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Working as a team

Changing working practices are driving demand for more effective collaboration tools. Tayla Ansell reports

Collaboration and teamwork are two of the defining characteristics of the modern workplace. Yet, according to a new report by Mitel, most businesses are struggling with ineffective communication tools and outdated working practices.

Flock Teams
Flock Teams

In its new study, the 2017 Workplace Productivity and Communications Technology Report, Mitel reveals that nearly 15% of employees’ total work time is wasted on inefficient communications, at a cost to UK businesses of £8,800 per employee, per year.

In particular, it found that employees spend most of their communications time reading and replying to email, suggesting that email remains widely used in business despite declining use amongst consumers.

Mitel Networks UK Vice President Simon Skellon said: “In businesses, email remains the default tool used by employees, despite the fact that new enterprise applications that combine collaboration, chat, video and voice in a consistent workflow are prevalent. Real-time, single app interfaces that work seamlessly across all multiple devices are the future.”

Kornelius Brunner, chief innovation officer at TeamViewer, expects the take-up of collaboration solutions to keep growing as more and more are launched.

He said: “The fact that a number of major players have recently announced or launched collaboration tools is certainly a clear indicator that this market is growing. According to a recent ‘Apps Run the World’ report, the market for these tools is expected to reach $8.4 billion by 2020, compared with $7.1 billion in 2015 at a compound annual growth rate of 3.4%.”

Microsoft is one of these major players. It launched Microsoft Teams towards the end of last year to capitalise on the popularity of chat services.

A company spokesperson said: “According to a survey by the Austin-based IT network Spiceworks, 42% of people are using chat rooms to get work done and more enterprises are looking to adopt a chat service in the future. Specifically, the survey noted that 17% of companies plan to deploy Microsoft Teams in the next two years. For the most active organisations, the number of users is growing by 30% a month, with message usage doubling every two months.”

Two-year old team messenger Flock has benefited first hand from accelerating demand for team collaboration tools. CEO Bhavin Turakhia said: “Since Flock entered the market, we’ve experienced significant global traction and 200% growth.”

Cisco Spark
Cisco Spark

On this basis, Turakhia plans to invest a further $25 million in the company to meet global demand and to enhance product innovation – Flock is rolling out new features in the US, the UK, India and Spain, and expanding into Brazil and Russia.

Culture of collaboration
Chris Farinacci, Head of Business at Asana, says the growing market for team collaboration tools can be put down to changing ways of working, which are more dependent on effective collaboration.

He points out that all teams, departments and companies rely on effective collaboration and coordination, and that this requirement is growing as knowledge work becomes more complex and distributed.

Brunner of TeamViewer makes the same point. “Technology, societal change, the rise of flexible, remote working and hot-desking are just some of the things challenging traditional office culture.This is resulting in a fundamental shift in many of the ways of working that society has taken for granted, such as taking weekends off, working nine-to-five and commuting to an office,” he said.

Further acknowledgement of the shift in working culture comes from Microsoft. A spokesperson said: “Within the workplace, teams are increasingly diverse and dynamic, involving people working from different locations, with varied workstyles and expectations for how to communicate and collaborate. They thrive when information is open and transparent, when content is accessible and easily discoverable. Microsoft Teams was built with this in mind, to provide a hub for teamwork where everyone can stay in the know and easily collaborate.”

Why switch?
Of course, organisations and teams worked together long before the boom in collaboration tools, sharing thoughts and files via email and perhaps even using instant messaging services like Whatsapp. So why should they switch to a dedicated team messaging and collaboration platform?

One reason is that solutions from Asana, Microsoft, Flock, TeamViewer, Cisco, Mitel and others offer much more functionality than, say, email.

Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams

For Brian Atkinson, leader of collaboration and customer experience at Cisco UK & Ireland, one of the big draws of Cisco Spark is its ability to make the world feel a little smaller.

“In its most simple form, the implementation of video collaboration technology, unified communications and telepresence means that a business in the City can have a normal conversation with colleagues in San Francisco, New York or even the other side of London, without having to leave their building. Crucially, collaboration tools mean that a company can not only significantly cut travel costs, but also drive productivity and connect employees in any corner of the world,” he said.

A second reason, cited by Team Viewer’s Brunner, is the need to maintain a clear separation between consumer-focused instant messaging platforms and true business apps. He said: “Applications like Whatsapp and Facebook messenger seep into an employees’ social life and shouldn’t be enforced in a work situation. These solutions are designed for sociability and not for business projects. A tailored solution like Blizz by TeamViewer is much more streamlined and professional.”

Productivity and efficiency
Feedback from existing users of team collaboration solutions seem to justify the confidence that solutions vendors have in their products.

Flock’s Turakhia said: “Flock has helped teams improve collaboration, efficiency and productivity by 30%, boost transparency at work and reduce wasteful email and in-person meetings by 50%.”

Chris Farinacci, Head of Business, Asana
Chris Farinacci, Head of Business, Asana

Farinacci hears similar things from Asana customers. He said: “In our most recent broad customer survey, customers reported that Asana makes them 45% more efficient, and more than 80% said they had increased clarity and accountability on their teams.”

Simon Skellon of Mitel cites a report by Harvard Business Review showing the extent to which effective collaboration can save users time. “A sample of 300 large corporations worldwide by Bain and Economist Intelligence Unit found that the most productive companies lose 50% less time to unnecessary and ineffective collaboration than the rest. This is achieved by reducing organisational drag. Organisations can adopt collaboration tools to provide regular feedback and updates on projects, reducing the requirement for unnecessary meetings. Such tools allow companies to analyse processes to reduce the amount of interactions required to get work done.”

There’s also anecdotal evidence that these tools contribute to better decision-making. Farinacci said: “When teams have clarity on what’s going on, decision-making is definitely better. One of our customers is Possible, a global health organisation focused on providing care in some of the world’s poorest regions. The executive director, Mark Arnoldy, says that ‘with Asana providing a clear trajectory for the work we do, we’ve become more disciplined in our decision-making and have magnified the volume and velocity of our output. Our whole culture has become centred around clarity, timeliness and speed. The difference has been remarkable’.”

Email remains the default tool for business communication, partly because of its ubiquity and interoperability. While it’s unlikely that newer collaboration tools will replace email any time soon, businesses will have no choice but to adapt their internal communications as workforces become increasingly dispersed and mobile. And, for many, that will mean implementing a specialist collaboration solution.

In the words of TeamViewer’s Brunner: “Collaboration tools allow organisations not only to work, but to thrive in a rapidly changing work environment.”

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