The past 12 months have tested our digital literacy like never before and as we edge closer to a hybrid world of work, collaboration tools could provide the connective tissue for successful teams.
Matthew Feeley, vice-president of collaboration product portfolio at Chicago-based IT consulting firm Netrix, spoke to us about what kind of shape collaborative tech could take in 2021.
‘Collaboration platforms that can take on additional functions will begin to steal market share way from standalone products’
– MATTHEW FEELEY
Will 2021 be a big year for collaboration tools?
Absolutely. While 2020 was the year of collaboration technology adoption out of necessity, 2021 will be the year that organisations explore how collaboration tools can transform internal collaboration and customer interactions. Organisations that historically shied away from using video conferencing with customers found themselves on video with customers for four to six hours a day, and that isn’t going to stop any time soon.
Even when offices start to reopen, we believe organisations will continue to embrace collaboration tools in new and innovative ways. Companies have also recognised that while websites and social media pages provide opportunity to promote and express a brand, those opportunities can also be found during online meetings, video chats, etc. Collaboration tools are becoming a new marketing medium.
What are the kinds of tools that will be most popular?
While the tools that became household names (Microsoft Teams, Zoom and others) will continue to be popular, the winners in 2021 will be those that can act as a collaboration platform. Most organisations don’t like supporting (and paying) for a myriad of tools, so collaboration platforms that can take on additional functions, such as online meetings, file sharing and workflows, will begin to steal market share away from standalone products.
Augmented reality could prove to be the next turn in the collaboration technology space. The technology is here that allows you to sit court-side during an NBA game while never leaving your sofa. Imagine that same technology being used for company meetings, sales presentations or a virtual cooking class for your staff. Augmented reality applications have been trying to penetrate the mainstream for years and may now have an opportunity to have a seat at the boardroom table.
Are businesses missing out on a way to engage staff if they don’t embrace technology?
Absolutely. Connecting and interacting with people is so important. And, while not a substitute for hallway chats and team lunches, technology can be used to make connections and engage staff.
Online cooking classes, digital foodie communities and virtual Pictionary or escape room games quickly remind people that they like the people they work with.
And it’s not all fun and games. Many organisations are using online communities and collaboration tools to provide support; support for new parents during this pandemic, support for colleagues that are caregivers to parents or children, and support for people that just need someone to talk to outside of a staff meeting or sales call.
What kind of tech can help leaders engage their staff, particularly while working remotely?
I believe that you’ll start to hear more about employee experience platforms that bring together communications, knowledge, learning and resources. For example, Microsoft recently announced its Viva platform that’s intended to ‘reimagine the employee experience’.
And, while some of this is a repackaging of the old intranet, new technologies like machine learning and analytics definitely make it something new and more engaging.
What advice would you give to leaders starting to use these technologies themselves, and getting their people on board?
Maybe too simple, but the best advice I can give to business leaders and team leaders on starting to use these technologies is to use it. Turn on your camera. Send out an online poll. Try a virtual happy hour – but don’t go overboard so they don’t feel like one more online meeting.
Use the technology and make sure that your people know that they can use the technology for social gatherings, and even for personal use, to connect with friends and family.
What are some of the challenges they need to be mindful of?
The biggest challenge we see is poor communication around tool roll-out and a lack of understanding of when to use what tool. Does a company announcement go on Teams, Yammer, SharePoint, all or none? There can be overlap between the tools and associated use cases and it’s important that any technology roll-out be accompanied by a user adoption and change management programme.
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