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The state of social collaboration in the digital workplace

With the recent introduction of its new Workplace platform, Facebook is entering an already crowded enterprise social collaboration space. Although Workplace features a big name, does it really offer anything new to businesses who are more interested in profits than page views?

The dream of enterprise social collaboration is not just a workplace in which employees eagerly adopt a company’s systems and solutions, but also full IT control over security and reliable ways of measuring worker performance and productivity. In addition, employees and teams need the ability to easily share and edit documents, communicate effortlessly across departments and instantly search for the content and people they need, when they need them. In this utopia, everyone in the company is more efficient and engaged than ever before.

While a number of solutions claim to solve the riddle of enterprise collaboration, a lot of leaders are still struggling to find the answer for their organisations. Let’s take a look at the different approaches available today and see how they function in the real world.

The chat-based approach

With new team-based collaboration apps all the rage, business leaders are grappling with how best to utilise them in their organisations.

High-profile players in the space such as Slack, Yammer, HipChat and now Facebook’s Workplace take a different tack than traditional solutions. Rather than putting content creation at the centre of the organisation’s ecosystem, they focus on conversations instead. They promise an end to static email by making work real-time and contextual. But are they really the panacea for today’s collaboration woes?

While discussions between coworkers and teams is certainly one piece of the collaboration puzzle, much of the important ideas in those threads get drowned out by the chatter. In between the small talk and cat gifs, business value is being created and real work is happening but, lacking universal search, those solutions can also create a monstrous tangle of disparate chats and fleeting exchanges that lead nowhere. Rather than adding to corporate memory (opens in new tab), the conversational approach creates a Russian nesting doll of siloed information that is invisible and unsearchable to the larger network.

The document-centric approach

Office 365 is a must-have for many organisations. According to a recent Gartner survey, 78 per cent of enterprises (opens in new tab) are either already using it or plan to adopt it in the not-too-distant future. While each of the cloud-based apps in the portfolio such as Word, PowerPoint and Publisher excel (pardon the pun) at content-creation, there are always going to be employees who prefer to use competing products such as G Suite (formerly Google Apps for Work) or, more likely, a combination of tools from various vendors.

At the same time Microsoft is trying to position Office 365 as the sun in the collaboration galaxy, many users are fleeing to Mars, Saturn and even poor, unsupported Pluto. In fact, integration with other systems and tools is the number one hurdle for enterprises evaluating Office 365 for collaboration, according to Gartner.

People like choices and so, predictably, a document-centric approach that attempts to force everyone into a single stack usually results in low adoption. Consider SharePoint, Microsoft’s web-based ECM and storage solution. According to a recent survey conducted by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), nearly 60 per cent of respondents said SharePoint adoption “remains a challenge (opens in new tab).”

Despite being the only (or main) ECM/DM system for 28 per cent of the organisations surveyed, only 17 per cent planned to increase spending to upgrade to SharePoint 2016. Tellingly, 22 per cent of companies cited “challenges from the user community” as a pain point when it came to their company’s SharePoint adoption.

The activity hub-approach

Rather than forcing workers into a single stack or letting them loose to wander the Wild West of message threads, there is a third solution that combines the advantages of document-centric and chat-based approaches while erasing many of their downsides.

By placing an interactive intranet at the centre of your collaborative universe, companies can create an activity hub that seamlessly integrates with many of the other tools and solutions they are already using (or planning to use), including Office 365, SharePoint, Salesforce, G Suite, WebEx and more.

Also, by “federating” conversations, a hub helps cuts through the noise so you can understand people’s collective insights. Other advantages of the activity hub-approach include:

  1. Cross-border collaboration: Increasingly, successful enterprise collaboration must include freelancers, contractors, partners and even customers. Rather than focusing on content or adding more silos to an already siloed organisation, a collaboration hub puts people at the centre. It not only accommodates all of the people within your organisation, but takes into account those outside of it as well.
  2. Integrations: People want what they want. One recent survey found that 81 per cent of employees feel that “the freedom to try new tools impacts their job satisfaction (opens in new tab).” Job satisfaction positively correlates to both engagement and retention (opens in new tab), according to Gallup. By providing out-of-the box and custom integrations with the tools employees are already familiar with, a collaboration hub meets the needs of your workforce today…and tomorrow.
  3. Corporate memory: Big data means big opportunities for businesses in the future. Machine learning technologies are poised to unleash powerful innovations the likes of which the world has never seen. In the meantime, for most companies, all of that information is just sitting there - an un-tapped resource waiting to be discovered and utilised. A hub breaks that data out of its silos, making it visible and searchable so you can begin to understand and use it for competitive advantage today. A recent study found that the use of a hub platform increases users' metaknowledge throughout the company. (opens in new tab) Simply by using an interactive intranet, people's awareness of who knows what increased 31 per cent, while their knowledge of who knows whom shot up by 88 per cent! Better still, that corporate memory is preserved long after employee moves on from the organisation.

While document-centric solutions can exclude people and lead to low adoption, and the conversational approach often results in too much noise and not enough signal, the hub approach solves the massive fragmentation problems that exist today, bringing all of those tools - and the people using them - into the fold.

The perfect enterprise collaboration nirvana may still be down the road, but the technology exists today to get closer than ever.

Simon Lappin, Regional Vice President of Sales at Jive Software (opens in new tab)

Image source: Shutterstock/Rawpixel