It is widely understood — in fact, by now it is axiomatic — that collaboration (and web collaboration software) is important for organizational success. However, what can get overlooked is just how massive an impact collaboration has on performance. One study found that organizations that practice effective collaboration are five times more productive than their less collaborative counterparts. And yet despite this, a separate survey revealed that 86% of employees pin the blame for workplace failures on (yes, you guessed it) ineffective or essentially non-existent collaboration.
In a moment, we will explore the key role that web collaboration software plays in enhancing collaboration throughout the organization, and across external stakeholders. First, however, it is illuminating to look at a major — and unexpected — reason why so many organizations struggle to collaborate: chat apps.
Why Chat Apps Aren’t Effective Web Collaboration Tools
Chat apps are touted by various vendors as ideal web collaboration tools. Indeed, their marketing materials show photos of smiling workers who seem to be engaged, energized and excited about teamwork. However, as many organizations have discovered — especially larger enterprises — the picture in reality is markedly different and far less inspiring.
There are a few reasons why chat apps can trigger confusion instead of establish clarity:
- Chat apps tend to dominate and crowd out other communication options that, in some cases, are much better channels for collaborating such as virtual workspaces and video conferencing. Yes, it is great to have the option to send or receive a quick text, or engage in a short, simple and focused exchange. But for more complex conversations, or those that involve multiple participants, chat apps can be obstacles instead of enhancements.
- Workers who do not immediately respond to messages can be wrongly perceived as not doing their job. Just because someone is “working” does not mean that they are available to chat. And while in theory workers should be able to solve this by toggling their status, in practice anyone who appears to be “busy” or “away” for too long is perceived as filtering in/out certain colleague (the same way that some workers scrutinize caller ID before deciding to answer a call or let a call go to voicemail).
- Chat apps trigger distractions and can lead to exhaustion. Here is why: when workers are focused on tasks, their brain waves travel in an up-down direction along the prefrontal cortex. But when they are alerted to external stimuli — like ongoing chat app notifications — their brain waves travel in a down-up direction along the parietal cortex. This constant fluctuation between up-down and down-up brainwaves is not only draining, but it leads to inefficient and poor quality work.
It is necessary to point out that chat apps do indeed have a role to play in the online collaboration software mix, and the above criticisms are not calling for them to be banished. Rather, the message is that chat apps were not designed as primary web-based collaboration tools — and organizations that believe otherwise are typically those that have an excessive amount of conversations, but precious little effective collaboration.
Web Collaboration Solutions
Class-leading web collaboration solutions avoid all of the pitfalls and limitations of chat apps, and enable effective collaboration in several ways, including:
- Seamlessly linking emails to specific work items and tasks, which ensures that all relevant individuals — and not just the email’s sender and recipient(s) — are aware of pertinent information.
- Allowing managers to connect with individual team members or larger groups, so that everyone is informed — but not distracted. This also automatically creates an audit trail for future reference, and helps new team members rapidly get up-to-speed.
- Enabling team members to edit and update documents in a centralized location within the web collaboration software solution, or using popular cloud-based storage tools (e.g., Google Docs, Box, etc.). This greatly enhances collaboration and avoids version control nightmares.
- Connecting internal teams with customers, contractors, freelancers, and other external stakeholders, so that all relevant parties are in-the-loop and can make efficient, meaningful contributions. As pointed out in a thought leadership article published by the Project Management Institute (PMI): “Stakeholder management is critical to the success of every project.”
In addition, the best online collaboration software is augmented by feature-rich, yet easy-to-use mobile apps that enable workers to continue the work journey between devices. It is vital that mobile apps mirror the feel and functionality of the web collaboration software (i.e., desktop version), so that workers do not encounter unfamiliar interfaces and screens — which is not just annoying, but slows down productivity and can lead to input errors and misunderstandings.
Web Collaboration: Best Practices
Organizations that want to reap the rewards of effective collaboration are encouraged to adopt the following best practices:
- Make sure that everyone on the team — as well as any external parties, such as customers and consultants — knows how to access web-based collaboration software features and functions. The best solutions are intuitive, easy-to-use, and have excellent training resources (both on-demand and guided).
- Keep locations and time zones in mind when scheduling online meetings.
- Establish and enforce policies regarding reporting and documentation (for example, decide what documentation will be stored in the web collaboration software solution, and what documentation will be stored in a third-party online repository).
- Regularly check-in to see how team members are doing. This is about fostering teamwork and demonstrating support, and not about micromanaging. As Gartner warns: “[Managers] may be concerned and even frustrated to lose the constant visibility they once had into their employees, but don’t respond by micromanaging. That will only disengage and fatigue already stressed employees.”
- Enforce role-based access control within the web collaboration software, so that team members and external stakeholders have access to the virtual workplaces and documents they need — but nothing more. This not only simplifies things, but it also enhances security.
The Final Word
Effective collaboration is vital for optimal performance, productivity, efficiency, innovation, customer success, and competitive advantage. Yet as pointed out earlier, many organizations are struggling in this area rather than striving. Implementing class-leading web collaboration software and adopting key best practices will go a long way towards addressing this obstacle, and paving the way for a much more successful — and collaborative — future.