Control Group is helping organizations create more innovative workspaces and tools that foster more productive (and happy) workforces. A major consideration in all of our work in this area is collaboration. Here is a brief Q+A with Lisa O’Neil, Associate Partner of Consulting, on the impact of technology on collaboration, based on her discussion with Inc. Magazine.
How has technology changed the nature of collaboration over the last decade?
10 years ago there was no Cloud, no iPhone, no social media. Ubiquitous and immediate access to every corner of the Internet has changed mass culture as well as business culture. Immediacy and constant contact is normal, people feel entitled to it, and technology has both driven and been driven by this expanding entitlement. Email, Skype and its ilk, CRM platforms, social media, corporate content management systems – all of these are tools that facilitate communication and data exchange instantly, anywhere.
What kinds of opportunities does collaboration create for businesses?
Both businesses and non-profit organizations (NPOs) can realize dramatic increases in efficiencies from improved internal collaboration. For businesses this can translate into increased speed to market, improved management processes, and lowered product development and marketing costs. For NPOs improved efficiencies can result in streamlined, more focused and successful development efforts, and the freeing of resources to focus on fundraising and constituent issues.
How have employee attitudes towards collaboration changed?
Attitudes have definitely changed – the effects of the consumerization of corporate IT are readily evident in the corporate product roadmaps of Dropbox, Evernote, and a host of other platforms that started out focused on consumer apps. Companies heavily use social media as integrated aspects of their marketing efforts. Most people carry their work email, content, and productivity tools around on a smartphone and check in as often as with their personal content and notifications. The work life and the personal life are extremely blended.
The benefits to employees include faster communication cycles, improved workflows, higher productivity, and increased visibility into what other teams and departments are working on. The ability to parcel out and parallelize a team’s work can reduce resource requirements and shorten timelines. These same assets can also be perceived by employees as liabilities. Faster communication is often accompanied by higher turnaround expectations and employee stress. However, inter-departmental coordination and visibility can be threatening in an environment that has embraced collaboration technologically but not culturally.
What are the most important internal collaboration issues affecting managers?
Collaboration technology is not a panacea for solving communication or process problems, and technology by itself does not change behavior. Improving organizational collaboration requires leadership, strategic design, and change management methodology to be successful. Organizations that recognize these fundamentals and address the surrounding cultural challenges as part of a collaboration technology implementation or evolution are successful.
Why should external collaboration be considered in today’s business environment?
Successful companies understand that internal collaboration – a ready exchange of relevant content and data as employees go about their jobs – is vital for efficiency and development of competitive advantages. They also appreciate that collaboration with non-staff stakeholders (e.g., suppliers, customers, shareholders) is equally critical to servicing customers, fostering innovation, and maximizing those competitive advantages.
How has technology changed the nature of external collaboration between organizations and their outside partners?
Social media has of course been huge and an advancement of the digital access trends started with the web and email marketing. Many companies have embraced ticketing systems to facilitate, analyze, and improve customer service. Geo-tracking, sensors, and other spatially aware technology add value to users and relevancy to the exchange of data between them and the organization. Enterprise content management platforms allow companies to manage documents and other work product artifacts and control how content is accessed by people outside of the organization. The “voice” of the organization can be reinforced (or fragmented) through its external exchange of content and data with a wide range of collaboration technology.
What kinds of opportunities does it create for businesses?
The instantaneousness of collaboration technology means that organizations can respond to issues affecting their constituents immediately and capitalize on “hot button” issues while they are actually hot, within minutes instead of days or weeks. For businesses this similarly facilitates quicker, more relevant information that moves more products or services to the right customers in the right locations more profitably.
What are the most important external collaboration issues affecting businesses?
Security policies and practices are of course extremely important, and need understanding and collaboration between the business and IT. More importantly, a high-level alignment of corporate IT with the business strategy is crucial and can be a huge opportunity for forward-thinking technology leaders and staff. It can also be an extremely difficult proposition for the future-adverse or business-side stakeholders who are uncomfortable with technology.
What lies ahead?
The trend will surely continue – there will be more corporate “stuff” to be managed, tagged, categorized, commented on, approved, distributed, clicked on, analyzed, repackaged, and archived. There will be more data to be crunched on who and how all of this stuff is being used and how much value its various containers and conveyances add to the bottom line. Corporate IT will continue its shift to a role of business partner rather than technology police, and will be increasingly scrutinized for its business value within the context of whatever it is that the business does to make money.