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Despite the breadth of different collaborative technologies at our disposal — both in the collaboration tools themselves and where collaborative features are embedded in other business applications — collaboration remains a challenge for many organizations. What's more, the technology often feels like it gets in the way rather than making collaboration easier. So is technology a hindrance rather than a help in digital workplace?

“In a study conducted by Boston-based LogMeIn’s GoTo earlier this year, the research showed that the influx of tools and apps meant to improve productivity and boost collaboration in the workplace have actually made employees more distracted, Mark Strassman at LogMeIn told us.

Using Multiple Apps

Businesses are struggling with the number of different technologies — and especially collaboration solutions — they have at their fingertips. For example, 54 percent of employees have at least five different programs running simultaneously and 56 percent use at least three different tools to collaborate. “While these solutions are meant to make workflows more efficient, the problem is there are often too many of them,” he said.

The result is that workers are losing momentum and wasting time swapping between all the different solutions for different tasks, rather than being able to maintain focus and handle all of their communications from a single, centralized point. As a result, nearly 60 percent of workers today feel that they are wasting time having to switch between apps for different tasks.”

Related Article: 7 Ways to Measure Workplace Collaboration and Productivity Tool Efficacy

3 Digital Workplace Considerations

For Thibaud Clement, CEO and co-founder of Los Angeles-based Loomly the question as to whether the technology is hindrance or a help in the digital workplace depends on three attributes:

1. Relevance

Does the technology actually and entirely solves the pain point of the team? If the product only partially solves a paint point for a team, then it is likely (at least) another tool — or some kind of DIY solution — will be required to actually get the job done. In that case, the odds are that technology may be more of a hindrance than a help, as it will introduce some friction and potentially some reliability issues.

However, when a standalone product can cover the entire scope of a project or workflow for a team, with features actually mapping the way people and organizations operate, then technology has the power to drive productivity up by streamlining processes.

2. Ease of use

Is the technology capable of empowering the team right off the shelf? If the product comes with a learning curve and requires either some training or the intervention of experts to start delivering value (in the form of saving and/or productivity gains), then the break even point where technology becomes helpful moves further down the line — sometimes so far that the trade off is not worth it and does cause technology to be more of a hindrance than a help.

On the contrary, when a product makes it easy and fast for a team to get started — and for new team members to hit the ground running — it automatically lowers the threshold to rip the rewards of technology and make it helpful.

3. Integration

Can the technology integrate seamlessly with the existing toolbelt of the team? If the product requires a shift away from the tool stack already in place within a team, then it may disrupt workflows more than it increases productivity and collaboration.

On the other hand, when a product can integrate seamlessly with communication channels a team is comfortable with and actively using, it usually feels like a new tool is an extension of an existing setup rather than a new foreign thing to get familiar with.

Related Article: 4 Best Practices for Real-Time Collaboration and Communication

A Hindrance And A Help

In practice, though, using collaboration software is necessary for most enterprises. Chintan Shah, the president and managing partner of Stamford, Conn.-based KNB Communications, a full-service health IT PR and marketing agency, argues that technology can be either a boon or a hindrance depending on how it is used.

KNB has employees who work on teams for clients, both in-person and remotely. Using collaboration software form them is not a luxury, it’s a necessity, he told CMSWire. However, the software must have certain features, or else it actually reduces productivity.

The company users G Suite. With it users can share documents via link or email with different levels of permissions, internally and externally. They are able to edit the same document synchronously or asynchronously without fear of document “forking.” It is very user-friendly and does not require much training.  They use the Hangouts product to send real-time messages (like Slack) as well as for video and teleconference calls. It is very integrated and has an excellent search function so past projects can be found easily.

HubSpot is another collaborative software that has provided a positive experience. "Our sales team is able to collaborate with our digital marketing team to nurture potential clients down the sales funnel seamlessly,” he said. Most importantly here, he said, the HubSpot training is excellent and does not have an additional cost, so all our employees are certified. Their support team is also easy to contact and very helpful if any questions arise.            

They have not had such a positive experience with other software.  In once case they picked a software package that purported to be a collaboration software for project management.  In concept, it would have been great for the  team to be able to assign tasks, see progress, and work toward deadlines in a central hub.  However, the software was not intuitive. It was slow, clunky, and does not have a streamlined workflow. Employees got frustrated and ultimately we had to abandon use.

“As technology is constantly evolving, it is important for software developers to keep the end users in mind and understand their workflows. Ultimately, the goal is to have a more simplified, collaborative software with easy-to-use tools but versatile to each employee,” he said.

Don’t Experiment Too Much

As a final though, Saurabh Jindal runs a startup called UK-based TalkTravel, which needed collaboration tools to run the company. He told us that they tried various tools for internal collaboration but ultimately realized that too much experimentation is causing hindrance to our work and in fact reducing our productivity. The main reasons for this were:

1) The learning curve to understand the new tool, which is different for each team member.

2) A feature which you get comfortable in one particular tool, but is missing in the other or is difficult to access — and hence causes a negative reaction. “We ultimately ended up experimenting, and settled on one tool — irrespective of the new features/promises shown by other tools,” he said.

“I would say technology is a hindrance if you keep jumping on things rather than settling one. It is like, getting excited by any new shiny toy, and thus leaving the current one behind, but later on feeling unsatisfied with the new toy also.” At the same time, though, too much technology and tools, forces the players to keep up the game and try to improve. They thus continually offer new features and better support.

“I think, sticking with one, and building your team's ecosystem around it — even if it lags a behind others in the long run, is the right approach where you maximize the benefits of technology, without getting hindered by it,” he said.