3 steps to handle too many collaboration tools

Thanks to vibrant and constant innovation in the collaboration software space, we now have a great many tools with which to collaborate and make our work day more productive.

It’s ironic, therefore, that so, many companies actually suffer from having too many collaboration tools that actually kill productivity and block communication in silos.

Where is the line beyond which tools stop complementing each other? Which tools should we to use for specific purposes to boost collaboration and productivity?

Here is my take on these questions, based on clients’ feedback and on eXo’s internal best practices.

1- Determine if your organisation has too many collaboration tools to collaborate efficiently

If you are already wondering whether your organisation has too many collaboration tools, the answer is probably yes. There are two simple rules to determine this.

First, there are too many tools when differents teams and departments in your organisation use different tools for the same or similar usage scenarios.

For example, if your marketing teams use task manager A, while your operations team uses task manager B, any time they need to collaborate, the double tool becomes a problem.

Typically, the task will be put into both tools, with cross links in the form of URLs, creating duplicated information and information siloes in each tool.

Second, there are too many tools when several different tools can be used to do similar things and people are confused as to which tool to use in each situation.

For example, say your company has deployed a social network and also uses email. What do you do when you need to send a message to someone? Do you use email or the social network? If the answer is not immediately clear, you have a problem.

2- Work to decrease duplicate tools

One way to go would be to choose a single collaboration tool across your company and impose it on everyone.

Even though this method is necessary in some cases, it usually does not work as well as expected. It is difficult to force the use of a tool onto reluctant teams.

A more subtle way of handling it is to try a gradual adoption. Choose a tool, introduce it within the champion teams and offer it as a replacement where it can be used, gradually convincing other users to switch. Then gradually delete the duplicate.

3- Find the best tool for the job

Today, collaboration is such a must-have that even business applications have started including collaboration features, such as a social notifications streams. So let us focus on the most widespread collaboration and communication tools present in organizations today.

If you had to send a message to a person or a group, what the possible channels be? Email, social, chat or a task/project management tool.

 

Email.

Do: Use email to send a mail to ONE person.

Don’t: Do not use email to communicate with more than one person OR for urgent communications.

For me the email envelope icon captures the essence of an email – it is a personal letter. It is very convenient to be able to receive letters quicker than by post and keep your correspondence with each person well organized and searchable.

However, nowadays, we receive way too many emails. If you need to make sure your message is read and actioned, email might not be the best option.

Because group email threads can swell to the point where we struggle to discern the original message, emails to a group do not work that well.

 

Social:

Do: Use social to send a message to a group or to brainstorm.

Don’t: Do not use social for one-on-one messages OR urgent communications.

Social activity streams provide an easy way to follow a conversation involving several people (as opposed to group emails.

Not only are all messages visible to everyone and easy to read, they are also often automatically put in a context, depending on the group that the social stream belongs to, or the document around which the conversation takes place, for instance

It is of course not recommended to use social messages for private conversations or urgent requests. The essence of an asynchronous communication is that the reader can take his time to answer, – to think and formulate ideas.

Additionally, other people from the group might join and add their points of view to enrich the conversation.

 

Chat.

Do: Use chat if you need an immediate answer or have a meeting planned.

Don’t: Use chat for anything else.

Chats are invasive. They make noise and display constant read notifications. It is as if you popped your head into someone’s office uninvited and demanded attention and time from the person.

I would reserve this type of communication for urgent questions or for pre-planned meetings to discuss things in real time.

Do: Use task/project management software when you need to assign a task or follow up on a task.

Don’t: Use it for anything else.

If you know you will need to follow up on something, it is more efficient to create a task than write an email or post on the activity stream. Your message will have a clear context.

As a matter of fact, a project management tool is a good example of a contextual tool with integrated collaboration.

For example, if you use a CRM and need to communicate on a particular item within that CRM, it is more efficient to do it directly there than to write an email referencing the CRM in question.

In the same way, when you need to collaborate on a documen.

 

Integration

Remember, whatever you do, as long as you have more than one tool, you run the risk of closing off information inside  silos if your tools do not communicate with each other. Integration is the critical element to avoid this.

 

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I am eXo’s chief operating officer, ultimately responsible for all operations ensuring client acquisition and success. In this blog, I write about modern workplaces and their benefits to organisations and their people. Occasionally, I also blog about my personal areas of interest, such as communication, personal development, work–life balance, sustainability and gender equality.

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