Inside Track: Collaboration and productivity
11 June 2018 | 0
The volume, variety and velocity of messaging coming at each of us these days would have been unimaginable just a few short years ago. For many people, doing a day’s work involves juggling phone calls, text messages, e-mails, instant messages and shared documents and trying to keep track of it all can be overwhelming.
But breakthroughs in collaboration technologies and the evolution of personal productivity tools are making the problem easier to handle. One of the best known is Slack, a messaging platform originally designed by games developers as an internal company tool to help them collaborate on a video game.
Launched in 2014, it has seen massive adoption and is used by companies all around the world.
“We drive adoption in ways that perhaps other platforms don’t. We were created by a team that wanted to build a beautiful multiplayer game where everything just looked and felt perfect and they applied that craftsmanship to their collaboration product,” said Stuart Templeton, UK head of Slack.
“In my opinion, we’ve done a really good job of blending the best of what consumers expect from software – look and feel, speed, and a really strong messaging-based component – with what organisations are looking for from an enterprise point of view, whether that’s single sign on or integration with business applications into a really robust and acceptable platform.”
This combination is what Slack terms its ‘secret sauce’ and it is a factor that has enabled the application to gain mass adoption and become one of the fastest growing business applications in history, with millions of users.
“I think we also stumbled across a reasonably significant business problem. Most organisations are still heavily reliant on email but for many people that’s inefficient. We’ve created a really beautiful experience in comparison, and it’s still a work in progress. We don’t feel that that job is over and wouldn’t be arrogant enough to assume it’s perfect, but customers and users really like it.”
Templeton argues that giving employees the best tools to help them do their job is a key productivity enabler. Tools like Slack are important because they remove impediments to getting work done quickly, and importantly, they also mirror messaging services people are using in their personal lives.
“One of the other reasons we’ve been so successful is because we’re bringing communication out of siloes and into channels where people have the right information at their fingertips. From the beginning we invested very heavily in a platform which brings people and business applications together into a collaboration channel,” he said.
“Look and feel is one thing but it’s also important to be able to bring applications, data and workflows directly into the way you communicate and we’ve already had 8.8 million applications installed into our customer’s Slack environments. Around 90% of our paying customers actively use at least one application integration so I think the secret is about bringing people, data and applications together,” said Templeton.
Future plans for Slack include the application of artificial intelligence to the way customers combine these three factors together.
“We call it search learning and intelligence. We’ve built something called the Slack Work Graph that operates a little like Google maps in that it looks at the channels you go to, the topics that you most frequently talk about and the people that you most quickly respond to and the system learns from that and can recommend what it thinks you need to get to first,” said Templeton.
“The idea is that technology like this might nudge you at the right time to do the right thing that perhaps you would have forgotten or overlooked. I think that would be the enormous step forward for the industry as a whole.”
For many companies, the time when they start to look at how best to streamline communications is when they start on a digital transformation strategy. According to Lisa Hunt, Office business group lead for Microsoft, creating separate channels for different kinds of communications is good place to start with this.
“It’s about streamlining communications so that employees become more productive, essentially by making sure that they can easily find and access communications that are relevant to them. One way to look at the situation we’re all in with regard to communications is that there is an outer loop and an inner loop, so from a Microsoft perspective in the outer loop we have Yammer, our social media channel and on the inner loop, we have Outlook,” she said.
“We recommend Yammer when a company wants to communicate from one person to many, and we’ve had huge success with it from companies because in the past they were sending out broad emails and getting snowed under. Lots of people complain about their email load and Yammer basically takes this load away.”
According to Hunt, Yammer features the ability to organise message recipients into different communities and workgroups. This can be used to stream communications at various levels of importance and priority.
“This is one of the best ways to communicate within a company so for example in Microsoft, like everywhere else, we have mails that nobody really wants to get on a daily basis but which are important to have an archive of. Yammer lets you organise your communications around your job demands and projects,” she said.
“From an outer loop perspective, you also have Outlook Teams and we’ve made a lot of improvements there too. You can actually feed into your team directly from Outlook to create a space where people that you work with on a regular basis on core projects can organise their data. You can also invite in partners from external organisations that might need access.”
A useful feature of Teams is that it can be used as a repository of information to bring new team members up to speed.
“For example, when a new hire starts you can just add them to whatever teams are relevant to their role and then they can scroll back on any communication prior to their hire, but also you can load up any file which links directly to Sharepoint so they can actually just go into that channel and then look at the files applicable to that.”
Salesforce is another large player in the IT sector that has produced its own productivity application, Quip, the company’s online collaborative documents application.
“Digital tools are disrupting how people work. We don’t all do just nine to five in the office anymore, increasingly people want to be able to work how and when suits them. They work harder and longer and they need the tools to do it right,” said Carl Dempsey, vice president for solutions engineering, EMEA for Salesforce.
“In the absence of something better, they try to co-opt consumer-type collaboration tools like Whatsapp or Google Hangouts and that can work pretty well. But you end up getting swamped in messages coming in on different channels.”
What is missing from consumer applications is the ability to integrate the work being discussed into the channels being used to discuss it. Communication without context is less than optimal.
“Quip has a few main differentiating features that add value. The first is that it delivers the content you’re working on, plus the chat and messaging around it, in one document on one screen. When you’re chatting, it’s in the context of the work you’re actually doing,” said Dempsey.
“We’ve seen stats that say that 25% of the average officer worker’s time is now spent checking their inbox. The problem with this is that frequently you get e-mails discussing an out of date document or someone references slide 43 of a deck that turns out to be missing by the time you go looking for it.”
According to Dempsey, actually chatting in the context of the work you’re doing is a game changer.
