January. 18, 2019 posted by Foehn
Over the past 10 years, collaboration has become by far the biggest and most successful driver of productivity amongst multi-nationals and SMBs alike. The simple principle of motivating employees to work to a common goal has unleashed new organisational structures and a revolution in business culture based on shared responsibility.
Terabytes of research documents bear testament to the success of collaboration. One study has shown that collaborative teams are five times higher-performing because they feel motivated by sharing a challenge. Another report has established that 86% of those surveyed noted a lack of collaboration was responsible for failures in the workplace. Unequivocally, these and other findings confirm one thing – collaboration works.
Ultimately, though, effective collaboration is founded on propagating a strong, conscientious desire amongst employees to help their fellow colleagues. And there lies a problem.
Over the past three years, research championed by the Harvard Business Review has identified that, for a growing number of businesses, the unbridled escalation of collaboration, with its always-available, ‘never-say-no’ mind set, is contributing to employee stress and burnout. Furthermore, it appears that, for some businesses, employees are being ground down by the sheer time and effort required to respond to the calls, meetings, texts, emails, video conferences and mobile apps that underpin the collaboration process. In turn, employees are under further pressure to participate in shared systems that manage projects, documents, calendars and countless other processes – even time management systems.
This so-called ‘collaboration overload’ has been defined as the point when individuals spend more time working on adhoc requests from colleagues than accomplishing their own tasks and working towards their own goals. Research confirms that around 80% of work time is spent on meetings, phone calls and emails and that in most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees.
Findings also claim that this failure is attributable to a list of behavioural issues that can be remedied by disciplines and best practices that define the team’s goals, highlight individuals’ strengths, reward successful teamwork, etc. Most recently, though, there is a realisation that the real overload problem arises from a different source – the quantity and complexity of collaboration tools.
It appears that having too many ways to collaborate can confuse and annoy workers who often resist using multiple services because they don’t want to open multiple windows on their computer or launch multiple apps on their mobile device. Toggling from one window to another while managing login passwords and mastering each user interface is time-consuming and inefficient. There’s even evidence that the huge chocolate box of collaboration tools on offer is fostering a ‘collaboration for collaboration’s sake’ culture that further exacerbates the overload problem.
Nearly seventy percent* of IT professionals say collaboration is essential to their organization, bearing testament to a market that continues to expand at a rate pf 13% towards an estimated size of $8.5 billion by 2024. In meeting this demand, collaboration tools have become diverse, rapidly changing, and fragmented with solutions ranging from document sharing and work management to unified communications and team messaging. Furthermore, it’s estimated that ninety-two percent* of IT professionals have either deployed or are considering deploying multiple collaboration tools and use an average of 4.4 different tools or platforms across three different providers. Not surprisingly, dealing with this number of systems also creates management, security, service quality and other challenges for IT professionals.
For these managers, rationalisation of existing collaboration assets and the choice of new solutions can be a daunting task. So, where do you start?
Opting for one of the all-embracing collaboration platforms is a long-term commitment, demanding significant budget, change management and employee engagement. As such, collaboration functionality of platforms from Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, Oracle and SAP is part of a much bigger investment decision.
An alternative is a collaboration stack built from integration of ‘best of breed’ point solutions. Traditionally, tools such as Slack, Trello, Basecamp, Dropbox and Zoom have headed a list of thousands of collaboration applications, each with its own set of advantages. There’s also the more recent collaboration suites from Salesforce, Google, Amazon (Chime), Facebook (Workplace) and others that attempt to emulate the big enterprise platforms. All of these offer APIs and promote interoperability over a large ecosystem of third-party tools. In doing so, though, they invite the complexity that feeds collaboration tool overload.
So, what’s the answer? On closer inspection, it appears that the majority of collaboration solutions today are focusing on simplification and integration of working practices in the digital workplace. In doing so, they fall short of expectations in one specific area of collaboration – communications.
As usual, communications rely on converged voice and data technologies that generally fall outside the skill sets of most software developers, and it shows. From our experience, much of today’s collaboration overload can be traced to clunky communications. With a frictionless transition between email, messaging, video, calls, etc., other collaboration activity suddenly becomes easier. Simple communications via a single collaboration system is a powerful antidote to collaboration overload.
Looking ahead, it’s clear that the role of communications in collaborative teams is going to become even more important. Mobility and agility are the keywords in the latest organisational strategies and communications are central to facilitating these objectives. Communications that enable mobility and flexible working are key to the work/life balance that employees are demanding in order to support their children and ageing parents. Equally, for increasingly agile organisations, work is becoming more mobile, portable and fluid. Employees are working in digital worlds that are portable and it is imperative that collaborative communications address this need.
*Collaboration Overload, written by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant, Harvard Business Review.