The 6 Changes Needed to Overcome Collaboration Skepticism
Facebook celebrated its 10th birthday last week. It, along with other social networks like Twitter, have transformed our personal lives, especially over the last five years. This has only sped up with the constant access our mobile devices give, which allow us to instantly and effortlessly connect with friends. 

What's holding enterprises back from reaping the same benefits?  

The enterprise’s adoption of social tools has been slower. 

But the advent of bring your own device (BYOD) and a hyper connected workforce, with intelligent enterprise social networks such as Interact, Yammer, Tibbr and Jive, is now producing impressive business benefits: improved employee engagement, faster decision making and problem solving, reduced reliance on email and greater productivity.

To realize the true benefits of this new way of interacting with employees through collaborative technology, high performing companies will adopt six key changes in the very near future (if they haven’t already):

1. Business leaders will adopt a new mindset

Leadership teams will understand and embrace the business benefits of collaborative technologies in order for them to be implemented successfully. When dealing with our customers who are looking to include social and collaborative tools on their intranet, we often hear senior management teams talk about how they must monitor usage to ensure employees aren’t wasting time.

Business leaders can’t say in one breath that they want employees to be more efficient and share information on their intranet but in the next dismiss blogs and forums as "time-wasting."  They are effectively damning the use of collaborative tools on their intranet to failure, by branding them as a “waste of time.” It can be frustrating to witness, especially when we see and hear so many companies having unprecedented success by trusting employees to work together productively.

Salary.com’s report on Wasting Time at Work revealed that the real culprits for time wasting haven’t changed: 47 percent of respondents felt that attending too many meetings was the biggest waste of their time and 37 percent said fixing others’ mistakes. Collaborative technologies used in the right way have the ability to bring solutions to these time wasting activities and maximize the time employees have to get work done effectively.

The concept of wasting time online will turn to a mindset of wasting time offline in the future. If you can find an answer to a problem or shape an idea in minutes online and everyone is of the same mind set, why would you waste time doing this less effectively offline?

As we see a broader behavioral shift in the much maligned middle management, this group will evolve into middle leadership, facilitating effective work practices rather than micro-managing employees.

2. Companies will embrace the demand for working anytime, anywhere

With the boundaries between work and non-work time blurring, organizations must address BYOD and bring your own app demands from employees and management.

By supporting an IT environment that mirrors the more social, mobile and participatory experience people have outside of work, companies will increase employee engagement and enhance their ability to make positive contributions anytime they want. The challenges of Citrix and VPN access will disappear over time as private cloud hosting will encourage the access anywhere, anytime ethos.

This 24 hour access to work means that companies will need to place further emphasis on employee input, rather than hours in the office. A vital part of this is having a way to see when an employee is online or track how they are contributing.

Rather than the traditional emphasis on where you work, in the future the focus will be on presence, in other words if someone is or isn’t available online, not where they may be. This new work behavior will bring new management challenges, but significant benefits to employee productivity and motivation. Businesses will begin to measure employee’s work time by the amount of hours available, or how many questions have been answered and ideas built upon.

3. People will value face-to-face meetings more

While the increase in online collaboration is inevitable, face-to-face meetings will still take place. The millennial generation is defying expectations by demanding more face-to-face collaboration, not less.

Yahoo’s U-turn on remote working was a clear sign that they believe physical meetings still have a critical role to play. What we will see in the future is people being more selective about what justifies the additional time required to travel to and/or attend face-to-face meetings, which will hopefully reduce the ranks of the 47 percent who reported these meetings as the biggest time wasters in business.

There is no reason why offline and online can’t effectively blend together. Social tasks, team spaces and document collaboration are an important part of face-to-face meetings and work can continue on iPads and other devices.

4. New employees will be part of your business before their first day

An online work platform with collaborative tools is critical to onboarding and can help new employees become familiar with the company's way of working and help them perform their role faster.

Giving new employees full access to your intranet in advance means not only that they will quickly access company information and complete all admin tasks required, but they can start to connect with colleagues and teams, joining conversations relevant to their work tasks. In the online environment the "human" aspect of the situation is reduced, there is less reason to feel shy or inhibited, they can read the discussions and information provided, without the stigma of being new. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been there if you know the answer to a question.

5. Collaborative tools will just become tools for work

It is unrealistic to assume that just because you implement social and collaborative technologies that employees will instantly realize when and how to best use them. Like any other business tool, they will have to meet a distinct business need in order to be adopted.

As collaborative elements become the staple of business tools, having a good platform won’t be the only requirement for good collaboration. You will also need to manage and give guidance on how to use it and explain the benefits to this new way of working. We sometimes see customers thinking “a team site or forum will solve everything,” which it then fails to do. Often times it isn’t the method of use that’s failing, it’s the behavior of those in the process that is the stumbling block.

To overcome this, the employee will be at the heart of everything. Messaging will inform them:

  • A quick overview of how the tool works so they can quickly "pick up and play." Choose easy and familiarity over complex, so they instinctively know how to use the technology based on experiences with social platforms used outside of work
  • How the tool solves certain business challenges, whether that is adding ideas to improve company efficiency or how an updated profile makes it easier to identify experts
  • Why it is a more effective way to work than their current methods and what pain it will solve -- give them real life examples.

6. The impact of collaborative technologies will be measured

Measuring the success of implementing collaborative technology will go a long way in ensuring everyone in your company recognizes its importance. To do this we need to reexamine how we measure success and what the indicators of success look like.

Having good analytics will make this much easier and play a major role in providing feedback on how your company is embracing collaboration and the benefits it is bringing. For example, you should be able to show how an ideas forum thread saved time for a sales team or how much time HR has saved by having an online forum to answer key questions.

The use of collaboration analytics is critical to continually improving the way people work together.

The Future of Collaboration is Now

The most exciting part of this future is it is happening today in the most effective business. We expect to see the fear of time wasting being overtaken by the fear of being left behind by not working collaboratively.

Title image by Ruth Black (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more from this month's focus on the future of collaboration