The three steps to make staff love collaboration tools as much as Facebook

How to make sure your collaboration project is a success
Written by Stuart Roberts, Contributor

How to make sure your collaboration project is a success

Why do so many organisations fail to translate people's fondness for social networking into the widespread use of workplace collaboration tools, asks Stuart Roberts.

Over the past few years, collaboration technologies have become part of everyday life. It is now the norm for friends to keep in touch through Facebook, share photos on Flickr, and to tweet about their drive to work. Inevitably, the same technologies have also made their way into the workplace.

At first, employees used them for the fun of it. But it soon became apparent that there are productivity benefits from tools that make it easier for people to collaborate. So, as well as to keep a cap on related security concerns, organisations started building internal collaboration tools for their employees.

IT departments rushed to launch instant-messaging tools, blogs, wikis, chatrooms, and forums of all shapes and sizes to keep employees happy and to make it easier for them to work together. Research from the CIO Executive Board - a programme of the Corporate Executive Board - shows that more than 50 per cent of organisations are investing in collaboration technologies, in an attempt to increase productivity among staff.

But the research also shows that despite the popularity of collaboration technologies in the workplace among employers, only 24 per cent of organisations implementing them consider their initiatives successful.

That is because collaboration initiatives are often too technology-centric to really work. They fail because employees do not adopt the technologies that IT departments have deployed, and so the intended benefits are lost.

To overcome this hurdle, IT departments need to secure buy-in for the tools they deploy. When launching collaboration technology initiatives, organisations that do so successfully focus on encouraging participation.

They also embed collaboration tools into employee workflows, measure the benefits of collaboration and communicate those benefits to their employees. They also build transparent plans for technology deployments so staff know what tools are available now and in the future.

Here are a few practical examples of how successful organisations tackle these challenges, and the results they achieve:

  1. Embed collaboration into team workflows
    It is often difficult to embed collaboration practices in employee workflows, and increase productivity. IT can help assess how teams work together and design or adapt collaboration technologies around the key elements that drive team productivity.

Example: company A designs a SharePoint site that provides virtual team workspaces to support team interactions, reinforce team identity, make it easier for teams to build relationships, increase the speed of decision-making and to meet agreed deadlines.

  • Measure and communicate team collaboration effectiveness
    It is often difficult to quantify and communicate the value of collaboration investments. IT can calculate returns for investments in collaboration technologies - for example, in terms of time saved per employee.
  • Example: company B quantifies benefits of collaboration technologies in terms of minutes per week saved. The time saved is then sent to employees in an internal campaign, to promote technology tools tailored to the groups' individual needs and to obtain buy-in.

  • Build a transparent collaboration roadmap
    It is often difficult to provide a comprehensive overview of future technology deployments. IT can minimise confusion about the availability of tools and avoid duplicate investments in collaboration technologies by building a single roadmap of existing technologies and future investments.

    Example: company C ensures employees know what is available now and creates awareness of future tools by building easily accessible roadmaps for all staff.

    To sum up, although it is hard to realise benefits from collaboration technologies, organisations can overcome this difficulty by taking a structured approach to deployment, which is based on outcomes. It is important organisations devote time to adapting the tools to employee needs.

    This whole structured approach can result in 60 per cent higher tool adoption and consequently boost employee productivity - and that alone is why it is worth getting right.

    Stuart Roberts is managing director of the IT practice at the Corporate Executive Board, which offers its members research and an integrated suite of tools and resources.

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