4 tips for picking the right collaboration suite

Research shows that workplace technology actually impedes your employees' ability to work in a timely manner and makes it more difficult to collaborate. It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are four ways to choose the right collaboration tools.

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Collaboration software has emerged as a key component of the modern office environment. But in selecting collaboration tools, it's important to take into consideration the needs, work style and culture of different departments. Otherwise your organization may actually see reduced productivity or even face security risks.

In a report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, four out of 10 survey respondents said their workplace technology actually makes it harder to work quickly, and a third said their enterprise technology makes it harder to collaborate.

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But it doesn’t have to be this way. Choosing the right collaboration tools can make it easier to find and share company data, work with distributed teams, offer flexible work arrangements, increase engagement and help avoid burnout. 

Let’s take a look at some of the factors that firms should consider when selecting collaboration software for their office.

1. Develop a portfolio

Instead of creating a list of requirements for one tool and checking off the boxes, take a portfolio-based approach that’s focused on getting work done, says Mike Gotta, research vice president at Gartner.

Collaboration software has emerged as a key component of the modern office environment. But in selecting collaboration tools, it's important to take into consideration the needs, work style and culture of different departments. Otherwise your organization may actually see reduced productivity or even face security risks.

In a report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, four out of 10 survey respondents said their workplace technology actually makes it harder to work quickly, and a third said their enterprise technology makes it harder to collaborate.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Choosing the right collaboration tools can make it easier to find and share company data, work with distributed teams, offer flexible work arrangements, increase engagement and help avoid burnout. 

Let’s take a look at some of the factors that firms should consider when selecting collaboration software for their office.

1. Develop a portfolio

Instead of creating a list of requirements for one tool and checking off the boxes, take a portfolio-based approach that’s focused on getting work done, says Mike Gotta, research vice president at Gartner.

Different departments have needs that a one-size-fits-all software package won’t satisfy, he said. Teams also likely need seamless integration into their existing day-to-day software. “The collaborative tool that sales may need might be different than the collaborative tool that somebody in product development or DevOps need,” Gotta said. 

And rather than being overwhelmed by dozens of collaboration choices on the market, he sees opportunities in their various approaches that can help get work done.

“Some of those tools will be foundational,” Gotta said. “They’re available to everybody across the company. There's a least common denominator. Some of them will be within domains, like sales, marketing, or customer service. And some of them will be situational, used for something that's very specific or maybe external collaboration with a partner.”

A firm that rolls out G Suite or Office 365, for example, might be inclined to standardize on their associated chat, video and screen-sharing tools. But they’re unlikely to take hold, Gotta says. The development team might prefer open-source software or threaded discussions that make it simpler to track bugs and new features. Some teams within the business side might prefer to use Quip, the chat and file sharing tool from Salesforce.

“You can say, ‘Well, why don't you use your large productivity suite?”’ Gotta said. “Because it doesn't always do everything the way that business needs to be done.” He advises stepping back before settling on a tool and first asking how you’ll establish criteria for your foundational collaboration tools -- and how to go about developing criteria for situational collaboration tools. 

“Then I map in the different tooling,” he said. “I have some flexibility on what I recommend to a particular group of employees in the company. Otherwise, you're like Johnny Appleseed running around, hammered every day. We've tried that, and it doesn't work.”

2. Take a fresh look 

In a related Gartner report on workplace collaboration, the research firm suggests an approach called ACME -- activity, context, motivation and enabling tech. The concept avoids a top-down approach that may miss the needs of employees. It also allows teams that have similar work styles to reuse the same tools, reducing costs where possible and support hours. 

“You have to understand what the work activity is, the use case,” Gotta said. “What's the context of the work? Is it sales, marketing, service? What's the cultural aspect of it, the motivational aspects for people to use the tool in a particular way?”

The approach, according to Gartner, allows leaders in the organization to “discover groups across the enterprise that demonstrate similar work dynamics and team behaviors -- for instance, those involved in time sensitive, rapid-response situations, or those involved in addressing field incidents where Slack or Atlassian's HipChat might be appropriate to recommend.

Conversely, there may be global teams that require heavy use of existing enterprise audio/video services as a primary means to coordinate and support group interactions in physical meeting rooms. In such a case, Cisco Spark or Microsoft Teams might be the better choice, as part of an ACME process.”

Gartner also advises developing methods for measuring the effectiveness of new collaboration tools once they’re introduced. “Institute a method for collecting feedback from groups using workstream tools across the organization,” the firm suggests, “and then applying this experience to existing and subsequent initiatives.”

3. Don't forget security considerations

Day-to-day workplace communication increasingly happens through chat and online meetings, which means an organization’s most sensitive information can be found there, and, potentially exposed.

“It’s critical that such software meets or exceeds the security practices of the user enterprise,” said Robb Reck, CISO at Ping Identity. “Introducing a new, unproven collaboration tool can undo all the other work a CISO has done to build a successful security program. It’s important for organizations to understand the monitoring and security options that are available within the collaboration product such as being able to identify insider threats, and the collaboration vendor's capabilities for using data collected from your network. One question to ask: Is the vendor using your data to improve their service, or selling that information to marketers? These are all critical components that impact the risk to a firm.”

LogMeIn’s Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) Gerald Beuchelt said there are signs to look for when vetting collaboration services. 

“I think what's really important in this context is that if you do look at different vendors you really try to understand and engage their willingness to be transparent with their customers around the security program,” Beuchelt said. “If there's a sense that the vendor is not trying to be as transparent as possible with the customer that would be a warning flag for me, and that’s true for any kind of software or Platform-as-a-Service.”

4. Think mobile

Regardless of the collaboration tools selected, businesses are increasingly demanding mobile-optimization for distributed teams, employees who travel often or work from home, and even those who won’t stray far from the office. 

“IT decision-makers from organizations that tend to be on the leading edge when it comes to technology adoption are significantly more likely to identify high productivity gains from mobile messaging,” said Raul Castanon-Martinez, a senior analyst at 451 Research.

“Even for employees that typically work in an office, mobility is a requirement since they need to move around. Our research also shows that even when they are at their desk, employees typically reach first for their smartphone rather than a desk phone. This is very common among younger workers -- millennials and Gen Z -- but they are early adopters. We’re see these behavior trends expand across all age groups.”