The collaboration challenge - so many tools, so little time

Image Credit: Pexels

As Generation Z prepares to enter the workforce, businesses are quickly realizing that email alone just won’t be enough with today’s digital savvy employees. This is why, many organizations have begun to invest in a variety of collaboration tools and project management software. However, with this influx of new software, it has becoming increasingly difficult for teams to keep track of important company information as well as to know how to contact staff members when they need them.

To better understand how to implement an effective collaboration strategy, TechRadar Pro spoke with Interact’s CEO Simon Dance.

What is the biggest collaboration and communication challenge businesses face today?

The workplace of today looks very different than it did even just 10 years ago. Technology, with its promises of fostering collaboration and improving productivity, has become ubiquitous. It’s not only enabled, but fuelled the demand for, more flexible and remote work options. In fact, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) found that the number of distributed workers in the UK has increased by nearly a quarter of a million people over the last decade and is rising.  

Yet, despite this trend, businesses have been slow to adapt and are struggling to make sure their distributed workforce feels as engaged as those in a main office. This is the biggest challenge we see when it comes to internal communications, as it’s a tricky balance to satisfy both flexibility and engagement at the same time. Distributed workers often feel like the second-class citizens of the organization – and it’s not hard to understand why. They’re usually the last to find out about company updates – often through a poster changed once per month in the common areas – and don’t always have the same opportunity to share information or new ideas.

Employees are also bringing their own applications into the workplace, creating a collaboration mess. With so many tools available to employees – whether it’s commercial, like Slack, or consumer, like WhatsApp – they’re prone taking the path of least resistance and using what they’re most familiar with. Enterprises are struggling to govern this patchwork technology landscape, leaving employees to figure out on their own how or where to collaborate.  

But, by giving employees a centralised hub of information and enterprise-approved technology tools, like an intranet, businesses can start eliminating some of these communication and collaboration challenges and keep remote workers better connected and engaged.  

With the influx of digital tools on the market, do technology providers have a responsibility to balance overlapping features and applications that already exist in the digital workplace?

There are so many digital tools available for businesses to choose from today – many of which do the exact same thing. As tech providers seek to meet the needs of a collaborative and connected workplace, they would be wise to do their best to integrate with and improve the functionality of existing digital workplace tools, rather than completely re-invent the wheel.  

Otherwise, employees will continue bringing their own preferred applications into the workplace, putting businesses in a reactive position where they’re forced to adopt more widely used tools rather than proactively driving technology decisions enterprise-wide. In fact, the average enterprise is now clocking more than 500 applications as part of its technology stack thanks to this decentralised user adoption, making it difficult and more time consuming to collaborate. This has the potential to decrease productivity and leave staff feeling app-fatigued – which is the opposite of these tools’ intent.  

Image Credit: Pixabay

Image Credit: Pixabay

Social media platforms have given people a lot of choices in terms of how and who they engage with. How can employers provide similar social media features in the workplace without decreasing productivity?

Incorporating similar social media features to the ones employees use in their personal lives can create a natural platform for them to engage without being burdensome or time consuming. In this way, it feels more like a collaborative community than a work-required tool.  

Enabling employees to like and share content, or comment on co-workers’ activity, helps increase engagement by removing traditional workplace barriers such as geographical location and time zones. Activity timelines, for example, allow employees to engage at their own convenience, whether with recent, top-of-the-feed posts, or by scrolling back to easily catch up.  

It’s also important to recognize the importance of longform content, whereby the author needs more real estate to describe and articulate their thoughts. Collaboration doesn’t just happen in quick bursts, and intranets that incorporate social media features make it easier to distribute this kind of content to the people who need it.  

Some companies have even fostered friendly competition through gamification by letting people earn badges and rewards. And, having it all publicly accessible is a nice way to acknowledge the skills of other people across the business, or simply say thank you.  

This all encourages employees to be more social, which creates stronger human connections and, in turn, sparks more authentic collaboration that helps increase productivity.   

How can companies get insight from their employees on their digital workplace technology experience to ensure new tools are effective and not disruptive?

Employer net promoter scores (eNPS), pulse surveys and integrated workplace analytics are all great ways for companies to find out whether their digital workplace tools are working well.  

eNPS surveys are becoming an increasingly popular way to measure employee sentiment, and can be used to gauge how the transition to new digital workplace tools or features is impacting staff – including everything from productivity to satisfaction.  

Conducting regular pulse surveys can offer another quick way to gauge employee engagement and opinions. When done anonymously, employees are usually willing to be more forthcoming; so, these surveys often give businesses the truest insight into how their people are feeling. And, when done regularly – every six months or so – companies can also track trends (and hopefully improvements) over time.  

Both eNPS and pulse surveys can be administered through a company’s intranet, and the metadata held within can be extremely powerful when it comes to reporting on satisfaction – especially when it can be easily segmented. And, when it comes to gaining further insight on how the intranet itself is performing, businesses can use its integrated analytics to identify and analyse insights around things like the most popular content, usage trends, key contributors, as well as any issues.  

Image Credit: Pexels

Image Credit: Pexels (Image credit: Image Credit: Fox / Pexels)

What advice would you give to businesses looking to invest in collaboration and communications tools?

The first thing businesses need to do is conduct an assessment of what applications are being virally adopted by employees already. A big challenge with top-down software purchasing is low adoption and employee engagement rates. After all, why would they be inclined to switch to something unfamiliar after years of getting by with the tools they’ve been using?  

This is why interoperability is so important in the decision-making process. Investing in collaboration and communications tools that integrate with the applications employees are already using significantly increases the likelihood of successful adoption. Besides, business tools are no longer siloed, and their effectiveness lies in their ability to share and access data that will be relevant to other applications, as well.

Businesses also need to adapt to the way employees are consuming information, which often occurs outside normal working hours. Retail workers, for example, don’t have the capacity to read internal communications during the workday. And office workers frequently read on their way into work or in the evening.  

So, consider tools that not only support employee needs in terms of distribution medium, but that allow greater configuration of how and when these tools allow you to communicate – including access to data on when the best time to send important communications will be. Which brings up another point: employee communication isn’t limited to simple corporate news announcements. It also encompasses wider communications, such as how to disseminate information in a crisis or how you can best communicate in a closed environment, while still maintaining a level of control so as not to sacrifice security or compliance.  

How does the intranet meet the needs and overcome the challenges that many companies face when it comes to collaboration?

Above all else, intranets help streamline the various forms of collaboration while alleviating the stress of collaboration overload. By centralising information and communication, companies can use their internal channels to announce news, carry out surveys, share ideas and engage employees across the entire business.

For example, intranets support collaboration through longform content, not only giving employees a highly visible soapbox for sharing their far-reaching opinions and views, but enabling other employees to seek out new ideas and engage with co-workers. They also support shortform collaboration by way of chat and employee social networks where people can share quick opinions and statements, target small teams with a specific purpose, and talk privately or in a closed message.

There is a thing as “too much” collaboration, though, and employees are already displaying signs of lethargy due to chat message overload, which has quickly become the new email “inbox filler.” Imagine coming back from vacation to find out you not only have 200 emails to read, but 450 unread chat messages to sift through. The good news is that intranets can help with this, too, by providing a channel for formal collaboration on important issues while separating non-essential communications for review at the employee’s leisure.  

Intranets can be a collaboration powerhub, but they must be implemented in the right way and take into account existing employee habits to be effective.