UC and collaboration tools like Skype, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Teams, Google Hangouts and Workplace by Facebook are all mechanisms powering more efficient working practices. When they're used right, these tools can bring greater productivity, quicker knowledge transfer, stronger teams, and happier employees.
But they're not always used ideally.
The sheer number of UC and collaboration tools available today, and the ease of obtaining them, pose a real difficulty. These types of tools have proliferated within many companies, with employees often using them without the knowledge, let alone consent, of IT. This leaves IT the difficult challenge of trying to keep track of the many different tools they might be in use.
Done well, the introduction of collaboration tools can reduce friction and break down geographic divides among colleagues. But when the introduction is done haphazardly, these tools can sow confusion, as different teams use different collaboration tools that don't speak to each other and end up hindering communication. After all, how can you communicate effectively when, essentially, no one is speaking the same language?
Here are six ways to overcome these challenges and ensure your organization's collaboration strategy is a success.
Adopting Collaboration Tools: Start with an Appraisal
The first thing you need to do is run an internal appraisal to figure out which collaboration tools are in your environment and why. When we did this at my organization several years ago, we discovered that we didn't have enough collaboration tools and the tools we did have weren't the right ones. Half the company was on one tool and the other half was on another -- and neither half was fit for purpose. We conducted a similar audit more recently and discovered we had too many tools. This was leading to confusion about which tools to use and frustration when the tools didn't talk to each other. An appraisal can identify areas costing the company time and money and reveal opportunities to improve business performance.
Understand Team Collaboration Preferences when Considering Tools
Are some of your teams only comfortable communicating via the phone while others prefer using video? Are teams collaborating in real time or is there, say, a time-zone lag? Understand that collaboration tools have to work the way your people do, not the other way around, then choose your tools accordingly. This will lead to more effective collaboration. Start by interviewing key influencers in your organization and seek their input on which tools to use and why. Commit to being open-minded and flexible. Don't get fixated on a certain set of tools and insist that everyone use them. You'll likely discover that those tools aren't fit for purpose and don't support the way your organization really works. The last thing you want is to invest in new collaboration tools and then discover that no one is using them.
Adopting Collaboration Tools: Test what works
Before encouraging widespread use of new collaboration tools, you've got to ensure that you've optimized your IT infrastructure to cope with the added demands -- and that means properly testing your network ahead of deployment. If you don't, you could end up with jitter, echo, and latency in your communications -- which translates to a poor user experience. The proper tests will evaluate your infrastructure and detect potential issues in the performance of voice, video, and desktop sharing before they occur. Think of it this way: Your collaboration systems are like the human heart. For blood to flow freely through the heart, the arteries have to be clear and unimpeded. In the same way, the channels of communication throughout your organization need to remain unblocked so your collaboration systems can keep beating effectively.
Deploy Collaboration Tools Gradually
Once you've conducted your audit, determined which tools you want to use, and are confident that your IT infrastructure can cope with them, you must do some fine-tuning before you deploy the tools to the entire organization. Start by piloting your chosen tools with a group of early adopters, learn from them, and adjust. Next, extend that pilot from a small group of users to a department. Learn how that department is using the tool and, again, make any adjustments necessary before deploying the tools to more departments or the entire organization. You may discover that power users are fine with the tools, but new users are having trouble mastering certain features. It's important to understand and address such issues each time you grow your pilot.
Offer User Training throughout the Process
Extend training before, during, and after deployment to ensure people are comfortable with the new collaboration tools in place. Ongoing training is especially important because as cloud vendors introduce new features on a constant basis, it's helpful to provide users with regular training to ensure they keep up to date and stay productive.
Proactively Watch for Quality Concerns
IT needs to know about problems before they impact the business -- not when 30 people who are supposed to have a video meeting are trying desperately to connect and collaborate. When you proactively monitor the quality and performance of systems and infrastructure, you put yourself in position to troubleshoot issues and isolate problems before the user experience is significantly impacted. In its 2018global research study on UCC, Nemertes Research found that specialty UCC performance management tools not only improved user satisfaction leading to better adoption, they helped reduced UCC operating costs by 43%.
The work environment is becoming more collaborative every day, thanks to the number of new tools and technologies that enable organizations to work faster and better. But for collaboration tools to truly deliver on their promise, you need to do the proper planning and prepare to troubleshoot issues and isolate problems. Then your workers can be more efficient -- and your company can be more productive.