Company leaders were already eager to embrace digital collaboration, but with COVID-19 forcing organizations into a distributed team model, collaboration tools became an overnight business essential. Supporting every facet of a fast-paced operations team with a simple collaboration tool doesn’t happen automatically. As many have concluded, it takes a whole toolkit to come close.
This toolkit might include Slack for communication, Monday.com for project management, Google Drive for file sharing, Zoom or Microsoft Teams for video conferencing, and a few more for good measure. There’s no shortage of options. At many companies, collaboration relies on a constellation of disconnected apps — each promising to make teams more engaged and more productive than ever before.
Collaboration software undoubtedly keeps people connected, but here’s the more important (though often neglected) question: Does it actually help people do their jobs?
The Difference Between Collaboration and Work
We tend to equate collaboration with work — assuming that if people are collaborating, then they must be doing something productive or otherwise valuable. But we all know from experience that much of what happens within collaboration tools can’t really be called work.
Consider the proliferation of communication tools in recent years: persistent chat, email, text message, video conferencing, and social media channels — all part of a growing list. There are so many conversations happening across so many channels that it becomes a burden to keep up. Plus, these conversations are often interlaced with chitchat, the equivalent of a digital watercooler — now enshrined for all to see and unnecessarily distracting more team members.
Maybe most problematically, the conversations happening on Slack or elsewhere aren’t happening where the real work gets done. They’re decoupled from the business process central to the company mission, causing more work to be misaligned and disorganized. And sensitive content is often left ungoverned. By taking a piecemeal approach to collaboration — or allowing viral app adoption to fracture strategies — companies make it harder for people to collaborate in ways that relate directly to getting their work done.
In the worst instances, isolated collaboration software becomes a distraction and a time drain by forcing users to hunt down information. It might seem like a good idea to implement as many team-building tools as possible, but doing so will have the opposite effect: It will turn collaboration into the enemy of work.
A Better Approach to Digital Collaboration
In the same way that collaboration doesn’t happen automatically, a better collaboration approach doesn’t happen with the existing mindset or toolkit. To collaborate in ways that make teams more effective, not just better connected, use these three strategies:
Think Bigger About Collaboration
Collaboration isn’t just the way teams communicate. That’s only one aspect of what really matters for teams: the work they perform and the results they deliver. Companies often select collaboration tools based on their ability to “build relationships,” but the real priority should be finding tools that facilitate critical business processes, create meaningful workflows, and push metrics in a positive direction. Evaluate any new or existing digital collaboration software by that standard.
Often, the nexus of company social chat veers into new channels or fragments into multiple channels, where company dialogue loses cohesiveness and effectiveness. Distraction and tribal behavior eat at the power of collaboration for work. Ensuring well-chosen collaboration tools keep the central focus of workers requires thinking through how individuals, teams, and multiple teams across the company work together. Understanding the new social collaboration fabric or map should be considered just as important as the underlying software.
Perform a Digital Communication Audit
With so many different means of communicating in the mix, information can become isolated and disorganized. Perform a communication audit to identify all the tools and channels in play, the purpose that they serve within your organization, and the kind of information that lives in them. The key is to identify all applications making up for rigid deficiencies in your traditional systems of record meant to keep your processes flowing and content in governed places. The goal should be to pluck out anything ineffective or extraneous and determine which tools the company may need to implement in the future.
Consolidate and Integrate
If disconnected collaboration tools lead to less productive teams, the two glaring options are to have fewer tools and to find ways to connect them. Integrating fragmented collaboration tools is often lightweight, resulting in continued screen toggling to get information — and it still doesn’t easily connect your people to their work. Consider consolidating functionality into just a few collaboration tools that also integrate with your team’s work so that collaboration and work happen in the same place.
The fact that so many of today’s most popular collaboration tools offer only incremental value, with an exponential loss in productivity, should come as no surprise. Swap out the tools that clutter up the conversation with something better, and watch how it unleashes your teams to be their best.
Summary: Sure, collaboration software keeps people connected, but the more important (and often unasked) question is: Does it actually help people do their jobs? We all know from experience that collaboration doesn’t happen automatically, and unfortunately, much of what happens within collaboration tools can actually hurt teamwide productivity. To collaborate in ways that make teams more effective, not just better connected, implement these three strategies.