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Following the trends of the modern digital workplace, organizations apply automation even to the domains that are intrinsically human-centric. Collaboration is one of them.

And if we can say that organizations have already gained broad experience in digitizing business processes while foreseeing potential pitfalls, the situation is different with collaboration. The automation of collaboration processes can bring a significant number of unexpected challenges even to those companies that have tested the waters.

State of Collaboration 2018 reveals a curious fact: even though organizations can be highly involved in collaborative initiatives, employees still report that both they and their companies are poorly prepared to collaborate. Almost a quarter of respondents (24%) affirm that they lack relevant enterprise collaboration tools, while 27% say that their organizations undervalue collaboration and don’t offer any incentives for them to support it.

Two reasons can explain these stats:

  1. The collaboration process can be hardly standardized and split into precise workflows. The number of collaboration scenarios is enormous, and it’s impossible to get them all into a single software solution. It’s also pretty hard to manage collaboration, assess its effectiveness, or understand bottlenecks.
  2. Unlike business process automation systems that play a critical role in an organization and ensure core production or business activities, enterprise collaboration tools are mostly seen as supplementary solutions, so they are the last to be implemented. Moreover, as organizations often don’t spend much effort on adapting collaboration tools to their specifics, the end solutions are frequently subject to poor adoption.

At the same time, the IT market offers numerous enterprise collaboration tools Slack, Trello, Stride, Confluence, Google Suite, Workplace by Facebook, SharePoint and Office 365, to mention a few, compete to win enterprises’ loyalty.

But how to choose the right enterprise Collaboration tools and make them effective? Or how to make employees use the implemented enterprise Collaboration tools actively? To answer these questions and understand how to succeed in their collaboration-focused projects, organizations have to examine both tech- and employee-related challenges they may face.

Challenges rooted in technologies

From the enterprise Collaboration tools’ deployment model to its customization and integration flexibility, companies should consider a whole array of aspects before they decide which solution they will implement.

Selecting a technologically suitable solution

Finding a proper solution is a long process that requires companies to make several important decisions:

  • Cloud or on-premises? By choosing the deployment type, organizations define their future infrastructure to run the solution, required management efforts, data location, and the amount of customization available. Cloud solutions can help enterprises save both technical and human resources. However, companies often mistrust them because of multiple security concerns. On-premises solutions can be attractive from the customization, performance, and security points of view, but they are resource-demanding and expensive due to high licensing costs.
  • Ready-to-use or custom? Today many vendors offer ready-made enterprise collaboration tools, particularly in the field of enterprise intranets. This option is attractive for organizations because they can save on customizing a solution from scratch. However, with ready-made products, organizations can face a bigger risk of following a vendor’s rigid politics (subscription/ownership price, support rates, functional capabilities, etc.). If companies choose custom enterprise collaboration software, they have a wider choice of IT service providers to cooperate with and adjust their solutions to their needs.
  • One tool or several integrated tools? Some organizations prefer using a couple of apps that cover different collaboration needs (for example, document management, video conferencing, instant messaging). At the same time, companies can also go for a centralized solution, such as SharePoint or Office 365 that can support all collaboration types and let users create a centralized enterprise collaboration environment.

Exploring integration options

Collaboration isn’t an isolated process. It is tightly related to business or organizational activities that employees do. That’s why integration capabilities are among the most critical aspects companies should check before investing in their collaboration stack. Connecting an enterprise Collaboration tool to ERP, CRM, HRM, or ITSM solutions will not only contribute to the business process consistency but will also reduce the risk of collaboration gaps and communication inconsistencies.

Planning ongoing investment

Like any other business solution, an enterprise collaboration tool requires financial investment to implement, customize (even ready-made solutions require tuning), and support it. The initial budget will strongly depend on the deployment type, the estimated number of users, and needed customizations. While planning their yearly collaboration investment, companies should remember that their budgets should cover not only the activities necessary to ensure the solution’s technical health but also a user adoption program.

