Where Does Collaboration Fit in a Digital Workplace?
Guest Blog by Suresh Sambandam, CEO of Kissflow
For most of modern work history, collaboration was the little sibling of digital tools. Cast to the side and excluded from ‘big kid’ games, collaboration tools were neither serious nor essential.
But not anymore.
As mobile phones became prolific, communication via email ushered in an ‘always on’ era of work where constant availability was the norm. Communication through email started to move towards the main nucleus of work.
But email wasn’t equipped to handle this shift, and many new collaboration tools sprang up to take its place. The intense adoption of instant messaging apps and social media-style channels suddenly made enterprises start taking the little kid of collaboration seriously.
Some newer companies see collaboration as the centre of all of their work, while others still view it as a fun add-on to improve the employee experience.
Which one is right?
Keeping domain data at the core
The traditional model of business applications looks a lot like an ERP system. It has all of the information the company needs regarding finances, vendors, and other essential data. For many companies, the ERP is the trusted system of record. If the ERP didn’t record it, it didn’t happen.
The advantage of this model is that it provides the structure needed to understand where the business is and what needs to be done. It’s a sophisticated model that keeps detailed and accurate information. At any moment, you can quickly zero in on critical business information, generate reports, or know how things are progressing.
The disadvantage of the ERP model is that it is very impersonal and stagnant. Information only changes when approved actions are taken. Approval workflows are often not included in an ERP, which means a lot of communication needs to happen in a separate channel such as email, chat, or a process management tool.
This is not a mild issue. 86% of employees cite a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures, according to Salesforce. If the traditional digital workplace lacks this core component, what is a better solution?
Talk first, work later
In response, many younger companies have adopted a collaboration-first mindset to how their business functions. The trusted system of record for what goes on inside the business is not a highly structured ERP-like system, but a chat or email history. If someone asks “What happened?”, everyone does a dive into their inbox.
The advantage of putting collaboration first is that the business can be much more dynamic, adaptive, and human-centric. Teams are more agile and in the know, and chat tools are usually more user-friendly. Work is not just about the data you generate, but about how humans interact with that data and what they do with it.
The problem with keeping collaboration at the centre is that it is quite messy by nature, especially when separated from the context of work. Although the best collaboration tools integrate with your main databases and allow you to perform actions, chat tools cannot quickly produce reports and check on the status of work. Keeping a separate collaboration system as your primary system of record is a very chaotic way to run a business.
Collaboration tools are also distracting by nature. They bombard users with notifications and give the appearance of work being done when in actuality it is just digital chatter that gives a false sense of productivity.
The answer is contextual collaboration
How can businesses get the best of both worlds? How can we increase collaboration without completely giving our work over to disorganised chat or email tools?
Collaboration is essential, but it works best when it is placed in the context of work. Hosting your collaboration on a separate platform invites chaos and miscommunication.
The ideal setup is to have contextual conversations inside your operational system of record. When a conversation or approval needs to happen around a contract, project, or marketing effort, it should happen in the same platform where the work is managed. This way, conversations become more productive and focused on work.
Similarly, your digital discussions around work need to happen in a place that makes it easy to link to core processes and projects and easily assign tasks.
If you use separate applications for collaboration, switching to a platform that lets you communicate inside the work will keep collaboration simple, contextual, and accessible.
Collaboration tools still have the stigma of being immature when compared to more data-centric business hubs. Many companies look down on collaboration as an unsophisticated way to run a business.
However, our current era of business demands more human interaction. We need to be able to talk about work and bring in the human experience.
Rather than dismissing collaboration as the younger sibling that hasn’t grown up, it’s time for CIOs to welcome this newcomer into the digital fold and make a place for it as an essential part.
If collaboration is kept at a distance from the rest of work, it will only make things more chaotic. Only when it is integrated in a contextual way will companies get the best out of it.
Guest Blog by Suresh Sambandam, CEO of Kissflow
Suresh Sambandam is the CEO of Kissflow, the first unified digital workplace for organisations to manage all of their work on a single, unified platform. Kissflow is used by over 10,000 customers across 160 countries, including more than fifty Fortune 500 companies. Suresh is an expert and renowned entrepreneur on a mission to democratise cutting-edge technologies and help enterprises seamlessly orchestrate their work through an intuitive blend of collaboration, coordination and control. He has three US patents to his credit.