Organizations building successful digital workplaces need collaboration tools that make workers productive — not just chatty. There is hope. According to a survey by the BT Group, nine out of 10 executives and IT decision makers agree that mobile tools and collaboration services are improving productivity in the workplace. Those are great survey numbers, but ultimately it comes down to execution. How do you tie collaboration and productivity together? How do you use collaboration tools so they directly translate to getting work done? We caught up with some experts who discussed the connection between collaboration and productivity.

Learn that Social Has Its Place in Workplace

Ilan Frank, who leads product strategy, direction and delivery for Slack Enterprise Grid, said organizations must recognize that if they model collaboration tools after how consumers engage on social, that’s just what they might get in the digital workplace — a lot of socializing. Not that it’s a bad thing, Frank said. There's a time to look at the co-workers' dog pics. Just not all the time.

When Frank worked at SAP for four years, he helped build its SAP StreamWork product. At that time, he said, companies building collaboration tools like Yammer and Chatter modeled Facebook. “And we basically built almost an exact replica,” Frank said. "One of the things that we missed is that there is actually UI constructs in the way that Facebook was built that are best for a social tool." And that's what you got — socializing in the collaboration tool. Productivity, he said, must always be baked into the collaboration tool strategy, starting with UI. Slack, he said, flipped the Facebook model by putting its status bar on the bottom.  

How does Slack itself help distinguish the “social” part of its collaboration tool from the “business productivity” world? “We’ve set up separate workspaces for social channels at Slack,” Frank said. “It's only one or two clicks away to get to all those social channels. Take a coffee break. Take a social break. Switch to the social space and look at the dogs channel for a little while.”

Related Article: How to Apply Governance to Your Collaboration Tools

Recognize Collaboration Champions

A new collaboration tool means change. And the initial rollout of your collaboration tool is a crucial period as employees need to make adjustments. Frank suggests encouraging support for change practitioners within the organization, those who are responsible for the survival of the company. “We're seeing companies like Oracle [endorse] a champion network, where they have Slack champions that are educated and given training resources,” Frank said. They help employees use and develop the collaboration tool and use it to best achieve their business goals. “Change is hard,” Frank said. Slack likes to hire customer success managers out of consulting firms because they can help users with the “change management” aspect of the collaboration tool implementation.

Take Advantage of Visual, Smart Collaboration

Recently, there’s been a move toward visual collaboration. This allows more accessibility to offsite teams, such as freelancers and remote workers, according to Tyler Koblasa, CEO of CloudApp. Artificial intelligence (AI) is also making collaboration tools more productive, he added. “Features like shared folders, smart search capabilities and predictive typing are revolutionizing digital communication,” Koblasa said, “and businesses that fail to adapt are losing the opportunity for increased productivity and achievable business goals.”

Learning Opportunities

Productivity tools are constantly improving, Koblasa added. “Increasingly, we’re seeing digital collaboration result in real business gains, as productivity and team efficiency adapt with the rate of technology growth,” he said. “... Collaboration tools that allow its users to seamlessly communicate desired outcomes are the key to a productive, smoothly functioning organization.”

Related Article: Digital Workplace Collaboration Means More Than Documents

Collaboration Should Be Part of Your Workflow

Mathilde Collin, co-founder and CEO of Front, said internal collaboration should be part of your workflow, not separate from it. “It should be organized and searchable right alongside the rest of your work,” she explained. “And employees should be empowered to respond to those digital shoulder taps on their own terms.”

Sure, people claim to hate email, she said, but “it’d be incredibly hard to work without it. The problem isn’t really with email as a communication vehicle, it’s with the interface in which you manage it: the inbox,” Collin added.

Set Response Standards in Your Organization

We all know the pressure to respond to an IM or channel message in your collaboration tool. The response expectation? Immediate. Let's face it. It’s up to organizations to address this as part of its culture. But it won’t be easy, according to Collin. “The reality is that the vast majority of digital shoulder taps — aka chat messages — do not need to be handled immediately: what's the status on that project, what do you need me to prepare for tomorrow's meeting, can you send me that deck you mentioned this morning, etc.,” Collin said. “But the synchronous nature of chat platforms demands that you stop whatever you were doing to respond.” 

Collin’s company, Front, recently surveyed knowledge workers and a third of them said they’re interrupted by notifications unrelated to what they’re working on more than 10 times every day, and 66 percent said notifications make their job more stressful.  “When you ask a colleague for help or advice, it’s inefficient to have to copy-and-paste context into a separate tool,” Collin said. “And when you want to reference their response in the future, it can be frustrating when you don’t know which communication channel it was sent through or you can’t remember the context in which the response was given. The tool to make you more productive is actually doing the opposite.”