This post is by Dr. S. Ann Earon, Ph.D., President Telemanagement Resources International, Inc Effective collaboration is an outcome, not a product or technology one can purchase. When everything comes together people can work productively without boundaries, business processes happen rapidly, and internal/external customers get what they need.
It is important to note that all organization and users aren’t equal – there is no typical user, which is why it is important to know what users want and need.
The user has to be the heart of the strategy. Driving use of collaboration tools is a matter of people, which is why involving users in the development of the plan is critical.
Regrettably, we often put too much focus on the technology with little thought to the needs of the people. IT managers start the process by shopping for product information, comparing features and prices, and finding the best match for what they perceive as their typical user. The process often ends without achieving user satisfaction and without gaining significant utilization or return on investment (ROI). The process has to begin with people and outcomes.
The process starts by talking to users about what is desirable, then viewing the solution through a feasibility and viability lens.
This approach increases the usability of the solution, as well as ensuring that no user segment is ignored as a result of the wrong tool being selected. Enabling employees to be as productive as possible is a constant struggle, but the solution is actually simple: remove all the obstacles and friction in their way. This can be accomplished by addressing the following seven steps:
1. LOOK AT THE GOALS OF YOUR ORGANIZATION (immediate/near term/future) Understand the goals of your organization and look at what value the use of technology can bring to your organization, but don’t stop there. While organizational goals are important they don’t always mean anything to employees.
2. FOCUS ON USER NEEDS, NOT NEW TECHNOLOGY What do employees need to be more productive in the way they work and enjoy the job better? Be sure to include a focus on employee benefits from leveraging new technologies. Will new technologies provide for flexible work hours and locations? Will employees find enjoyment in the work they are doing? Will managers and peers also use the same technologies?
3. BUY ONLY WHAT YOU NEED AND WHAT MEETS AN OVERALL STRATEGY Understand the needs of your organization. How do people work? What frustrates them about the way they work? What works well for them and may need to be expanded? What are the future plans of individuals and the organization? Select technology that meets the overall strategy and is needed by the users. Identify specific areas where collaboration can solve problems. Example: A senior engineer was involved in chemical modeling with multiple sites. He had little interest in video conferencing, but great interest in using an electronic whiteboard to do modeling real-time and share those ideas with distant sites. Improving video conferencing was of no value to him, but providing him with an electronic writing service provided significant value.
4. BUY THE BEST QUALITY YOU CAN AFFORD AND DEPLOY THE SAME TECHNOLOGY ACROSS YOUR ORGANIZATION Too often organizations make the mistake of installing state-of-the-art technology, with all the bells and whistles, at the headquarters, only to discover others have a lackluster experience. With collaboration technologies, it is important to realize you are only as good as your weakest link. If the audio is terrible because the CEO is driving in a car past a truck while in a meeting, the entire experience is awful for everyone. Install equally good technology everywhere and be sure users are educated on the pros and cons of using each technology.
5. KEEP THINGS AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE Consumer technology does not require extensive training and is primarily intuitive. There is no reason the technology in a business, education, or government environment has to be difficult to use. Users want technology that is easy to use, intuitive, and requires minimal or no training. They also want technology that operates the same way regardless of location. Collaboration in the conference room, at the desktop, or on a mobile device should be easy to use and work the same way. Integrate any new technologies into the existing workflow to make it simple for employees to adopt.
6. KEEP THE USERS INFORMED AND EAT YOUR OWN DOG FOOD Too often IT organizations upgrade technology without informing the users what is being installed and the value it offers. Additionally, whatever technology is installed should be used by everyone, from the top down.
7. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE HIGH COST OF IT MANAGEMENT AND END-USER SUPPORT Deployment of collaboration technologies is an evolutionary process, not a revolutionary process. It takes time for people to assimilate new technologies into an organization, even if these technologies are easy to use (think iPhone and iPad). To be successful, organizations need to manage the roll-out of technology, its ongoing maintenance, and the time and cost associated with making upgrades. User support must be flexible and ongoing. Enterprises are moving to support mobile workers across a wide variety of devices, as well as enable unified communications applications.
“The way we work has changed, with technology like smartphones emerging as a dependency, not a convenience. Organizations need to adapt – to change their approach to working and workspaces in a manner that fully acknowledges their remotely connected workforce, and develop solutions that meet their new needs.” David Danto, Principal Consultant, Dimension Data Enterprise Services
CIOs and their support teams are interested in deploying rich media technology that is easy to deploy, use, and maintain. These technologies need to be standards-based, interoperable, simple to use, and easy to upgrade. Users believe it is their right to use whatever technology they choose, and it is IT’s job to make that happen. The growing influence of consumer products is changing employee expectations of collaboration technology in the workplace (i.e. YouTube, Skype for Business, etc.).
This means that enterprises must select technologies and services that are manageable and scalable with minimal need for training. Enterprises must also be prepared for ongoing change in technology since new apps now get adopted very quickly and proliferate within an organization almost before the CIO knows it is happening (think adoption and proliferation of Slack).
“Innovation in space planning, cloud-based unified communications, and the nomadic workforce is creating a collaboration tsunami, and there can be no air gap between workflow, culture, and technology when building bridges between individual and team productivity.” Mark Peterson, Associate Principal at Shen Milsom & Wilke.
“Millenials, ages 18 – 34, expect different ways of being taught and how they develop in the work force. It appears that they are the driving force on how most universities and industries are providing access to classes and the work environment. Mobile devices, social media, teleworking, distance education, are all becoming the norm in most industries. Technology has advanced quickly, continues to do so and no one can afford to be left behind.” Cherie Galantis, Manager, Collaborative Video Technologies at George Mason University.
Employees want the same unified communications features on their tablets and smartphones that they have at their desktop. They want single-number reachability, easy connectivity in conference rooms, and the ability to schedule and control meetings. The meeting spaces can be offices, open spaces, conference rooms, huddle rooms, boardrooms, etc. The goal is to make every space technology capable with audio, data/web, and video capabilities, along with whatever app the user selects. Users want to use whatever tool they select, in any location, at any time.
Josh Klempner, Citigroup’s Senior Multimedia Manager states, “What our most executive clients are looking for is a single ubiquitous solution, allowing them to connect to any meeting, from anywhere, managed or unmanaged with a commonly available device.”
Persistence will pay off. There may be budgetary obstacles, technology issues, non-supportive management, and employee resistance to adoption. Focus on the goals and objectives and don’t get discouraged. Adapt and evolve as needed.
For help with your collaboration projects, contact AVI-SPL at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author Dr. S. Ann Earon has been a researcher and consultant in conferencing and collaborative communications for over 35 years. She holds a Masters in Instructional Technology and Educational Administration from Northeastern University and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. from Boston College with majors in business, speech & communications, and education. Dr. Earon is the Founding Chairperson of IMCCA, the non-profit industry association for conferencing and collaborative communications. She can be reached at AnnEaronTRI@gmail.com.