Collaboration via Email: You’re Doing it Wrong

More Collaboration and Less Email, Please

Shocker: Millenials Prefer Chat

Collaboration ToolsI saw this piece today regarding a study that Microsoft commissioned on the preferred collaboration tools by different generational groups.  The link to that study is here.

There were two items of note.  First, it should come as no surprise that Millenials prefer chat and messaging over e-mail as their main tools to collaborate.  Of course, baby boomers and other groups tend to prefer e-mail.  Second, baby boomers were rated as the least concerned about learning new technologies in this space.

When I talk to customers about what’s holding them back from trying out collaboration tools such as Slack or Teams, they

Sometimes customers tell me they are reluctant to try new collaboration tools out of concern about creating stress for their users.  These customers will also sometimes bring up the concern about having too many collaboration tools in use at one time.  Of course, it is often the case that users are already choosing and using tools other than those provided by the IT Department.

Iterating Toward Collaboration

I had a phone call this morning with a European customer who was looking for advice on the best collaboration tools for their users and program partners.  This organization has about 1,000 users throughout the world. They are looking to collaborate with upwards of 20,000 partners.  As we talked it became clear that the users had only thought about collaboration in terms of file sharing.  Now, sharing files is necessary first step in the collaboration process.  But a lot of the valuable communication happens as people talk about the files that they’re sharing; usually via an associated chat application.

This is at an important consideration. There are applications for chat, for file sharing, and applications that combine both functions. You have to do more than select a collaboration application based on what users request. You must think about how user collaboration behavior will evolve as they use the tool. With this evolution in mind, you have to make sure the tool can evolve with user needs.

Reduce Email by Communicating in Other Channels

I was doing some work last summer for the customer in Europe.  The customer had surveyed their users worldwide, asking about pain points that might be addressed by IT.  One of the biggest pain points had to do with receiving too much email.  The customer had decided to roll out Microsoft Teams. We focused our training and solution benefits on how Teams would supplant email. As well, Teams would more naturally fit the work styles of groups trying to collaborate across the organization.

We were challenged to explain why moving communications out of email and into another form would be a net benefit for users. We noted that the solution to email bloat wasn’t to communicate less. The problem with email is that most of its benefits accrue to the sender and not the recipient.  While we recognized email can be used for collaboration, it’s not ideally suited for that use. We stressed that Teams made it easy for users to engage in conversations and thread those conversations so that following along with the development of ideas would be an easy process to accomplish.

Lessons Learned

What do we conclude from this?

  • It’s important to consider a variety of tools, albeit a small set, to support the collaboration needs of all the users in the organization.  Collaboration can take many forms, so you’re unlikely to find a “one size fits all” tool that everyone in the organization will adopt.
  • If you’re not going to select and deploy a tool for the organization, you do want to at least provide some direction to users on which tool to use. I’ve seen instances where IT has let users choose whatever tools they like, and this does not generally lead to user satisfaction.  People do want at least some guidance on which tools would be best to use or the user as well as the organization.
  • Trust that your users are going to be able to adapt to new tools.  They may surprise you with their ability to try new collaboration tools.
  • Be willing to experiment.  Engage a team trying to get a task done and support them with a collaboration tool that you’re considering for adoption.  Give the users on the team the resources they need to learn the tool and try it out in a real-world situation.  Once the team has had a chance to exercise the tool, get their feedback.  What did they like?  What did they find less useful or annoying?  How hard was the tool to learn and use productively?  If the overall experience with that tool was positive, then start planning for a rollout to a broader audience and eventually the entire organization.

We all know the email can be used to support the collaboration process.  We also know that it’s not particularly well suited for that task.  For the sake of the entire organization, it’s time to look at some of these new collaboration tools.  All of these tools can lead to better outcomes for the organization, and that’s something we all would like to get behind.  If they also reduce some of the volume in our email inboxes… well, that’s a good thing too.

Dan Callahan
About the Author
I'm the VP of Global Services at CGNET. I manage our Information Security and Cloud Services businesses. I wear a lot of hats. Professionally, I'm a builder of businesses. Outside of work, I'm a hobby farmer, chef, skier, dog walker, jokester, woodworker, structuralist, husband and father.

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