Friday, December 8, 2017

Digital Workplace Concepts 101: Collaboration

Jeremy Williams, Sr. Director, Modern Workplace

Welcome to the next installment in the Digital Workplace 101 series; this week we’ll be covering the rather broad and overloaded concept of Collaboration in your Digital Workspace. In case you missed some previous installments, we’ve covered Personalization, Search, and Mobile  As a reminder, the goal of these posts is intended to be equal parts of definition, benefits of each capability, and some of the pre-requisites to properly support each capability at an introductory level.


I’ll be honest – I’ve been avoiding writing this post for a while – primarily due to the fact that this is such a broad area of the Digital Workspace and can encompass a variety of different workloads, technologies, and definitions for your users. In the simplest terms, collaboration is defined as two or more people working together towards a shared goal. In this digital age, there are so many ways and places that collaboration could occur, such as:

  • Email
  • Meetings (e.g. In-person, Calls, and Video-conferences)
  • Instant Messaging (e.g. Skype for Business, AIM (RIP),
  • Document Sharing solutions (e.g. File-shares, OneDrive, Box, etc.)
  • Enterprise Social Networking (e.g. Yammer, Chatter, etc.)
  • Team Workspaces (e.g. SharePoint, Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc.)

A key part of all these experiences is supporting a communication channel and a production channel. [Production refers to the ‘thing’ that a team is working together on]. For knowledge workers, the most common user-group that desires some level of collaboration tool, production items tend to refer to digital documents or assets (e.g. code, comps, proofs, etc.). Other areas of production may refer to non-digital products, models, merchandise, etc. In these scenarios, the collaborative aspect relies more on the communication channel and/or a digital document to track the important progress, updates, etc., of our physical-focus-of-collaboration.

To address the elephant in the (virtual) room, I put email as the first item in the list of collaborative tools – it meets our minimum definition of providing both a communication (message) and production (attachment) channel. However, it is rarely the most efficient mechanism to support enterprise-level collaboration. It [email] is almost always the target of excessive complains (‘too much email’) while simultaneously being the most frequently used tool for collaboration. We could likely poke holes at all of the different forms of collaboration, but to focus our discussion, I’m going to use email as the lowest (and least desirable form) collaboration denominator.

This all brings us into a bit of the strategy portion of the conversation – to succeed at rolling out a successful collaboration strategy at your organization, you’ll want to [at a bare-minimum] understand your current and anticipated use-cases, your user’s preferences and digital skills, and the relation of production assets and their lifecycle as it pertains to your business.


The benefit that we’re measuring here is largely focused on displacing work that is (or used to) occur via email or other less-than-efficient collaboration methods. This at least establishes a baseline for the benefit of achieving even a basic level of maturity around collaboration.

  1. Increase throughput: Just about every modern collaboration tool eases the management of production assets and communication. This (effectively) gives our users the gift of time – they can spend less time looking for the latest version of an asset, compiling multiple (confused) versions, and hunting for the latest fragment of communication – and more time on what they’re probably interested in (the actual production asset OR moving on to work they also need/want to complete)
  2. Work Openly: Many more modern collaboration tools (outside of email) tend to embrace some level of open-working, that is – so long as a team member has access to the shared space, they can see the items and conversations that matter to the production at hand. This is a huge plus for productivity: imagine the time saved when having to ramp up a new team member on four weeks of ongoing effort if it’s all stored in email and/or buried in meeting notes (or, worse yet, all in one person’s memory)
  3. Plug the leaks: Work that happens in email and local storage is risky – it’s hard to discover, it’s (typically) poorly managed and its inconsistent organization makes it incredibly difficult for others to find information. Furthermore, communication in email is focused and time-sensitive; in other words, you’re reliant upon your users to properly include and track all of the communication and production assets.
  4. It can support your production lifecycle: Most businesses have a lifecycle that all of these assets move through. Perhaps we have a group working on a new policy – there will likely be a bunch of versions and back-and-forth before the group agrees to the new policy, which is then rolled out to the organization. Imagine the value the group can realize if they can work on that policy, debate the issues in a safe environment, and when it’s all complete and approved, it’s automatically published to the right location so everyone has access to it. 

Here are some things to consider as you mull over your collaboration strategy:

  1. What are you use-cases that could benefit most from a breath of new (collaboration) air?
  2. Consider the balance of free-form and fully-structured collaboration – each has its benefits, and rarely is it a one-size fits all
  3. Consider the physical and digital environment of collaboration; does your strategy work only on PCs? Does it contemplate Macs, Linux, mobile, etc.?  Are your users working on this in remote parts of the world? On a plane? In a bunker (or other Internet-inaccessible location)?

Parting Thoughts:

I know we’ve only just scratched the surface here, but I hope this at least sheds light on the vastness of collaboration, some of the key considerations, and what you can expect to gain by improving or upgrading your collaboration experiences. As always, if you’ve got questions or need help with any of this, let’s talk.

Jeremy Williams is Senior Director, Productivity & Collaboration, at Rightpoint. Follow Jeremy on Twitter and LinkedIn.