Collaboration is essential in today’s global marketplace, for businesses of all sizes. Mastering the art of collaboration using technology not only provides fantastic opportunities for innovation and creative problem solving within an organization, it also serves up a competitive business advantage in terms of what highly productive teams are able to accomplish. If you’re one of the many companies exploring collaboration solutions, here are four best practices to think about as you evaluate solutions and think about integrating them into your business operations.
The Beginning: Platform Choice
The number and types of collaboration technologies have exploded in recent years. There’s pretty much something for everyone, and a solution for every budget. Whether it’s Slack, Basecamp, HipChat, Spark, Box, Asana, or Microsoft Teams—or one of a host of others—there is certainly no shortage of choices. Many applications, although useful in facilitating communication, are limited by offering a single function, or aren’t compatible with other systems also utilized by the organization. Whether chat, calling, video conferencing, multi-author editing, or project management, most approaches to collaboration in the workplace require the use of multiple platforms.
There are a growing number of comprehensive collaboration tools on the market that include multiple ways in which teams can work together rather than keeping tasks in siloes. Instead of using separate tools, today’s collaboration platforms often have open APIs which allow for integration of tasks, and we’re seeing the integration of cloud-based platforms like project management tools, or the ability to create custom integrations like messenger bots or help ticket monitoring.
The beauty of the recently launched Microsoft Teams that our team has recently been experimenting with is that it was developed to create a hub for teamwork. With the proliferation of Windows software through the business world in companies large and small, it’s a no-brainer to opt for Teams as a collaboration solution, as it puts the power of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, One Note, Power BI, and Delve at your team’s veritable fingertips, backed by the power of Microsoft Graph. This integration of the variety of platforms any individual, group, or team, might use or need on a daily basis to communicate by chat, voice, or video, collaborate, and create, all inside one super powered hub makes a big difference when it comes to productivity.
We’ll be seeing more of this—the concept of a centralized hub for business communications. In 2017, collaboration ecosystems will increasingly free work processes from closed apps. This increased efficiency and productivity will facilitate the growth of creative problem solving and enhance productivity. Choosing the platform best suited for your needs is an important first step.
The Importance of Platform Integration—and Adoption
Collaboration can only support innovation in the workplace if employees use the tools available to them. Senior management can waste time and money, as well as limit productivity, by adopting tools without team input. The future of work is a collaboration workplace where technologies are evaluated through a bottoms-up, usage view instead of a top-down, cost metric.
Rather than the old model of a single department head picking a tool based on pricing and a table of features, the trend is for companies to make use of free trials and test a range of choices to find the option best suited for them. Although it might require a bigger investment of time initially, by integrating collaboration tools into work processes versus trying to force work processes to accommodate tools, companies can maximize efficiency and productivity and save time and money in the long run.
Soliciting end user feedback in those early stages is important, and ultimately selecting a collaboration platform that gets great reviews from a beta testing team sets companies up for success as it relates to adoption. Tools and technology is great, but buying them is only the first step—user adoption is ultimately what you’re looking for. Involving your team in the selection process can help ensure success on that front.
Adapting to the Bring Your Own Software (BYOS) Trend
Several workplace trends are leading to the rise of employees utilizing their own software tools in addition to ones implemented enterprise-wide. Workers are increasingly remote, mobile, and using their own devices. Thus, they are adopting a wide variety of technologies to communicate and collaborate with coworkers. Although this approach can create security risks, among other problems, the BYOS trend offers several benefits to employers.
Allowing workers to use tools that best suit their work style and increase their flexibility increases job satisfaction. Organizations can also learn from employees. As collaboration options continue to rapidly evolve, leaders should keep eyes and ears open to find new solutions they can adopt and implement across their company. Additionally, these tools increasingly work together or offer very similar functionalities. Therefore, not only are employee’s personal software choices compatible with their enterprise counterparts, they can provide backup options should one service be down (e.g., using Google Hangouts if they have trouble logging into Skype). What employees care about is what they need to get done, so if you can adopt policies and an attitude that supports that, including the fact that the reality of BOYS is a given, it will likely not go unnoticed.
Creating a Collaboration Culture
Technologies are crucial to realizing the benefits of workplace collaboration. However, leaders can get the most out of these tools by creating a culture within their organization where collaboration is incorporated into work processes and across teams and functions.
There are several ways in which companies can develop and encourage a collaboration culture. One approach is to look to startups for approaches to work processes. For instance, agile project management, scrums, and sprints are widely-used approaches to software development at startups. However, other functions and established business can use these collaborative methods to facilitate more rapid innovation and increased productivity. Managers can also ensure that their teams are utilizing available collaboration technologies by choosing platforms that are multifunctional, and integrate with legacy and other systems, and by providing training so that workers know how to get the most out of them.
Collaboration is Working Smarter
The age of collaboration is upon us. Facilitating collaboration means everything to the bottom line of a business, plays a role in employee satisfaction, and removes roadblocks to productivity in a big way. Speaking of productivity, if you’d like a deeper dive on that topic, make time to check out a recent webcast produced as part of the Microsoft Office Small Business Academy, Work Smarter: Productivity Tools for Your Business. This is a monthly web series created for small business owners just like you, with tips and tools and great advice that you can immediately put to use in your business. This episode hones in on common productivity pitfalls to watch out for and a great overview on using technology solutions to streamline business operations. Sound interesting? It is. Feel free to watch it on demand at your convenience by using this link: Work Smarter: Productivity Tools for Your Business.
This post is sponsored by Microsoft Office’s Small Business Academy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”