“We’ve also added the concept of live apps to Quip. We’re enriching chat with applications to allow you to actually do the work there and then. It might be a project tracking tool or maybe a Kanban boards app, which are pretty big at the moment – the document really comes alive, the information is live and is automatically up to date,” he said.
“It’s also fully mobile optimised.”
Quip is used by a number of notable industry players. According to Dempsey, 20th Century Fox use it to manage workflows and bring separate teams together to manage projects where their specialities converge.
“For example, when they need to bring out a movie trailer, they use Quip to bring together the people who create the video content with the people who do the media buying, who handle the PR and press – all these different teams come together. That’s extremely powerful,” he said.
“Similarly, at Facebook where there are around 20,000 people in engineering teams, Quip is used to bring them together. It’s through interactions like this that we’ve been able to run studies and discover that teams are getting projects done 37% faster because they’re not being slowed down by e-mail. In fact, their use of e-mail drops by around 40% when tools like Quip are used.”
|“These tools can be quite effective, as long as the users have a common purpose and goals. It’s important to empower staff members to act as domain champions, moderate discussions, and encourage others to participate. Some of these tools embrace gamification, giving users points and badges according to their contribution, for example, answering a question, writing an article or even by asking a question”||
Singlepoint Fabio Douek, head of Cloud Delivery
|One of the biggest challenges in modern organisations is how to facilitate knowledge sharing across team members. Organisations have realised that there is a considerable amount of time wasted by their employees, as they are working in silos. Often staff members from one team are doing the exact same work as someone from a different team or department, with minimum to no reuse, as they are not aware of each other’s projects and activities.Adding to that, geographically distributed teams, and also the possibility to work remotely do not help in this scenario. How many times have we found out about an interesting project or a good idea, by overhearing a conversation at the office?
There is a journey to be taken and a few activities required in order to enable an organisation to be more collaborative. The most important aspect is to work on the culture. What motivates the employees? What are their passions? What do they have in common with each other? Which values do they share? How committed are they to the company goals? And finally, are they willing to work as a group, rather than an isolated individual?The next step is to make good use of the technology, and that’s where collaboration tools can help to boost the organisation’s productivity, and also increase employee satisfaction and motivation.There are different categories of tooling available. At Singlepoint, we find Wiki as the best place for writing technical documentation and knowledge sharing. It’s common for two to three people to be collaborating at the same time on the same document, and others providing feedback in nearly real-time.Group chat provides real-time collaboration, and when combined with virtual stand-ups, it can be an alternative to traditional stand-ups, in cases where not everyone is available at the same time.These tools can be quite effective, as long as the users have a common purpose and goals. It’s important to empower staff members to act as domain champions, moderate discussions, and encourage others to participate. Some of these tools embrace gamification, giving users points and badges according to their contribution, for example, answering a question, writing an article or even by asking a question.A common concern organisations have about adopting collaboration tools is related to security and privacy. The good news is that these tools offer the ability to restrict access based on roles. On top of that, it is key to have an effective policy and guidelines, in order to educate staff on classifying sensitive data.
|“One platform, one sign-in to call, message, conference and collaborate – in a seamless way across the devices, browsers and web-based applications we all use every day”||
Avaya Ireland David Flood, territory sales lead
|For all the talk about collaboration and unleashing employees, the fundamental point of user experience is missed by many in the technology sector. Typically for users, collaboration manifests itself as a host of differing applications and services and a mess of passwords, bookmarks, locations, interfaces, and devices. It all too often adds up to a poor experience, and one thing common to us all is that we only really change behaviour because we want to, not because we have to, or simply can. We have a great experience and we want to repeat it. It’s human nature.It’s this user perspective that Avaya has addressed with Avaya Equinox. One platform, one sign-in to call, message, conference and collaborate – in a seamless way across the devices, browsers and web-based applications we all use every day. Everything’s in one place, consistent and persistent on whatever device and OS used. Adding participants to a team collaboration space is a snap, and you can use one-to-one instant messaging for small items or questions and chat when you want to involve the entire team. Tasks get assigned within Avaya Equinox to keep review cycles on track and the file sharing capability avoids clogging up email. If you’re offline, the Top of Mind summary provides at-a-glance visibility to get you back up to speed.
And there’s no compromise in terms of security or privacy. At its heart is Avaya’s SIP core, so any communication is always encrypted, ensures security and provisioning is centrally managed, and compliance with regulations, such as MIFID2, is a given. Equinox enables users to collaborate however they want, on whatever they want, and whenever they want. Simplifying and enriching the collaboration experience raises confidence, accelerates adoption and opens the door to the benefits to creativity and innovation that true collaboration brings.
|VoIP systems for creativity and innovation|
|“The NUACOM system allows sales, customer service, support and even marketing department to use their telephony data to achieve their goals by creative ideas of how to automate processes”||
NUACOM Igor Toma,CTO
|Creativity and innovation are at the heart of every major business. These two aspects allow businesses to remain relevant and competitive in the market as they are able to come up with different ways to improve their offerings. To support their creative and innovative agendas, enterprises rely on collaborative and productivity tools such as;
VoIP phone systems like NUACOM: Phones are still the number one communication channel for most businesses. What system you choose and how you use your telephony data can be the key to the success. NUACOM has a VoIP System for businesses to improve their automation, collaboration, productivity and also integration. The system allows sales, customer service, support and even marketing department to use their telephony data to achieve their goals by creative ideas of how to automate processes. These are just for examples of what you can do:
Calls are encrypted from NUACOM system side and storage in a Cloud European-based data centre, complying with new GDPR and allowing members to converse and share resources in a private and confidential manner.