Social collaboration tools: Help or hindrance?

Gina Jones

Friday 15 April 2016

Social collaboration tools promise to boost productivity and reduce the need for lengthy meetings and emails, but they’ve also been accused of eating up valuable business time and creating more ‘noise’ in the workplace.

The launch of Facebook at Work is the latest in a series of events showing social collaboration tools in the workplace are big news. Increasing numbers of businesses are adopting these tools in a bid to improve internal communications – indeed, by the end of 2015, Slack had two million daily active users, with 570,000 paid accounts, while Yammer had reached eight million.

2012 McKinsey Report revealed office workers spend 28 hours per week on average writing emails, searching for information and collaborating internally – that’s more than half the working week communicating with others rather than doing the job they were hired to do. So are social collaboration tools reducing this time or adding to it?

In a recent survey by Slack, 62.4 per cent of users said it made finding information easier, while a study by Yammer found that 58 per cent of people waste an hour each day looking for information – time they can now save by working collaboratively. But they would say that! We asked some real business owners to share their experience of using social collaboration tools. Here’s what they said…

PROS

Bridges geographical divides

Suzanne Holland, UK country manager for technology firm Testbirds, says: “We operate a remote office with colleagues spread across multiple countries. Using chat apps makes running our business much easier. It also helps us remain agile and responsive to clients.”

Immediacy

Tom Jarvis, managing director of brand activation specialists The Wilderness Agency, says: “Using Slack has changed the way we communicate as a team. We’ve abandoned internal email. It’s a more direct, fast-paced communication tool.”

Great for SMEs

“Technology can play a big part in levelling the playing field for small businesses against bigger competitors,” Jarvis says. “Small teams now have the tools to present their offering on par with bigger competitors through sharing ideas, amending copy in real-time or using cloud technologies to add the finishing touches to a pitch.”

CONS

Over-reliance on one method

“The challenge of using this technology can include connectivity issues if the network goes down, forcing you to switch to a phone call, which does not function as well and is a less enhanced experience,” Holland says. “It’s important to use these apps in addition to regular, longer-form communication to ensure that everyone gets the message.”

Maintaining company culture

Social collaboration tools are not a replacement for cultivating a strong company culture, argues Julia Streets, founder of business development specialists Streets Consulting. “My team works remotely from different countries,” she says. “We use collaboration tools to stay in touch, but the challenge is how to facilitate casual communication – the kind you’d usually get at the coffee machine if you worked together in an office. Even the most innovative technology can’t completely replace face-to-face interaction. You still need to do that from time to time.”

Larger companies may struggle

“App-based communication platforms are not for every business and some, with extensive hierarchy, might struggle with a tool that works so instantaneously without process and approvals,” Jarvis says. “For us as a small team in a fast-growing and agile business, this is actually a huge benefit and it allows us to operate at speed, something some of our larger competitors perhaps can’t do.”

Ultimately, success when using social collaboration tools comes down to having a clear purpose for using it, educating employees on how it can be used most effectively and remembering that it’s not a replacement for one-to-one interaction, but an enhancement to your everyday interaction.

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