Eliminating duplicate functionality

Let’s consider the following scenario: a company implements a collaboration tool that includes the project management functionality, while they also run a legacy project management system. The same situation can happen with time tracking, document management, knowledge management systems, and other stand-alone solutions. In this case, it will be reasonable to consider switching to the new suite completely and depriving the legacy one. For example, by choosing SharePoint Server or Online, organizations can unite various functions within a single solution. To ensure a smooth transition to a new environment, SharePoint developers can migrate all the data from legacy systems, thus making it part of the new solution.

Choosing a security vector

As mentioned before, the solution’s deployment model dictates the security measures that organizations have to take. Sometimes security is the paramount reason that holds enterprises’ collaboration initiatives back.

Security concerns are particularly characteristic of organizations that hesitate between on-premises and cloud solutions. SharePoint and Office 365 trends 2018 show that security represents the major worry for organizations that consider changing their on-premises deployments for cloud environments. What’s even more surprising is that while software providers, like Microsoft, are continually improving their security measures, the degree of concern keeps on growing. The report mentioned above reveals that 50% of businesses were concerned about security in 2018 compared to 36% in 2017 and 32% in 2016.

Human-related challenges

Technology challenges are multiple, but they all can be solved quite quickly, especially if a company partners with a professional IT service provider that backs them up at the tech level. At the same time, companies should be ready to face employee-related barriers that may ruin their collaboration effort.

Changing employees’ typical style of collaboration

Don’t expect that your employees will welcome the new collaboration solution. It’s about to change their typical collaboration style, which may be difficult for many. Some employees won’t share their knowledge openly, while others will find it difficult to switch from one-to-one discussions to digitized team meetings. In this context, change management should work at two levels: a technological one and a mental one. Companies should not just explain to employees how to use the new solution effectively, but also show each team how to adapt the collaboration system to the needs of each team member without damaging the usual collaboration flow.

Finding the right tools for collaborators and non-collaborators

Every team consists of different personalities. Some people can be open to collaboration; others can be quite hesitant. The task is to ensure a productive co-work of these two very different types of employees and everyone in between. Teams shouldn’t wait for instant collaboration consistency or general satisfaction. These are only possible to achieve if the entire team works together to create an optimal collaboration area for each individual.

Launching digital collaboration within large distributed teams

When it’s about organizing collaboration within a small or medium-sized team, collaboration difficulties can be quite simple to avoid, as the collaboration flow is moderate. But when it comes to collaboration in big teams, the risk of failure increases dramatically. Organizing effective communication of remote employees, connecting distributed offices, offering relevant collaboration areas to the entire team and subteams, enable cross-device consistency of collaboration — these are just a few steps to undertake for effective teamwork.

Preparing strategies to overcome adoption difficulties

He biggest human-related the poor adoption of an enterprise collaboration system. It can be hard for employees to get used to the new solution, accept the new communication medium, its UI and logic. Adoption issues are critical to address because they may engender more severe consequences than the tech-related ones. Say, if there is a functional defect in a solution, a company can fix it within a few days. However, if there are adoption issues, it means that all the efforts an organization puts into technology polishing can be blown away because their employees don’t use the solution at all. Ongoing training and communication between collaboration manager and particular teams is a must to keep employees’ satisfied with the solution they use.

Is there more pain than gain?

On recognizing all the challenges, companies might feel that there are too many barriers to overcome to get a decent collaboration solution. So maybe it’s reasonable to stay away from the collaboration race? Is it the case? Not really.

If you take a look at Internet Trends 2018, you will see that there are multiple improvements that companies get as they adopt enterprise collaboration tools. Typical advantages include reduced meeting time, quicker onboarding, less time required for support, more effective document management, and a substantial rise in teams’ productivity. If your company wants to get all these advantages, be brave to face the possible collaboration challenges to get a great reward.

Author BioSandra_Lupanova

Sandra Lupanova is SharePoint and Office 365 Evangelist at Itransition, a software development and IT consulting company headquartered in Denver. Sandra focuses on the SharePoint and Office 365 capabilities, challenges that companies face while adopting these platforms, as well as shares practical tips on how to improve SharePoint and Office 365 deployments through her articles.