Smooth collaboration among employees is an important success factor for companies. Having one tool for information, documents and interaction is the key to this. But what opens the door to this in particular is cultural change.
Pedro Brägger, October 2016
Companies today put their faith in teams rather than lone wolves. They know that you get better results if employees from different disciplines team up. Several studies have shown that collaborative undertakings are more successful. The proof for this is provided by the oft-cited high-flyers from Silicon Valley such as Uber and Spotify. But how can employees work together efficiently? Especially in virtual teams where employees from different areas are working on a project at different locations, often no one has an overview, and collaboration is unproductive. Information does not reach all relevant persons, knowledge already acquired is lost, and experiences from previous projects remain unused. All this costs a company agility, innovative capacity and money.
Communication solutions can help – ones that organise information and communication. Without these, motivated employees know to help themselves: They use user-friendly applications and tools such as Dropbox or WhatsApp for company purposes. However, over the long term such behaviour inevitably leads to a shadow IT system in the company and is thus associated with a high risk in regard to security and loss of knowledge. There is also the legal risk, such as banking and insurance data that must remain in Switzerland.
Another problem is that each team uses its own tool for its various activities. This is understandable, because the applications are suitable for specific purposes. But such fragmentation is highly inefficient: The team members no longer have an overview, and accessing the information is tedious when they have to log on to each of the various portals. In addition, the potential of the individual applications is often not tapped, as a study by Pierre Audoin Consultants on the working environments in Swiss industry (2016) shows. In this study, most surveyed IT and business decision-makers reported additional work due to applications cannot interact with each other.
Another shortcoming of various tools is that users can hardly track the progress of information, do not know who edited what last, or are then constantly looking for the latest valid version. Multiple saved versions also occupy space on the servers. This leads to additional costs and also makes it harder to backup and restore the system.
Companies want to get this situation under control and are looking for a tool that meets the various needs. But why not start small and evolve with the company’s needs and projects? Initially, only one basic system with the fundamental features such as news publishing, communities, virtual workspaces and social media features (such as comments, likes and feeds) as well as secure and easy sharing of data with third parties is necessary. Other tools such as video, voice, chat and e-mail are then seamlessly integrated in this basic system – without users having to log in again and copy data.
What is crucial is the social media software, which is suitable as a basic system but nevertheless can be adapted to the different requirements. According to Gartner (2015), the tools from Microsoft are promising. They include a considerable range of solutions that can be used in the cloud and deployed at the customer site (on premise). Integrated in an ecosystem, features such as voice, data storage, internal and external collaboration, chat and e-mail can be combined – in a manner that is better than with other solutions.
It is of course the case that SharePoint cannot be used as easily and quickly as Skype for Business, for example. But if you develop the solution further so that the different features work together, an intuitive interface is created. This can be adapted to the diverse needs of the company. Ideally this creates a portal that combines intranet and collaboration, and on which communication, knowledge and information flows along all hierarchical lines. Teams, whether virtual or not, can communicate easily within workspaces using feeds or outside their communities using articles. If there are adjustments to projects and documents, employees receive automatic notifications on request. A document management system manages the versions of a document and allows different people to work on a document at the same time. Documents are e-mailed only as a link to the shared data storage and do not clog your mailbox. The latest SharePoint features ensure that links that are sent will still work if the document is moved to another location. The data remains in one place, preferably encrypted and protected, and is available on any device with a browser thanks to responsive design. Users always maintain an overview using dashboards. Such a portal makes it possible for employees to be more productive, to improve the quality of project work and to communicate more efficiently. That benefits both employers and employees.
The right tool for a portal is essential, but it does not lead to the aforementioned advantages by itself. Because no matter how intuitive and user friendly such a solution is: Employees need to know how they can use the solution, and they need to adapt their habits. They diligently share content in their spare time – such as cat videos on Facebook, photos of dinner on Instagram or beach selfies on Snapchat. But within the company, they usually are reluctant to share key findings from a project, a link to a relevant study or success stories from the reality of everyday business, let alone answer a question from a teammate so that others benefit.
If a company wants to roll out a portal that nurtures and facilitates communication and collaboration between employees, it must be aware that this will actually change the way that the company works. It means a major change in people’s habits and also requires a cultural shift.
The vision for the new way of working must be strategically anchored, and it must be backed up by management.
It is a project which is to be well thought-out and coordinated over time.
Employees are to be introduced to the new way of working and receive support when needed.
The communications portal must be filled with life, and this requires great commitment especially at the beginning. This can be in the form of dedicated community management and be associated with measures such as newsfeed posts, video tutorials and live events.
Collaboration can undoubtedly lead a company to more innovation and quality, but it needs to be approached properly. It is worthwhile to Google the phrase “Why intranets fail”. Those who want to do it better consult experts and benefit from their experiences.