Collaboration in the cloud

Feb 12 2018   5:16PM GMT

Three top tips to solve the collaboration conundrum

Michael Tidmarsh Michael Tidmarsh Profile: Michael Tidmarsh


Collaboration technology is increasingly popular, but many organisations have not thought through why and how collaboration should be at the heart of their business.

Nicola Millard, head of customer insight and futures at BT, highlights the “collaboration conundrum” when such contradictions risk derailing projects.

Multinationals face a host of collaboration challenges because of their scale – trying to create the right environment and give the right collaborative tools to the right employees, providing equality of access regardless of location.

A robust, reliable and secure network is vital to underpin effective cloud collaboration, but it is not just about the technology. Company culture and the way collaborative tools are rolled out, and to whom, are essential considerations if projects are to succeed.

Jon Martin, general manager of BT One Cloud Microsoft at BT, and Nicola Millard highlight three top tips on how to solve the collaboration conundrum.

Leadership needs to create a sense of purpose

“High-performing organisations are good at creating a sense of purpose for collaboration,” says Millard.

Leadership is vital in creating that sense of purpose, and leaders need to be good networkers with clear ideas about the benefits of collaboration. Executives should aim to create a sense of place and common ground for effective collaboration.

Millard says that technology has untethered staff, creating “shoulder-bag workers” as the technology has shrunk. Employees don’t need to be at their desk to do their work, which offers choice for individuals – and challenges for leaders.

“The challenge for an employer is to bring those shoulder-bag workers together,” says Millard.

She highlights research that shows one-third of people said they don’t need to collaborate to do their job, while 50% said they won’t collaborate unless rewarded for it.

Good leadership is vital to ensure collaborative tools gain critical mass and create a sense of purpose for employees. Any enterprise social network is only as good as the people using it.

“The collaboration conundrum is lots of good things juxtaposed by a lot of challenges on how to get people to communicate more effectively. It is less about command and control and more about creating a sense of purpose and connection,” says Millard.

Don’t be overwhelmed by constant “presence”

Martin says: “Where people openly collaborate, it is very visible who has done what. It promotes a meritocracy rather than a hierarchy, so there are cultural implications.

“When organisations don’t provide ways of collaborating, employees will use systems that are harder to control,” he says.

Even physical proximity doesn’t necessarily mean people collaborate well, says Millard: “If you crush people together, you get the lift effect – it goes against collaboration as people need privacy.”

Martin advises employees how they can take control to exploit the different capabilities of tools and be empowered by the idea of constant “presence”.

“It’s important to know the real presence status of an individual – whether they’re on the phone or sharing the desktop. The key is to manage how and when you communicate, but how you strike a balance is up to the individual,” he says.

This is critical because presence in an office is not necessarily a sign someone is productive, and motivating collaborative behaviours is not hierarchical or top-down.

Use the three U’s to make to most of your tools

Collaborative technology needs to be accessible to all. Email is not always great – there is too much of it and you need to know who to collaborate with, says Millard: “It is a good information tool, but not good on collaboration.”

Social media builds connections, but often fails on its corporate purpose, building weak ties and peripheral awareness of what people are doing. Video is a good medium as it helps to build trust.

“As we move more and more into the digital space, we need to figure out the different dynamics that digital gives us in terms of collaboration,” says Millard.

For employees to make the most of any tools offered, it boils down to what Millard calls the “three U’s” – is it useful, is it usable and who else is using it?

“There is a culture change as leaders start to use the tools,” says Millard.

The enterprise tools most likely to be adopted are those that mimic consumer software in their usability and where people do not need manuals to get started.

“Collaborative tools will be successful depending on how simple and easy to use they are, the quality of experience and how well they are integrated with other apps. Microsoft owns the desktop and can integrate collaboration tools seamlessly,” says Martin.

In multinationals, pockets of user behaviour are often noticeable. For example, video is popular in one particular company, but Europe consumes nine million of the 11 million minutes of video a month consumed across all regions.

“Organisations have cultures and subcultures. All large programmes are visibly led by business leaders. There is a correlation between senior people using collaboration tools and use rippling down,” says Martin.

In the future, Millard believes collaboration tools will become even richer and copy elements of games like Minecraft, using virtual and augmented reality.

“How we build environments that are richer and bring in a lot of advantages of digital tools is a big issue to explore,” she says.

BT’s new white paper, ‘Putting people first through digital transformation’, explores the views of over 400 CEOs and offers advice for achieving your digital employee experience goals.

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