally Lotus Notes) is considered the father of “groupware,” which was the first term coined to describe collaborative software. Also called “social software,” collaborative software embraces the communications systems as well, including instant messaging, chat, videoconferencing and email.”
Many of these tools are now ubiquitous in the business landscape. They help teams work on common projects, often unhindered by distance or time zones. They do more than just provide access; many are designed to assist in the actual process of problem solving. Many such programs can also help in project management functions, like managing deadlines, task assignments, and shared calendars.
Where to start?
Lifewire points out that simply taking on new collaboration software tools does not change things overnight. A culture of sharing information, along with a sensible analysis of an organisation’s workflow, will help to get the most from the tools.
Ultimately the goal of management will big gains in productivity, decision making, and innovation. Accenture suggests these three strategies:
1. Embed collaboration technologies within business processes
Collaboration tools should make it possible to do things in faster and better ways. If the tech can be embedded into the work methodology, team members will use them as a natural way to get the work done.
The results can be impressive. For example, by more readily sharing documents and quickly locating experts to answer questions, sales teams at GE Aviation were able to complete in minutes work that had previously taken more than a week.
The right collaborative software can guide teams through a standardised workplan, with pre-set roles, tasks and templates. Team members can then conduct discussions, share updates, review checklists or obtain approvals right from within the platform. Tagging, searching and messaging features make it easy to ask for help and locate documents.
2. Shape the collaborative behaviours that drive results
While the right technology is important, far more so is the drive from management to cultivate a will to collaborate in the team. Incentives may help.
For example, EMC Corp., a cloud-based computing company, turned collaborative participation into a game with awards. Employees win points for completing tasks, answering questions or doing other work on the social network. The result was a healthy 21 percent increase in total activity, encouraging behaviours that truly support desirable business outcomes.
3. Unleash the full power of enterprise talent
Effective collaboration technologies also prepare people for how they will need to work in the future. More and more companies work together with their vendors, outsourcers, partners and others toward a common goal. Teams from all the different parties must be able to collaborate effectively.
Some firms already hand off some tasks to workers outside the enterprise. Salesforce.com uses LiveOps’ “cloud contact center” to deliver global customer support services, with contractors who work from home and set their own hours. The platform tracks their performance and rewards good work with recognition, more work and higher pay.
The unstoppable advance of technology in business has to be harnessed to reap the rewards. When a business embraces collaboration software, communication at all levels will be easier, clearer, and more productive. It will allow communication at times and places that were previously not feasible. These tools will encourage diverse perspectives and expertise to come together, and coordinate group-based problem solving.