Defining successful enterprise collaboration and communication

Best practices from the front lines

It was the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates who said, “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” Without an agreement on meaning, conversations can quickly veer off the rails (as anyone with an extended family, a dining room table and too much wine during the holidays can attest). While definitions are at the heart of all successful communication and collaboration, most of the time we have trouble even agreeing what the term “collaboration” means. In my role as Director of Digital Strategy at Viavi Solutions Inc., when I discuss collaboration with my colleagues in IT, what they usually tend to hear is something along the lines of “workforce productivity applications.” Productivity is important to be sure, but in an enterprise like ours, which has a broad mix of communication channels and productivity apps, I believe we need to think about collaboration holistically across all the ways our employees use technology to engage. Only then can we avoid challenging—and costly—disconnects. 

I’ve learned first-hand that true collaboration is more mission critical than ever as our company grows to become a global leader in the industry. It is no surprise that studies have found that organisations with high collaboration maturity achieve better outcomes (i.e., increased individual productivity, enhanced customer experience and accelerated innovation). In fact, nearly 40 percent of organisations don’t have a defined collaboration strategy and, in 60 percent of those that do, it’s usually the sole purview of the IT department. Much of the problem, to Socrates’ point, is in definitions. Simply put, collaboration means different things to different people.   

How IT departments define collaboration 

Dimension Data’s 2016 Connected Enterprise Report found that the most popular metric IT uses for collaboration success is by far the technical implementation of the tools themselves. For IT, it is important to get solutions in place that employees can collaborate with; for me, it’s essential that they do collaborate. I feel that collaboration should help co-workers share ideas and content, have conversations at all levels in the organisation, and capture all of this valuable knowledge for the future. 

Let’s consider the case of a stack solution like Microsoft Office 365. It is a very common solution, and many believe it is a total collaboration package. Personally, I think organisations that rely on limited sharing capabilities in standard productivity applications like Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint are missing the point of holistic collaboration. I shake my head when a well-intentioned IT co-worker starts extolling the collaborative virtues of a productivity suite by telling me how easily multiple people can work together on a document. I call that document sharing.   

While there are certainly elements of collaboration in individual productivity tools – that’s just one piece of the collaboration puzzle. More organic connections come through other types of interactions, like questions and answers, ad-hoc discussions, blog posts and permissions-based group spaces. Often, it’s easier for companies to imagine standard productivity apps as their collaboration solution simply because they are already present. However, a lot of these productivity solutions overlap with each other (even within the same stack), which can lead to employee dissatisfaction, the acquisition of niche applications and (gasp!) shadow IT within the company. 

The trouble with reach 

The challenge of clear definitions also comes into play as we establish metrics to measure success. While my IT counterparts and I generally agree that enterprise collaboration requires more than a set it up and forget it implementation of the technology to be successful, I’d argue that just measuring by reach may not be the best approach either. In my role, adoption of the tools is as important as implementation is to the CIO.   

While a company’s employees may love using shiny new apps, if they spend much of their workday exchanging cat gifs or reacting to streams of irrelevant messages and clever emojis, all of that communication is a distraction and productivity suffers. If a word as simple as “reach” can mean connecting people across the world to IT while, to me, it means getting those same people to connect with each other to achieve specific business outcomes, is there any hope of finding common ground when it comes to defining collaboration? I believe there is! 

The collaboration hub 

While definitions of terms like collaboration, reach and productivity may vary, what everyone ultimately cares about is improved business outcomes. Successful collaboration requires a combination of implementation, adoption and social interactions in all their forms—and meanings. That’s why, at Viavi, we rely on an interactive intranet solution from Jive which we call ViaviCentral. It serves as our collaboration hub by integrating the tools that our organisation already has in place, as well as any new ones employees want to use. Those include Microsoft Office 365, SharePoint, Salesforce, Google Docs, Box and many others.   

With ViaviCentral’s universal search capabilities, our employees can easily find the information and experts they need, regardless of application, department or location (increasingly, that will include resources from our partner and customer networks as well). We also benefit from powerful analytics that tell us what’s working and what’s not across the entire Viavi digital footprint. Unlike with communications strategies that overly rely on email blasts, we’re able to leverage our collaboration hub to measure engagement across the enterprise. Did employees read the latest communication from our CEO? Did they comment on it? Share it? Link to it? We now know the exact impact.   

Our employees also have a universal inbox that contextually captures invaluable corporate memory, so that knowledge doesn’t walk out the door when workers change jobs or retire. In other words, our intranet isn’t just a content repository, it fosters collaboration in every sense of the word. What’s great is that ViaviCentral is both a destination and ever present – even on mobile devices. Our many deskless workers can easily contribute knowledge and expertise back to the hub from wherever they are, and using any productivity app of their choice. Employees don’t have to give up tools like Outlook or Word if they don’t want to, but they aren’t limited to them either. If they’d rather use Google Drive or Box instead of OneDrive, that’s okay, because the integrations are seamless. Helpful connectors let people leverage blogs, discussions and other collaborative capabilities right from the native productivity tools themselves – you don’t even have to leave your Word document in order to share it in your project space. 

Collaboration needs to compliment how people work today. That goes well beyond a single activity like document sharing; collaboration should support a robust mix of the technologies and the ways in which employees engage. To paraphrase Socrates again; definitions matter. Two-and-a-half centuries after he made that prescient point, another philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” Don’t let misunderstandings about collaboration limit your world—or your business. 

Nicole Fuselier, Director of Digital Strategy, Viavi Solutions 

Image Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicole Fuselier, Director of Digital Strategy, Viavi Solutions