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Sacrificing Pets: Optimizing Collaboration Tools for Professional Teams

Everyone works differently and so too do teams. It doesn’t make sense to force everyone to use the same tools for collaboration. IT needs to engage and, well, collaborate with teams to focus on supporting tools that make sense for the team and the company.

Managing knowledge workers has been likened to herding cats, and collaboration tool chaos will only disperse the herd and hurt productivity. Getting everybody on the same page requires engagement, analysis, and communication.

Collaboration tools are like pets. Nearly everyone has a favored pet and some might have more than one. Tech-savvy professional workers are particularly fond of their pets and the menagerie can be diverse.

In the case of one tech research firm that will remain nameless (hint, it had “Info” in the name), a single analyst had on his PC active connections to OneNote, Evernote, OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, iCloud, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, and Basecamp. Forget about collaboration. All that background synching was a serious drain on device performance.

Overburdened IT departments are expected to either support a wide range of productivity and collaboration tools or at least secure the information that is transmitted through these tools.

Teams Also Have Individual Personalities

Everyone talks differently, works differently, thinks differently, and collaborates differently. Since knowledge workers’ roles and job functions depend so greatly upon their thinking, the technologies provided to them should facilitate their thinking as much as possible. Doing so is difficult though, because everyone thinks differently. It is even more difficult because teams of knowledge workers collaborate differently and approach different problems (and job functions) from diverse directions.

The need for technology to facilitate individuals’ thoughts and teams’ collaboration is more pronounced when teams are split across multiple locations and even time zones. The technology giants discovered this difficulty when they established operations in India. Citrix faces this issue when a Markham-based worker (who is encouraged to work from home) needs to collaborate with someone in the Santa Clara or Fort Lauderdale offices. Amazon will face this problem once they’ve established their second headquarters.

IT Needs to Be Involved

Often, IT is an afterthought; a business unit, department, or team uses their discretionary spending to purchase a collaboration app – or worse, they use something that is free online.

But if corporate information is stolen by a malicious third party through one of these services, IT and the cybersecurity group will be held accountable for the loss. How does IT securely enable collaboration when:

  • Teams use the same tools differently
  • Teams use different tools
  • Teams purchase collaboration and productivity services without consulting IT

Never has it been easier for users to incorporate software into business processes without IT’s involvement. Even if you lock down every computer and every corporate smartphone, people can still use apps on their personal phones for work or they can adopt a web-based app that runs in their web browser.


1. Study the end user

Find out from your users what tools they use and how they use those tools. You can do this in a variety of ways, but we recommend a combination of focus groups and one-on-one interviews.

In small focus groups, your interviewees can interact and provide you with valuable insights into pain points they face and how they work. One-on-one interviews are beneficial because they allow you to go deeper with the interviewee and gather information without the interviewee being influenced by others.

Distill the content from the focus groups and interviews into:

  • Software used
  • Use cases
  • Desired functionality

Prioritize the software, use cases, and desired functionality based on the value that improving each item will bring to end users.

2. Educate the end user

User training is an important aspect of collaboration strategies. If you don’t educate when you deploy, then users will be more hesitant to adopt.

Ongoing training is a real value-add service that IT can provide to employees. By educating users, you can teach them how to more efficiently use software, and therefore how to work more effectively. If you find that certain teams are underutilizing specific collaboration tools, you can use training to teach them about these tools.

This training should take multiple forms. First, having a user-facing knowledgebase (or FAQ) is very helpful for users that prefer self-service. Second, having routine half-hour training sessions are a powerful way to educate users on new functionality and to ensure that the sessions are addressing features that users find useful. If you can record these sessions, even better. Third, bringing a consultant onsite to train end users can also be helpful, especially if end-user education doesn’t exist as a skill within your IT team. Educating the end user is empowering the end user.

3. Empower the end user

In parallel with end-user education, your team should execute collaboration-related projects. Types of projects to consider are:

  • Simplifying collaboration or productivity tools
  • Integrating different collaboration or productivity tools
  • Building functionality that would simplify a business process

Prioritize these projects based on the level of empowerment the result will offer.

You also need to have a good understanding of the features available from each collaboration tool or suite. That way, when your users come asking for new apps, distill what features they are looking for, and direct them to an existing tool.

However, for this redirect to work, the supported tool has to be more compelling to the end user than the tool they’re asking for. The tool needs to offer more value, be as easy to use as a consumer-grade tool, and be more persuasive. Ultimately, if the supported tool isn’t compelling enough to the end user, then it’s not empowering them.

Bottom Line

It is not IT’s place to micromanage how non-IT teams operate. If a team wants an app, IT should steer the team toward functionality that exists in a tool that’s already supported – but ultimately, IT should support whatever solution the team decides upon. The important thing is for IT to facilitate conversation.

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