Companies of all sizes have adopted collaboration tools, but many still struggle to find tools that meet all of their needs. The following trends come in part from data and conclusions from a recent survey of over 500 practitioners. Vendors should pay attention as some of the findings show areas for improvement.

1. Most collaboration is becoming distributed collaboration

In order to define distributed collaboration, we must first define collaboration as:

Multiple coordinated interactions occurring between two or more people that include the transfer of complex information for some common purpose or goal.”

Distributed Collaboration is then “the ability for people to work as an integrated team or group at a distance (both time and space) from each other in a coordinated manner for a specific purpose or goal.” Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed do some percentage of work on distributed or hybrid teams and 38.7 percent spend over 65 percent of their work time on distributed or hybrid teams.

2. Distributed teamwork is the norm for many projects

The survey data showed that no matter what sized organizations, or what role you play in the organization, most people today are part of three to five teams on average.Since many of these are hybrid teams, this can be seen as an additional data point showing the growth of distributed collaboration.

In looking at the number of projects people work on simultaneously, 77.8 percent reported working on two to seven projects simultaneously (with an average of five). What is clear from the survey data is that both company size and job/role in the organization can affect the number of simultaneous projects you do. On average, across all roles and company sizes, three to four projects are the average number of projects people work on simultaneously.

3. Meetings are poor because metrics are poor

Everyone spends too much time in meetings. And a lot of the meeting time is unproductive. None of the respondents spent more than 60 percent of their time in meetings, and only 40 percent spent half of their time in meetings. A much larger percentage spent, on average, 30 percent of their time mostly in problem solving and project status meetings.

The largest percentage (15 percent on average) spent up to 40 percent of their time in most meeting types. Roughly 40 percent also spent none or very little time in decision making meetings, list generation and brainstorming meetings, and strategic planning meetings, but everyone spent a significant amount of time in problem solving and project status meetings.

When we looked at meeting metrics we found that 37.8 percent used no meeting metrics at all. And that the current (meta) metrics being used (number of people, frequency of meeting, etc.) do not provide much information about the meeting content and interpersonal interactions, which is where all the meeting value comes from. Interestingly, though we thought larger organizations would implement more meeting metrics, the opposite was discovered.

4. Improve meetings through behavior, not just technology

Technology can help by providing feedback in real time to the meeting members through various types of real-time graphic displays.

The top five meeting problems are:

  • No clear agenda communicated in advance of the meeting
  • Stakeholders not prepared or don’t attend
  • Personal agendas
  • Rehash old topics and decisions
  • Late arrivals

The best way to improve meetings is “sticking to a pre-set agenda." The lack of this was also listed as one of the biggest meeting problems, along with “not communicating.” The priority of meeting problems did not seem to change across company size or role. Many believe that status meetings where old topics or decisions were rehashed is a big productivity drain.

5. Introducing 'behavioral metrics' can improve meeting value

Since we did not find any good behavioral metrics for meetings we postulated some of our own ideas for these new metrics and asked the respondents to rank them in order of value or usefulness. The most requested metric was one that looked at the value of interpersonal interactions in the meeting; second was the number of decisions to come out of the meeting; and third was the percentage of time spent engaged (i.e., paying attention) in the meeting.

Learning Opportunities

6. Collaboration's value increases when part of a process

Collaborative applications are increasingly becoming part of a process and creating greater value. I looked at the processes that have collaborative leverage. “Collaborative Leverage” is a concept developed by my company, Collaborative Strategies, Inc., which looks at optimum performance in a process that utilizes some aspect of collaboration.It is the ability to apply "the right technology to the right process at the right time with the right people." The top three processes in this category were: new product/service development; crisis management and decision support; and sales /marketing.

7. New tools will increase the number and quality of decisions coming from meetings

The second most popular process with collaborative leverage is “crisis management and decision support.” Respondents identified the "ability to make better and faster decisions” as the second most popular method of improving meetings. And the second most popular new behavioral meeting metric was, “The number of decisions to come out of a meeting.”

These three data points show that tools that can help drive better, faster decision making are critical to future meeting productivity. Tools that support this directly include: Powernoodle, ThinkTank and Other tools like Clarizen, that focus on collaboration and project management, enable those in meetings to track the outcomes of their decisions and give feedback to the meeting participants.

8. Today’s collaboration tools fail to support distributed collaboration

Two thirds of those using collaboration tools today to support distributed teams and project work are not happy with their tools, and one third believe that today’s tools only provide some of what they need. Tools and infrastructure for collaboration were seen as the biggest challenge in the survey, no matter what the role or company size. Over half (51.9 percent) of survey respondents felt that their tools and infrastructure failed to support distributed work.

9. Larger companies use more collaboration tools, but less effectively

It's no surprise that 86 percent of those surveyed use email, but this number is 8 percent lower than when we looked at this in 2012. We believe that in-app communications is helping to lower email traffic. For the first time desktop video conferencing was used (72.5 percent) more than room–based video conferencing (49.5 percent) by a fairly large margin. Chat/IM/Texting also were popular (72.5 percent) and may account for the decreasing use of email as the main messaging medium.

The top three uses of collaboration tools were: coordinate work with another person or team; get up to date on the status of a project, initiative or budget; and getting critical information. The top three benefits of collaboration were: improving teamwork; saving time or cutting cycle time, and better interactions and communications with team members.

10. Collaborative tools will become more productive

Limiting context switching for a variety of collaborative functions will aid in the productivity of those using them.About one quarter (24.2 percent) of those surveyed reported they were happy with their collaboration tools. This is very similar to those that claim not to have any challenges with distributed collaboration -- 23.7 percent.

Almost half of those surveyed (46.1 percent) felt their current collaboration tools met some of their needs. Only 6.7 percent felt their collaboration tools did not meet any of their needs. A similar small percentage (7.3 percent) felt they needed to use their own collaboration tools rather than the ones provided by their work organizations. Overall, this means almost 75 percent of those surveyed were unhappy in some way with the collaboration tools they are using.