This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of The Record.
Collaboration has been a buzzword in business technology for over two decades. With the plethora of the latest and best-of-breed Microsoft collaboration services at our fingertips it is easy to feel enveloped in an endless stream of immediate possibilities for sharing and disseminating thoughts, ideas, statistics, information and insights across the organisational landscape.
Providing personnel with a multitude of distinct ways of sharing may at first offer liberating possibilities and yet can quickly lead to unnecessary confusion and inconsistency as well as lack of engagement without some simple planning. Wisdom demonstrates that organisations benefit from the creation of a simple business plan for collaboration that elevates itself beyond new technology possibilities and provides an evergreen roadmap for now and in the future.
Most organisations rightly aspire to be more collaborative – to share freely and to do so in a secure and authoritative manner that drives the organisation forward and underpins the vision of the boardroom. However, one must remember from the outset that we are often dealing with human beings who do not necessarily like sharing.
The adage ‘knowledge is power’ is enshrined in the belief system of many employees, as is the human instinct to work alone or cluster into a tribe. This is never more apparent than in open plan offices where people, whilst openly able to hot desk, consistently choose the same desks and chairs, familiar locations and positions near specific colleagues.
People in the workplace often prefer to place themselves within a context they understand (e.g. their team or project) and this can quickly manifest itself when leveraging collaborative technologies – people will share more with those they relate to and those they know and trust. They will do this via a tool that makes this possible in the easiest way (email).
In a technological sense, the success of leveraging collaborative technology is therefore better driven by the most appropriate collaborative tools for those established teams and groups which will harness them to their greatest effect than it is to define an organic collaborative landscape with uncertain rules. In other words, collaborative tools that make life easier and have a contextual benefit will gain greater adoption faster than those that are simply imposed out of context. This is why a plan is required.
Things to consider in planning and Office 365 collaboration strategy include defining and communicating an agreed vocabulary that underpins the concept of collaboration and defines the meaning of collaboration within the context of an organisation. Don’t forget that we must also define measurable success criteria and metrics for each collaborative aspiration so that progress can be monitored and adapted quickly over time.
An excellent approach is to embrace the concept that collaboration is not one thing; it can be broken down into types of collaboration. For example, departmental collaboration tends to define business as usual activities that are primarily insular whereas cross-organisational collaboration reaches wider audiences and drives decision-making (think boards, committees and projects). By delineating types of collaboration within an organisation so one is then able to align the technologies which best fit the audience and the outcomes. One size does not fit all.
For many years, people have managed their work with email as their sole method of technological collaboration. The Microsoft cloud is rapidly changing and facilitating a far richer collaborative landscape.
Yammer creates an open plan office with the ability to converse across the entire organisation yet as we have established people will cluster. A common issue with socialised platforms used in isolation is that the majority audience tends to consume whilst only the minority contribute. If, on the other hand, where Yammer groups are used to supplement specific teams, collaborative adoption is frequently far higher. With the advent of Office 365 Teams, business users can now choose to contextualise and focus their collaboration rapidly through dynamic groups they can generate and manage themselves or participate in, the perfect service for agile projects and semi-formal discussions.
Similarly, SharePoint Online Team Sites underpin the formal business-as-usual collaborative needs or departments, divisions, products and brands. Meanwhile, Delve and OneDrive provide the method to drive individual collaborative activities. In tandem, SharePoint Online Community Sites and Yammer groups drive discussion, as does Skype for Business. Each is part of a greater cohesive collaborative landscape working together with other services to facilitate highly effective collaborative strategies.
Relating the Office 365 collaborative portfolio to collaborative types one has immediate access to services designed for long term formal collaboration underpinned by security; dynamic tools perfect for controlled collaborative activities for smaller groups; collaborative tools designed to facilitate informal discussion as well as tools designed to facilitate immediate collaboration to cross-organisational audiences.
By defining types of business collaboration (organisation, team, user), learning how internal teams are structured (department, division, product) as well as role requirements and then mapping these to the Office 365 portfolio (Skype, Yammer, SharePoint, Teams, Exchange) so the most appropriate tools can be mapped to meet specific use-case scenarios. This will ensure that our collaboration plan allows the maximum leverage from our Office 365 investment as well as the very best adoption of the most appropriate collaborative services at the fastest rate to achieve success.
Ian McNeice is director of strategy at Morgan & Wolfe