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In the early years, before the advent of globalization, businesses relied on one dimensional methods to achieve their next big thing, could be a successful business or product idea or may be a solution to a long pending complex puzzle. These activities used to take place under a single roof, it brought together people from the same timezone who gathered in a meeting room and the rest of what evolved was purely within the room. 

That's collaboration for you, the art of joining forces to produce an output that's greater than the sum of all individual inputs. In the real world, collaboration arms a department/team with the ability to punch above the collective weight and through the process, helps create a competitive edge. 

It's been proven time and again (with results) that collab paves way for many tangible benefits such as a rise in innovation index, employee NPS scores-eNPS and productivity gains. If one would ever want to visualize collab in the form of a simple mathematical equation, the closest could be like this:

Going back to the topic of traditional collab, apart from a pool of human brains that was within the rooms, there were also some tools like pen, pencil, piles of paper and artifacts from a previous meeting, a conference phone that allowed words to flow through, the whiteboard that allowed for visualization and ideas to come to life.

The current landscape

Fast forward to today, that physical meeting room has been broken into many virtual parts and thousands of miles have been added in between each of those parts. There are dispersed roofs from various different timezones. Plethora of tools exist today to aid the meeting experience many of which isn't controlled by IT. To combat timezone differences, the industry brought in the attribute of persistence into virtual collaboration rooms which gives everyone the option of contributing to a discussion thread after the sun rises in their neck of the woods. Meetings no longer are the only avenue to collaborate. Technology and tools broke many previous barriers to color collaboration with breathtaking possibilities.

Today, not only have new paradigms been created but they even are reaching mainstream status.Example: Solutions that provide intelligence and context like facial tag, information on people and organizations, pulled in from public profile/social media, gets you warmed up nicely for a productive conversation and keeps all static information like names, titles, background, team names away from getting in to drive boredom wherein attention drops out right from the get go.

If we pay attention, there were/are 3 main aspects here, human beings, tools, environment. The tools in the previous generation just existed alongside humans, but they could never truly blend productively with the communication that took place within the room.  In today's world, these three fuse really well, contributing to the quality of the conversation. This elevated status has been a blessing from technologies such as artificial intelligence. For example, the telepresence endpoint within your room controls the room environment, let's you share content with no dongles/connectors, provides you a digital whiteboard to co-create your next big idea, the same equipment/software can take notes for your meeting, can be your meeting timekeeper and if need be, can even extend the meeting room booking , cancels the background noise from the environment. That's a lot.

In order to foster a productive workplace, collaboration technologies of today are modeled on providing depth in people interaction and people relationships. Body language, eye contact, subtle facial gestures represent the very essence of human connection and are pivotal to reinforce trust and synergy. These were some of the missing elements in tools of previous era that rendered virtual collaboration ineffective. However, the good news is, today's technologies are able to pick these cues. 

Complexity crawls in

The above examples stand for what state of the art collab can deliver. Can't think of an organization in today's digital era who wouldn't want to be armed with such communication strength. They can all aim to get there, when the collab strategy has been premised on some well thought through principles/tenets. In the real world that's rarely the case. Take note of the strong undercurrent that can halt the onward march/evolution of collab in your environment.

What are the likely reasons for this complexity?

  1. The problem of plenty with poor integration: In the past 5-6 years, while there is some sort of an agreement that all major players have responded well to slack opportunities in the market, the focus mostly has been to solve a pointed issue. This meant the birth of new specialized tools which of course made their way in to be accepted within specific groups. However, lack of context, lack of integration & data sharing between these tools meant organizations were not able to realize the full potential of investments.
  2. Mergers and acquisitions not only brought together the member organizations' communication infra but also ended up diluting the respective collab strategies in the process.
  3. When non-standard stitching of tools is your prime idea: In the examples stated in previous section, many technologies from many different vendors/OEM's work in tandem to deliver the experience. If we break this down, there is a mix of real time collaboration players (Cisco, Zoom, Microsoft, Ribbon) and content collaboration products (OneDrive, BOX, Sharepoint). These have been glued together either by acquisitions made by the primary vendor or through architecture frameworks into which third parties introduce themselves. This category may be called as "acquired and integrated." Anything that doesn't fall under the above models is known to introduce some difficulty in integration efforts, spike expenses in labour and dent the overall support experience giving it a jog down south. I would call this category as "acquired and cocktailed."
  4. The newest entry: Hybrid work, return to work. There is no playbook here and the whole industry is after a moving target. It appears that no easy answers are available to determine the right mix of remote and office workers and to provide the right solutions to guarantee a common end user experience in this new normal. This definitely adds to the tall order of apprehensions that already exists at the table of a collab decision maker.

The resulting landscape is one that negatively impacts the following:

  • UX: Confused user experience where technology is not hidden.
  • ROI: Less than desired levels of utilization that doesn't help realize value of investments.
  • OX: Lack of context and siloed operations that's stuck in limbo.

The presence of inherited drawbacks like these is a common scenario. In such circumstances, starting a collab revamp could lack conviction and might be overwhelming. A business can end up finding themselves as the deer in the headlights.

Can this complexity be avoided ? 

Yes. When you have an effective collab strategy that can offer you a full view angle.

Pointers to a good collab strategy

Envisioning a collab strategy can be equated to plotting a course at sea, which primarily required knowing the direction and distance between point A and point B. Secondly, just like how rutters were used for maritime navigation, a collab blueprint should guide all decision making and investments. Think about including these 4 provisions in your strategy,

1. Alignment with business objectives

The purpose of the tools [data, device, applications] that's provided for employees is to enable better productivity.  Remember this, tools drive employee productivity which in turn drives organizational agility. So, there is a significant linkage to some larger goals. If the tools selection criteria isn't in line with the business objectives, the investment isn't going to make much of a difference. There needs to be method/framework that's battle tested to establish this linkage. 

2. An ever live logic to phase out tools & software

The onslaught of tools & software contributing to sprawl isn't going to go away any soon. Thanks to the fast paced technology world. A periodic check, reporting on what collab tools & software is still relevant for your workforce must be an exercise that should figure in your strategy.

3. Design of workspace & meeting rooms

The turn of events in the past year has cemented remote worker as a permanent profile. This has given rise to some new questions pertaining to real estate investments and planning. While it may appear lucrative at the surface level to let go of real estate office space, there are some nitty-gritty that may make the decision makers wonder if the savings from real estate was worth. In addition to technology and tools, design of workspaces contributes to employee experience and known for producing best ideas. It would prove useful to sketch out the rationale for room design to purpose fit various different usage styles and sub cultures that you see within your organization.

4. Reading & recalibrating your existing environment

To be able to track early symptoms and learn from signals that exist in the current collab farm will be valuable  and is a domain of its own. Drawing this data from diversified sources is what matters. These sources can range from technology systems such as your conferencing unit, collaboration engines such as the IP PBX, environmental data from meeting room systems, patterns mined from service tickets to non-technology inputs as subjective opinions from focus group discussions, surveys. Mapping the relationship between the data from these sources and to be able to glean meaningful insights can be compared to a ball of yarn where strings are so finely interwoven and too complicated to find out what drives what. This is a challenge best left for data science to solve. Once you derive these insights, make sure that you find a way to feed this back into your strategy, thus enabling it to be more fluid.

The right strategy is what organizations need today to bootstrap navigation of what seems like a complex multi layered ocean of collab. 

WWT can help you make sense of the heterogeneous world of collab.