Last week I had the great opportunity to participate in the Tweet Jam for the Evolution of Enterprise Collaboration. During this quick one hour community chat there seemed to be just a few underlying concepts that brought everyone together in agreement. I was reminded of these concepts with Microsoft's launch last Thursday.

The article above has the full Tweet Jam transcript, but below is the summary of what I took from the conversation:

  • The Tool: The tools used to foster and develop this type of communication within an environment are completely and totally irrelevant. As soon as the conversation moves to the tool and away from the person, you are in a danger zone. People don’t care about the tool, it’s more about the use of the tool and the effects of having the tools in the environment.
  • The Future: Communication and Collaboration are the future components of any thriving business. Without these elements employees will simply not be drawn to the organization. As new generations are entering the workforce they have high expectations of a vibrant, social, interactive world. If the workplace doesn’t start to adopt the social components that we use in everyday life (Twitter, Facebook, Blogging) then they will lose their competitive edge.
  • The People: No matter the organization, the culture or the industry, the concept of communication and collaboration must always be about the people and how to bring them together to foster collaboration. The solutions must be intuitive, easy, simple and second nature. If your users have to think about how they can work together, they won’t. If you make it so easy that it just happens naturally, they will.
  • The Culture: The final common thread that I observed during the discussion was that the number one thing that kept an organization from being highly collaborative and engaged is that the culture didn’t encourage it. In fact, in several cases it seemed that the culture actually pushed users towards the opposite behavior.

What I loved about the discussion was the focus on the issue and the attempt to really understand the heart of it. Taking this approach allows you to clearly see the challenges and then provides an opportunity for you to use technology to speak change into the environment.

People Lead, Technology Follows

Technology is never the answer to the problem, but used correctly, technology is often the path that leads to the desired end. While technology won’t change things overnight, technology does have the opportunity to change perspective, actions and thought patterns.

As these change within your organization, your culture changes. The secret sauce is then providing users with a technical solution that meets them where they are that can help move them towards a new end. In order to really do this you have to understand many things, starting with your culture and your users. Once you have that understanding the technology selection becomes the easy part!

But, while that sound so simple on paper, in the real world it is a hard thing to achieve! When you look at people and how we work and how we think it seems to be so different from the past. The lines of work and home are blurred and the majority of people are attached to devices non-stop.

Demand for Information Everywhere

Look around you. I bet if you are surrounded by people at this moment a large percentage of them are focused on a phone or tablet device. You can’t even go to the grocery store without seeing someone looking at their phone.

Technology and being connected has become something that we expect to have. At any point I expect that I can access the information that I need. If I am out and about in a new town, I want to be able to quickly and easily find the best places to eat, see reviews and get directions.

Now, take that same concept and apply it to the everyday office. You have a new project, you know you have done similar things in the past, but now you want to find out for sure and connect with those people so you can get a baseline for your new work. Should be easy, right? Not so! At least not in many of the organizations I have worked for or with. Why is it so easy for us to do these things at home, but not in the office? Whenever users face this scenario they act out in frustration and it can greatly impact the environment.

Microsoft Faces the Challenge

I am happy to report that with the release of Windows 8 that the days of this separation of work and home are on the way to being a thing of the past. For years I have been seeing new products and tools roll out from Microsoft that seem to focus on the consumerization of IT and how to best merge work and home, but last week, for the first time, they came out swinging with a set of tools that are going to change the way we work.

With the release of Windows 8 we have access to an enterprise operating system that can meet all the security concerns that at the same time can address all of the things I expect from a home solution. Since I am using the same tools for work and play I can simply focus on what I am doing and not have to worry about how. A single set of tools that fit my life fully. With the same tablet that I watch HD movies with Xbox apps I can use in a meeting to record the meeting while taking notes in OneNote. And that example doesn’t even include the added features and benefits that come when you are using SharePoint 2013 and Office 2013.

Now, to be clear, I am not saying that Windows 8 and Office 2013 are the answer to your problems. What I am saying is that for the first time we have a technical solution that addresses the need at the heart of the issue.

The things that I loved the most about the launch today were the ideas around using the same device for work and play in the same way regardless of what I was doing. Gone are the days were I have to do one thing one way at home and another at work, even if it is the same task. With this new generation of products all things are merged into one common thread.

By design the tools are easy to use and are built with the consumer in mind. This gives us enterprise support and availability for products that were made with the consumer as the main focal point. To me, this is a step in the right direction and as a leader in how we work, Microsoft is helping us get to that next level.

As other technologies follow suit, we will see a change in how things come to the market. And because by design this release of the product is focused on the consumer and how the consumer works, it will be more natural for them to easily do what makes the most sense. The tools will naturally drive their behavior. Because they have put the time into designing a collection of products that are built for easy use, we can shift our focus to driving our organization to the desired behavior.

The tools are no longer something that hinder us, but now support us with their updated design and approach. Because they are more focused on the consumer and less focused on the task, we can become less focused on the user experience and more focused on the end goals.

So how does last week's Tweet Jam and Microsoft's launch relate? In my mind it is clear: today, Microsoft released a new set of tools that when implemented fully can provide a rich user experience that is natural and focused. Since the consumer was the key thing in mind when they built this release we can focus our efforts more on the specific needs of our organization and rely on the tools to have a much richer experience built in. The user should always be the focus of the tool, so it is nice to see Microsoft coming to the table following the same approach that we all agreed on during the Tweet Jam.

Editor's Note: To read Jennifer's original response to the release of Office 2013, check out Microsoft Office 2013: Customers, Cloud Leading the Change