According to a recent report by McKinsey, collaboration is supposed to improve a company's productivity by 20 to 30 percent.

I have been following collaboration as an industry analyst for the last 30 years and have tried many times to predict upcoming trends in the space. My crystal ball has served me well, although at times I get the upcoming trends right, but get the timeline wrong. Even after 30 years, I remain an optimist about how quickly collaborative behaviors will change, and how quickly businesses will adopt new technologies. 

Without further ado, here's what I see coming for the collaboration space in 2019.

A Common Platform for Collaboration

Microsoft recently made a big change in its browser strategy. It announced it is switching to the Google Chromium standard for future development of Microsoft Edge. This will not only fix the problem of Edge not working with all websites, according to the company, it will also bring it to Apple’s MacOS (maybe pigs will fly!).

The way I interpret this is we will finally have a common browser platform for the over 2000 collaboration tools currently available. I've been predicting this outcome for a decade now. So we will soon be able to choose collaboration apps in native form for your mobile devices, or from a common web browser on all devices. This will certainly make it easier for the end user, and hopefully increase the use of collaboration tools for everyone.

Collaboration, Outside-In 

A decade ago, collaboration was mostly internal via intranets, and stayed inside corporate boundaries. But as distributed teams (and the technology that supports them) grew in popularity, and the war for talent spilled onto a global stage, it has become the norm to make your clients your partners. 

Success today is about relationships, and the technologies that support them. With the wild popularity of Slack, WhatsApp, WeChat and other collaboration apps, it is clear there is a great need for coordinated secure interactions (i.e., collaboration) outside the firewall. As companies become more distributed, more people are working in “third space” workplaces like WeWork, Regus, etc. and need access to corporate data, as well as interact with others on their teams, some of whom may work for the corporation, and others not.

Related Article: Easing the Way to External Collaboration

Alexa, Tell Me About My Day

Most devices — even mobile — now have the horsepower to do natural language processing (NLP), and can learn about you personally through machine learning and expert systems. The combined advances in software and hardware power are leading to more powerful conversational interfaces. When you add in the advances in intelligent assistants, the result is we are starting to see more intelligent conversational interfaces. Based on your behavioral patterns, Alexa can now not only wake you up with music from your playlist, but can also tell you the weather (so you know what to wear), and about the people in your first appointment or meeting of the day.

Apple is opening up Siri to third parties and IBM Watson has partnered with Cisco to develop Monica, an intelligent agent for the Spark collaboration platform. If you miss a meeting, you can ask a bot for a summary. Google Assistant can now make phone calls on your behalf that sound like a real person, for better or for worse. The assistant is based on Google’s Duplex technology. Expect more from this technology in 2019.

Our Co-Workers, Our Bots

Opinions on bots range from seeing them as bad, pesky software that spam you with texts and phone calls to unrealistic expectations of the singularity. The reality lies in between: these semi-autonomous bits of software can do various actions within a limited content space.

In the talent acquisition space, where bots are proving to be a godsend to recruiters, bots can do the initial candidate screening, conduct a video interview, and even set up the initial meeting with the recruiter, saving the recruiter almost two-thirds of the time they used to spend on these processes. Companies in this space include, Wade & Wendy, Lucid Meetings, jobpal and more.

For these and other reasons, one of the issues we will be dealing with in 2019 is how to collaborate with bots or intelligent agents, as not all collaboration will be done between just humans. A big advantage of bots is they are available 24/7 and can respond to customer queries more quickly.

Learning Opportunities

Add to this a conversational interface and a recruiter can now ask “find be the best three candidates for job XYZ, and set up appointments for me to speak with them in the next week. I would also like a summary of their backgrounds, and the reasons you picked them as the top three?”

Related Article: Chatbots Belong in the Workplace (Provided They're Well Designed)

See You in AR/VR

A few years ago I predicted augmented and virtual reality would be a big thing, and a boon to collaboration. It never happened. AR/VR has only seen real growth in the gaming realm so far, and not so much in business processes. But Goldman Sachs expects AR/VR to reach $16.1 billion by 2025

Companies like Intel’s RealSense, AltspaceVR and DORA are starting to offer immersive boardroom experiences, changing backgrounds, cataloging body language, supporting avatars and even supporting robots as stand-ins for board members. Both augmented and virtual reality allow greater collaboration, communication and customization between business and their customers. In this sense these technologies are not for collaboration’s sake, but for the sake of the customer, and driving a stronger relationship between vendor and customer.

Visual Collaboration

Communicating about projects through multiple channels used to be like the Tower of Babel. But today’s visual collaboration tools are simplifying this previously complex process. Using custom-designed landing pages is a common approach to projects these days, but it requires constant communication between the designer, vendor, customers and consultants. Tools like Instapage’s Collaboration Solution, allow all stakeholders to work through a single collaboration tool. Oblong’s Mezzanine provides a gesture-controlled user interface (think IronMan, or Minority Report) that not only increases immersion, but makes the content more accessible and visible, supporting better collaboration and workflows.

Oblong Mezzanine in action

Related Article: How to Make Meeting Rooms the Heart of Your Digital Workplace

Better Collaboration = Better Productivity

As collaboration continues to evolve, we will see tools that make interactions simpler, and more seamless. When collaboration tools work well, they can help people make better decisions, as well as support virtual working and distributed teams. These technologies are changing the way companies do business, enabling them to deal more quickly and directly with their customers. They are a boon for companies in the ongoing war for talent. And as the focus for collaboration switches from internal to external, collaborative technologies are being used to get closer to the customer — and isn’t that what business is all about?

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