Thanks to mobile technology, cloud sharing and instant messaging platforms, it has never been easier to collaborate across teams, departments and locations. But despite this, organisations still struggle to collaborate effectively. According to a survey by Fierce Inc, 86% of employees blame a lack of collaboration for workplace failures.
Just how effective are the tools at our disposal, and what can organisations do to improve collaboration? Before we answer these questions, let’s take a look at why collaboration matters.
Collaboration: more than just a buzzword
When people collaborate, they combine and share their knowledge, skills, ideas and expertise, allowing them to solve problems more efficiently and effectively.
In companies that embrace and promote a culture of collaboration, people have access to other people; instead of being limited to their own expertise, or that of their team, the combined expertise of their entire workforce becomes a resource that they can tap into. Silos are broken down, and information flows freely throughout the organisation.
Collaboration also allows employees to learn from one another. By working alongside people from different teams and departments, you gain new insights and skills and learn to approach problems from different angles. The knowledge of more experienced employees filters down to those less experienced.
Conversely, a lack of collaboration stifles progress. In many companies, particularly larger, well-established ones, the organisational structure can strangle information flow. People operate in predetermined teams and often communicate only with those in physical proximity to themselves.
So two things are clear: collaboration is essential to business success, and it has never been easier to connect, communicate, and share ideas. With these two facts in mind, you’d think we had entered a golden age for collaboration and productivity, but that isn’t the case.
Are collaboration tools a help or a hindrance?
The purpose of technology is to make our lives easier, and for the most part it does – just look at the number of processes that a smartphone can perform, for example. But on the flipside, you could also argue that smartphones overcomplicate our lives, providing a source of constant distraction and noise.
Similarly, technology is a double-edged sword when it comes to communication. Yes, it has never been easier for us to connect with others, but at the same we are becoming more closed off and isolated. We have never been as connected and disconnected as we are now.
The same can be said for technology in the workplace. The sheer number of applications and platforms available has created a cacophony of distractions, where multiple technologies, apps and platforms compete for our attention. In some cases, the very tools designed to aid collaboration could be inhibiting our ability to connect on a human level.
Take instant messaging platforms like Slack, for example. On one hand, they are the perfect solution for connecting people across teams and locations. The instant nature of the interaction allows for a more informal, conversational back-and-forth than email. They allow employees to share information and receive rapid replies to questions, often replacing the need for scheduled meetings. And what’s more, they bring an element of fun to the workplace – employees get to bond with each in a way that doesn’t happen in more traditional communication methods.
On the other hand, however, instant messaging can become a hindrance to productivity. Employees receive a constant flow of messages, most of which don’t concern them, complete with banter, GIFs and emojis. With each new ‘ping’ of a Slack message, employees’ attention is diverted away from their real work.
What’s more, instant messaging could be responsible for a downturn in face-to-face communication – how many times have you sent a Slack message to a colleague sitting within earshot? When instant messaging is preferred to actual conversation, do we have a problem?
Too much of a good thing
Beyond discussions about their effectiveness, it’s clear that workplace collaboration tools are a necessity. As we move further towards flexible working and remote teams, instant messaging platforms and task management apps help everyone stay in touch and aligned with goals. On top of that, they provide remote teams with a sense of togetherness and allow information to flow freely between individuals regardless of their location.
The issue is not necessarily with individual tools, but the sheer number of them we use. On its own, and when used properly, Slack can be an excellent communication tool, but when coupled with email, task management platforms, and other work-based social tools, the combined effect can be overwhelming.
As we know from social media in our private lives, the sheer array of options results in us holding different conversations with different people across different platforms, each with their own unique look and feel. This is often an ineffective and time-consuming process, as we switch from one app to another. The same is true for workplace collaboration tools. Instead of switching between multiple overlapping solutions, wouldn’t it be simpler to have everything in one place?
At People First, we’ve created a software platform jam-packed with social and collaboration tools, replacing the need for multiple different systems. This allows you to take a unified and simplified approach to communication and collaboration, with everything in one place.
From social profiles and social feeds to our transparent goal system, People First is designed to make it easier than ever before for people to connect, communicate and collaborate. This helps break down organisational silos and ensures that every employee feels part of a strong workplace community, no matter where they are based.
For more information, check out our Guide to Social Engagement in People First.