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Three collaboration questions IT executives must ask as we continue to adapt to the remote work norm

(Image credit: Image Credit: llaszlo / Shutterstock)

Despite Covid-19 stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders slowly lifting, millions of us will continue to work from home. In fact, many major technology companies -- including Google and Facebook -- have extended work-from-home policies through the fall, and some such as Twitter have permanently shifted to WFH. The question many are asking now isn’t when employees will return to the office -- but if they should at all. The pandemic has proven that many of us can get work done at home and companies can function effectively with an “all-remote” work model. And with a vaccine and widespread testing still a ways off, many people will be staying put for the time being.

Three months ago, companies needed to shift to an all-remote workplace, despite many never having functioned remotely before. The workplace quickly transitioned from the conference room to collaboration applications, virtual meetups and home offices. Think of it as the largest Work-From-Home experiment ever -- but an experiment that has long-term ramifications.

We’re at an inflection point: The future of work will clearly not be the way work has been done in the past. Consider this: Since February, Zoom engagement has jumped 54 percent while Slack engagement has increased by 47 percent. These numbers, pulled from our customer base, underscore how critical collaboration applications are when it comes to getting work done.

Meanwhile, IT has experienced a true collaboration stress-test. This is when IT leaders confirm that the bets they have placed on collaboration applications are paying off. IT has been tasked with ensuring the right technology is matching with the right employees to drive maximum company-wide productivity. There are three questions IT should be asking (and answering) as we continue to standardize on a remote work model. They are:

1. Do we have a remote collaboration-friendly application stack?

Previous “nice-to-have” applications may now be mission critical in a remote-first work culture, and perhaps our organization already has a subset of remote employees whose application engagement can be replicated across our business. With more and more of us finding value in applications like Slack and Zoom, for example, this is an opportunity to reconsider those applications against the solutions already in place. Also, consider that with remote collaboration, video-enabled meetings help us better read the room. We see the body language and facial expressions of fellow participants in meetings, which leads to more productive, authentic collaboration and working relationships. New collaboration applications like Miro and Loom are surging, solving real needs in a newly remote workspace that can’t physically meet.

Also, remember that examining engagement within collaboration applications can help us understand our company’s current collaboration and productivity patterns. We can look at engagement insights by feature and team. Is there a noticeable change in how people are using applications? Are teams collaborating across the organization?  Are people turning video and screen-sharing on to maintain strong engagement during meetings?  Are they consuming information but not acting as promptly as they would otherwise? Has anything changed? Despite the new WFH norm, the C-suite still expects continued employee productivity. “Are my teams able to get their work done efficiently and effectively at home?” This is a business-critical question that will be asked. One prime indicator of remote work productivity is employee engagement with remote collaboration, file sharing and video conferencing applications -- from Microsoft O365 and Slack to Zoom and Box (more on that in a moment).

2. Are we rallying the team around a core set of collaboration applications?

In the past, we might have considered it acceptable for one part of the organization to prefer Hangouts Meet and another part to prefer Zoom; or Teams vs. Slack; or OneDrive vs. Box vs. Google Drive. With everyone now remote, these islands of collaboration now more clearly become a friction point of lost productivity. IT should examine application engagement data to identify and rationalize redundant applications. Are there applications with similar functionalities in use by various teams?  If we identify which app is being used the most, we can standardize employees on that one. We should also look at application engagement at the feature level. What features are people using to collaborate?  Also, remember that the number of provisioned users does not equal the number of engaged users across applications. If we have 1,700 people using Microsoft Teams and 1,400 people using Slack, but we learn that Slack engagement is 10 times greater than in Teams -- that’s a completely different story. The answers to these critical questions must come from data; they cannot be based on anecdotes, users surveys, or gut.

3. Do we have the right license type based on how we use our applications?

The sales team may have Zoom Pro licenses since they are frequently holding virtual meetings longer than 40 minutes, while an engineer who meets less frequently with external partners may not need such a license. But when dealing with a sudden surge in remote work, license provisioning strategy needs may need to be adjusted across the board to ensure each person has the appropriate license to get their work done. As entire teams work from home, we will have more team members spending more time on Zoom. We can use feature-level engagement data to adjust application licenses and even forecast future application use patterns. IT leaders should also get regular updates on an application-by-application basis and automatically deprovision, upgrade, or downgrade licenses based on individual usage patterns.

Remote work has become the norm in 2020, and executives and employees alike have been forced to rapidly adapt. The results of companies not adapting to a remote work model include decreased productivity, inefficient workflows and a diminished bottom line. Workplace applications should maximize productivity and collaboration and help employees find the flow in this new normal.

So, are you, your IT team, and your people ready?

Jody Shapiro, co-founder and CEO, Productiv