Google “business collaboration tools” and you’ll get 58 million results. Suffice it to say, there’s a proliferation of collaboration tools out there, especially over-the-top (OTT) applications to help your business.
Some tools are for chatting, some for conferencing, some for screen sharing, some for file sharing, and so on (to the tune of 58 million results).
Most organizations use a large number of tools for communicating, collaborating, and sharing, so it’s easy to understand how workers can feel overwhelmed by the different collaboration tools used between departments and vendors.
The company might have an official collaboration tool. But your department uses the free version of another tool for convenience. Another department is running an inexpensive version of the latest, flashiest social/mobile group chat platform. Several people use screen share software from a new startup they just heard about while your vendors are using the old standbys, and somewhere, somebody is still trying to use AIM.
That means your users’ desktops and browsers are cluttered with collaboration tools. The minutes wasted just figuring out which tool to use and updating to the latest version at the beginning of meetings begin to add up to hours, days, weeks of lost productivity. And security is probably a distant pipe dream. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can tame the overload.
Here are eight steps you can take to get your company’s collaboration tool situation under control, pare down the number of applications in use, and start standardizing across your business to increase productivity.
Step 1: Identify current tools
When you run out of space on your smart phone, what’s the first thing you do? You identify the applications that are on your phone and take a hard, honest look at what you do and don’t use.
When employees run out of the capacity to handle the deluge of collaboration applications in use at your company, the first thing that needs to be done is similar—take an inventory of the tools users have on their systems.
You’ll probably find multiple applications for chat, video-conferencing, file storage, file sharing, etc.
Make a consolidated list of all the related applications you find and make notes about the primary functions of each.
Once you have a complete inventory, you’ll have laid the groundwork for step two.
Step 2: Identify your business needs
Now, it’s time to understand what exactly everyone is trying to accomplish with the different collaboration tools they’re using.
Ask yourself, your employees, your vendors, etc. what exactly they use each tool to accomplish, and why they prefer the tool that they use.
Some common functions include chat, group chat, file sharing, video calls, video conferencing, screen sharing, simultaneous file editing, approvals, and task/workflow management.
During this exercise, you’ll be able to see not only what collaboration tools different groups prefer, but why they use each tool. You might be surprised to learn that workers value one chat tool when you thought they preferred another. Or you might discover that they place more value on file sharing than they do on video calling. It may turn out that employees engaged in shadow IT are using a different tool simply because it offers a better user experience. Maybe the most important feature isn’t an application or communications channel in itself, but rather a capability—like a persistent experience across mobile as well as desktop.
The more data you gather, the clearer your company needs will be.
You may be able to gather a lot of this data by scanning employee devices, but some sort of direct employee engagement will be required. Employees are typically happy to fill out surveys to indicate their preferences, especially if the survey itself is intended to help make their lives easier.
If some employees are nervous about sharing, it may be important to assure them they won’t be disciplined (if you have company buy-in for this) for answering honestly. Some workers may be concerned that using things other than company purchased and/or approved collaboration tools will get them disciplined. But if you don’t create a safe enough environment to have an honest conversation about your company’s tools, you’ll never get a true view to help you get tool overload under control.
Step 3: Map needs to tools
Remember the application inventory you gathered? Now’s the time to bring it back.
Map the needs you’ve identified to the current tools you have. Which tools are offering the most collaboration capabilities based on the feedback you received? Which tools are under-utilized? Which tools are rarely utilized?
Take careful note of what you have, what you need, and be honest with your responses.
This step is for analysis only: don’t jump the gun and start cutting out applications. There are other consideration factors than the most popular applications for your employees (although that is absolutely important).
Step 4: Understand integrations
Here’s where your careful evaluation in step three will come in handy. Knowing the collaboration tools worth keeping depends on more than how certain tools map to certain needs: it’s also important to know how these applications interact with other applications, other collaboration tools, existing software—including, but not limited to—CRM, ERP, CMS, etc.
Is it necessary for your collaboration tools to be platform agnostic? Mobile-first? Easily scalable?
Different businesses have different needs, which is why so many collaboration tools exist in the first place. Different tools integrate with different vendors, software and APIs. Be picky—your employees will thank you for it.
Step 5: Consolidate tools
You’ve identified your current tools, specified your needs, mapped your needs to existing tools, and ran through your integration needs. Now’s the time to head to the chopping block.
See where you have overlap between tools. Look for opportunities to consolidate multiple functions into fewer tools if possible. Cut the applications that do not meet your needs or have insufficient integration capabilities.
It’s up to you if you wish to have multiple application tools to use if that works for you—otherwise cut the collaboration application dead weight.
But remember, it’s important to ensure that your final list of tools serves your workers’ needs.
If you cut critical capabilities when you cut out tools, you’ll find yourself right back where you started—with workers embracing shadow IT and unapproved tools to fulfill their needs.
If you’ve done your analysis thoroughly, your collaboration application list should shorten dramatically. If it hasn’t, it may be time to repeat steps one through five again to maximize the benefits of this exercise.
Step 6: Establish collaboration tool standards and policies
One of the reasons team collaboration tool overload exists in the first place is that companies haven’t established standards for preferred tools, that they fail to provide/approve tools that meet specific worker needs, or that they don’t enforce existing standards and policies. It’s never too late to lay down a concrete foundation for company-wide tools and applications.
If you don’t have standards and policies in place, this is the time to create them.
If you already have existing standards and policies in place, review them to make sure they’re up-to-date, especially with the company-wide collaboration applications now in place. Communicate your standards and policies far and wide within your company ad nauseum—it’s crucial to get your message across the multitude of messages your employees deal with every day.
Lastly, empower your IT staff to enforce these policies, whether it’s blocking certain applications from downloading, or performing daily/weekly/monthly scans for unapproved applications. If you find violators, be sure to understand why. They may help you uncover an important gap in your standards.
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Step 7: Provide adequate training
After you have the tools you need, and standards in place, make sure you provide training sessions so your employees know how to use your chosen tools and feel comfortable with them.
You can have the best collaboration tool out there, complete with chat, conferencing, calling, storage, and sharing features, with mobile-first design.
If your employees can’t figure out how to use it or access it from their devices, adoption and usage will suffer.
Then they’ll download the collaboration tools they are comfortable using, which will result in multiple applications across your company, and before you know it—you’re back to collaboration tool overload. Train your employees, provide support templates, enable your IT staff to answer any questions, or provide vendor contact information for product support.
When collaboration tools that meet your company’s needs are used effectively, productivity soars.
Step 8: Monitor and adjust
Keep an eye on usage to gauge what’s working and what’s not. When you catch something that isn’t working, make adjustments to tools, policies, standards, or workflows as necessary to get your employee collaboration back on track. There’s no reason to stick stubbornly to a standard or policy if it’s simply not working.
Kiss overload goodbye
Collaboration tool overload is more common than you think, but you can tame with this simple eight-step process. Making sure you understand the “why” that created the overload environment is key to getting it under control. And when you do, workers will benefit, your company communications will benefit, and overall company productivity and efficiency should benefit as well.