What Is Collaboration?
Collaboration is one of those funny words that we use all the time with an assumption we agree on its meaning. Collaboration comes in many forms; it isn’t even particularly new. What’s put it on the front burner is distributed and flatter teams. Two things we don’t have as much as we once had are 1) Everyone at the office and 2) Excessive Middle Management.
Turns out a critical role that middle management performed was communications. The boss used to communicate to the extended teams via management levels. Now they use vmail, email, and video in a more direct fashion – unfortunately that’s mostly one way. Then distributed teams not only make it harder to keep everyone on the same page, but harder to get things done.
Collaboration means different things to different people (and vendors). Organizations are buying collaboration, which means there is no shortage of organizations selling it, but solutions and scopes vary. There are four broad areas that capture most of the collaboration forms:
General collaboration around productivity and alignment via communications tools such as IM, video, voice, and mobility (example: Avaya
Document management and sharing (example: Google Docs/Apps, Dropbox).
Social networking in a business context (Example: Salesforce Chatter, IBM
Collaboration is tied to task management and project management (Example: Harmon.ie, Trello).
These categories are horizontal in scope, but there’s also a vertical aspect as well. Vertical collaboration has more to do with integration. Point tools alone, such as IM/presence, can be effective without integration, but more and more we are seeing collaboration becoming an integral part of the business process.
Collaboration is powerful as it’s an enabler of many things, including:
Enables distributed team productivity
Can break down barriers between business silos
Just making experts easier to find and reach can be a highly effective form of collaboration. The alternative is either stopping work or making decisions without the benefit of expert corroboration. Access to experts impacts customer satisfaction and internal workflows. Reaching experts used to be easy when they sat in their office, but that is no longer the case. The workforce has become extremely distributed and extremely mobile over the past few years making collaboration increasingly important. Smartphones and cars make people mobile, but tools of collaboration make mobile people productive and part of a team.
Collaboration often simplifies a process. This makes user adoption much easier and many organizations report that their employees naturally gravitate toward it. Many aspects of our work have become far too complex as a result of distributed teams. New tools and new processes are in order. Collaborative tools reduce the barriers associated with distance. However, processes also need to be revamped for a seamless experience. For example, paper-based expense reports can be crippling for a distributed team. Putting the tools of collaboration in place first, will enable many processes to be changed.
The key goal of collaboration is to keep teams productive, efficient, and aligned – regardless of location. Collaboration tools are directly contributing to mobile productivity by enabling richer communications to any device and place. It is time to eliminate the penalties we’ve historically imposed on remote users (as they are no longer the minority). Collaboration starts with infrastructure, but can and should become integrated into business processes to drive productivity and enable mobility.