The Reality of Workstream Collaboration Platforms
Workstream Collaboration (WSC) has long been lauded by industry analysts, including Gartner, as central to the future of work. Predictions abound concerning the potential impact of WSC, from market size to productivity. One central tenet to how workstream collaboration has played out in the media is the ongoing battle for dominance between the current top two platforms: Microsoft Teams and Slack. Microsoft Teams surpassed Slack in daily active users earlier this year, though Slack fired back on the level of engagement of its user base. With the impact of COVID 19, however, both platforms have seen a surge in adoption, with Microsoft Teams announcing 44 million daily active users and Slack noting more than 12 million concurrent users.
Beyond the story of competition between platforms, we’ve seen numerous articles decrying “How Slack Ruined Work” or adverse effects of too much collaboration on Microsoft Teams. This coverage has brought critical issues related to WSC etiquette to light, as well as the impact of company culture on collaboration health. We recently released survey results that indicated nearly half of enterprise end-users find the expectation to reply to requests in real-time to be a significant downside of WSC. However, 80% still believe workstream collaboration increases their productivity while working from home.
In the wake of coronavirus work from home policies for knowledge-workers, companies must deal with enabling a suddenly remote workforce. IT teams rush to deploy workstream collaboration to these workers haphazardly. This rapid rollout serves as a microcosm of many of the issues we’ve seen since the beginning, from end-user confusion to poor policy management. Amid this chaos, there is an increasing number of signs indicating that workstream collaboration has yet to live up to its potential.
Why Workstream Collaboration Solutions Have Yet to Live Up to Its Potential
Poor User Education
On the technology side, workstream collaboration is relatively easy to roll out. However, whereas many technologies can be deployed without significant user education, workstream collaboration requires more effort. Simple usage is often not a problem. More complex issues arise around proper use cases, etiquette, and how to configure those pesky notifications. Poor user education results in unhealthy collaboration and decreased productivity.
One top reason cited for adopting WSC is to reduce email. However, Unify Square’s end-user survey found that 74% of respondents hadn’t seen a significant decrease in email. Without information on when they’re supposed to use the new technology, users fall back to email.
Multiple Platform Usage
Running multiple workstream collaboration platforms exacerbates the issue further, as end-users must be educated on which platform should be used for which use case. For instance, many enterprises choose Workplace from Facebook to connect frontline workers, while they use Microsoft Teams for everyday work-related communications. Explicit policies and guidance help end-users avoid confusion.
Workstream collaboration as a medium feels more informal than email, which can lead to some etiquette issues. Unclear chat messages or drawn-out conversations that could better be resolved by a quick call create more productivity woes. Improperly configured notifications can further exacerbate these end-user missteps. Productivity dies a slow death by a thousand pings for the poor soul subscribed to a busy but irrelevant channel. Care must be taken to advise users not only on how to configure settings but also what proper settings should be. Essential features like “Do not disturb” must be highlighted as well.
Issues with company culture are also magnified with workstream collaboration. Without clear expectations, some employees find themselves always connected, even in off-hours. From Unify Square’s survey, almost 60% of enterprise users believe more structure from IT will improve work-life balance. While IT alone can’t define company culture, conveying clear expectations of availability and response time is key to workstream collaboration success.
To avoid the productivity pit of poor user education, implement a comprehensive training program and user guide, covering not only the technical how-to but also recommendations and expectations. Creating this program should be a multidisciplinary exercise, and it’s especially important to get executive buy-in.
Underutilized Capabilities of Workstream Collaboration Solutions
Much of the focus of workstream collaboration platforms have been on the persistent chat experience. In recent days with the shift to remote workers, UC and especially video conferencing capabilities have come into the foreground. However, several underutilized and underdeveloped features offer vast productivity potential.
Part of the true potential of workstream collaboration is the central hub, connecting all relevant business applications. However, we have yet to see the tight connection of the full array of essential applications. Microsoft Teams and Slack have different strengths in this area. Microsoft Teams’ tab system allows more advanced integration of applications with rich functionality. In contrast, the sheer number of Slack apps and its automation capabilities to centralize information from multiple applications are both advantages. Tighter and more diverse application integrations will continue to evolve. Organizations should consider platform and application decisions based on mutual support.
One area which requires more focus is artificial intelligence (AI). While Slack and Microsoft Teams support some automation of basic tasks, AI presents an opportunity to augment these capabilities significantly. For instance, bots today respond to simple, predefined commands. With natural language processing, users don’t need to be as specific with their inputs. Slack’s workflows aimed at less technical users are a step in the right direction in making more advanced features accessible. Currently, however, end-users fail to take full advantage of the automation that exists, and both platforms still lack the AI to support better automation.
Analytics to Power Collaboration Efficacy
Content analytics and data analytics are other aspects of workstream collaboration with unrealized potential. Advanced capabilities in these areas could allow users to find the content they need (especially when coupled with AI), help IT teams secure key documents, and aid users in increasing productivity. However, today, even basic file search within Microsoft Teams borders on unusable, and Slack lacks meaningful analytics on productivity. One bright spot is Microsoft’s Workplace Analytics, which attempts to measure and improve productivity, with emphasis on appropriate work-life balance and ensuring workers have uninterrupted focus time. Third-party tools like PowerSuite also offer increasingly robust workplace analytics with greater insight into collaboration efficacy. Expect to see further advanced analytics capabilities for WSC platforms.
Workstream Collaboration Platform Silos
Connecting workers and providing them a central workspace are top value propositions of workstream collaboration, including enabling communication between different departments. Therefore, having different islands using different platforms or even different Slack workspaces is so damaging if not properly managed: it creates disconnects between employees. Since the onus on staying appropriately updated is on the receiver, the sender may not even realize there’s a break in communication.
There are multiple ways these information silos arise. One common cause is when end-users choose to use unsanctioned collaboration applications. This type of Shadow IT is most commonly seen with Slack. Organizations may even have multiple unconnected Slack workspaces, created by different people. Many of these organizations are in a multi-platform environment without even realizing it. In fact, multiple collaboration platforms are often inevitable, but silos are not with proper management.
Taking control of multi-platform management is key to success. Unmanaged WSC platforms are a security risk, and they contribute to decreased productivity because of their lack of clear policies. While platform consolidation is one option, consider what led end-users to pick up the unsanctioned technology in the first place. It’s possible to connect WSC platforms using third-party tools, which alleviates the pressure of strong user preferences. To ensure a consistent and secure collaboration environment, multi-platform management tools are often necessary.
Improper Workstream Collaboration Management
Ultimately, IT has failed to take proper, educated management of workstream collaboration. The “deploy and dash” model has left end-users woefully unprepared to deal with the challenges of the new workstream collaboration medium. On the other hand, overly aggressive IT policy around locking down security on these platforms prevents end-users from being able to take advantage of the productivity benefits of workstream collaboration. Even more enlightened IT teams who have worked with end-users to support multiple platforms struggle to maintain consistent policies across their entire WSC environment.
Workstream Collaboration solutions are nuanced and require careful decision-making. Detailed planning is often at odds with the rapid rollout we’ve seen in response to COVID-19, but it remains crucial to a successful deployment. If your team lacks this expertise, Unify Square can help. To step up your platform administration game, our expert consultants guide you on how to reach peak potential with your workstream collaboration environment. Whether you’re struggling with rollout and user education or implementing better integrations and automation, Unify Square’s consulting services bring the experience you need to succeed with workstream collaboration. Find out more!