Agile & Digital / Virtual Teams

Collaboration app overload?

During this rather unexpected experiment in mass working from home, many teams have taken the opportunity to try out new collaboration apps. From the explosive growth of online meeting tools like zoom to greater use of the functionality in existing staples like MS Teams or Slack, to newer collaboration options like Mural.

Before the crisis, managers told us they typically had an average of 9 apps open at any one time to do their work. Today we are sure they have added several more. Many of our webinar participants are complaining that they now need to open multiple different apps to make sure they are staying up to date with all the various conversations in different channels.

Using different tools or communication protocols also makes it difficult for people working on multiple teams or who need to move from working on one team to another. It creates communication barriers between teams using different tools.

It is not enough to give people a tool and expect that they will work out the best way of using it spontaneously. Some will find the tool suits their personal style and working preferences, few will take the time to work out it’s full functionality and fewer still we’ll have a disciplined discussion about how to optimise the way the tool fits into the way they collaborate.

If we allow the choice and use of these tools to evolve in a large organization we will quickly end up with a random mix of tools and practices. Within an individual team this may be complex enough, but across the organization as a whole it will be impossible to navigate.

In our December 2019 blog Introducing new apps and tools we concluded “Buying yammer or slack, for example, and leaving large groups of people to work it out will not give you an effective internal social network; it needs some navigation, architecture and etiquette, otherwise you will quickly have chaos.”

It’s great for innovation to have a period of divergence and experimentation but the next real benefits of collaboration technology will come from a period of convergence where we choose a more limited suite of tools that meet the real needs of virtual collaboration, and then standardise and train people to use them properly and consistently.

The problem is rarely the technology, if anything we have too much choice and functionality available on our phones and desktops. The bigger challenge is adapting our way of working at scale to make the best use of the opportunities that technology brings. This requires more than experimentation, fun though it is!

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