The Role of Culture in Productivity and Collaboration

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At the upcoming European SharePoint Conference taking place next month (Nov 14-17), I will be taking the main stage with my friend and fellow MVP Benjamin Niaulin (@bniaulin) to give a keynote on a topic that I often talk and write about: finding the right cultural fit for collaboration technology.

The problem is not new, of course, and yet we see the same mistakes repeated again and again. When talking about enterprise collaboration, many of us tend to jump directly into the specific technologies (like SharePoint) and workloads (email, business process management, social) that we know and are familiar with. We tend to view all of our needs through the lens of those things that are familiar. The problem is that we blind ourselves to what our organizations may actually need – tools and processes and decisions that impact adoption and engagement, that might better align with our business needs, or things that might provide an improved competitive advantage.

Not too long ago, information workers were limited to email, telephone, and in-person meetings for their collaboration options, but we now have many other options. However, problems can arise when too much focus is placed on any single collaboration workload – or by assuming that what is packaged and sold as a product or service, with slick marketing and seemingly perfect demos, will automatically fit with our own business needs. As a result, a focus on technology alone may make it more difficult for teams and individuals to communicate, share, and collaborate.

The reality of our daily work activities rarely look as clean cut and ideal as the technology demos we see at tradeshows, where every product and their underlying features address each and every scenario. Most technology follows the 80-20 rule: they can generally provide us with 80% of what we need, but the real effort is in delivering the other 20%. SharePoint is a great example of this 80-20 rule, providing a strong baseline of collaboration capability — but without a strong alignment with our key business activities, many end users will turn to other tools and applications to get their work done. When organizations take the time to understand how their employees work, and refine the movement between workloads, those employees become more engaged.

When Microsoft GM Julia White took the stage at WPC last year and demonstrated the GigJam product, my first thoughts, in order, were

  1. this is really awesome,
  2. the demo was carefully staged, future-looking example and nowhere close to being ready for primetime, and
  3. the significance of GigJam was that it was addressing the gap between technologies, recognizing that the success of any single technology often has more to do with how it fits into the broader work scenarios than to how it performs its own tasks.

Working across or between Office workloads — and not just within those workloads — should be part of an organization’s planning as you begin to think about your collaboration strategy.

To improve upon that 80-20 rule and enhance team productivity, it is important to understand how people actually accomplish their work. Don’t just focus on the primary workloads — think about the entire user experience. Where collaboration can add value is between those workloads. For example, moving an idea from an email you receive to something that is actionable — maybe a shared space or a community where people can gather and comment, expand on the idea, iterate on a plan to move forward or to fold it into other plans. From there, that idea could spark the creation of a formal project plan, a team site within SharePoint, or any number of activities across other workloads.

The expansion of productivity features within the Microsoft Office suite of tools is a great example of how Microsoft is trying to help customers better work between their various workloads. The inclusion of Skype for Business and OneNote within Outlook is an excellent example of helping end users move between one workload (email) and their other productivity tools (communications via Skype, content creation using OneNote) to better complete their work.

Working between workloads is about reducing the number of clicks, removing additional windows, and aligning tools and platforms into more of an integrated solution, rather than independent functional silos. Removing those functional silos is an important part of the way my own company, Beezy, approaches enterprise collaboration scenarios. We look closely at the way people share information, how they create, tag and either publish or store content, and how they build community momentum so that our solutions provide value end-to-end.

In the modern enterprise, it is important to understand

  1. what you are trying to deliver for your business,
  2. what the core capabilities of your chosen technologies can provide,
  3. how these various tools perform in actual work scenarios, and
  4. what processes, tools, and measurements are needed to identify what value is being created, how successful they are, and where you need to further optimize and adjust to better fit your company culture.

It’s a UX problem – and a big one, at that. But it’s a problem that will increasingly impact your company’s ability to get the most out of your IT spend and team productivity, as well as your ability to innovate in an increasingly competitive world.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.