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Why going to work is like going back in time

Date

Marcus Dervin

Some companies have the collaboration tools, but not the vision to deploy them effectively, argues Marcus Dervin.

Having trouble finding what you're looking for?

Having trouble finding what you're looking for? Photo: Michael Mcgurk

In your private life you have perhaps a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop and/or a desktop. You can share information between these devices easily using tools like Dropbox, Evernote and Google Docs. You post a few pictures of your weekend on Facebook and all of your friends see them, comment on them, and make their posts on Pinterest, Twitter, and whatever other social nook they choose to use. All of this happens fairly effortlessly.

And then you go to work.

For most people, going to work is like going back to an age where people only used email to communicate, besides sharing the company's servers. Yes, an enormous share drive full of nested folders upon folders, files that haven't been opened in five years, with useful titles like 'Project brief final.doc' and 'Copy of Project brief final.doc'. Finding anything in there is like trying to find someone on a Sydney train with an old Nokia.

Marcus Dervin argues there's much more to collaboration than a share drive.

Marcus Dervin argues there's much more to collaboration than a share drive.

You go for a meeting and when you return there are 20 emails awaiting your attention, many with attachments, such as Excel documents. You dutifully fill in the spreadsheet, send it back and then someone has to copy all of the entries from 20 odd people into one spreadsheet. They do this every Friday.

You come across a problem, and you take to Google to get an answer. If that doesn't work, you ask a few colleagues. You spend untold hours trying to find a solution to this problem that wasn't even there this morning. You eventually find a solution, and bookmark it for next time, not sharing it with anyone.

And you don't know this, but a guy in another department had the answer all the time.

Does this sound typical?

It doesn't have to be this way, many companies already use SharePoint, Office 365, Google Docs, Zoho, Huddle and many other tools for staff to work more effectively, share information with each other and collaborate more easily. But does everyone use it as they are designed to be used?

Picture this...

You come to work and your intranet home page has a list of the 10 most recent documents you have been working on. A few of these documents you have been collaborating on with others, and they have made updates. You get notified automatically of these updates and the changes, without them having to inform you by email.

You can see the status of each of your team members, like who is away today, and a calendar of team events. Your boss can see a dashboard of reports, generated instantly, pulling data from other systems like SAP. He doesn't have to login to see those systems anymore, everything is displayed in one place.

You are assigned to work on a new project, and you are given access to the project workspace, a website where all project documents are stored, tasks are allocated, a timeline is displayed, and contacts are listed. People have differing levels of access; some can see the project budget, others can add and remove people to the project, others have read only rights.

People are kept up to date by subscribing to RSS feeds, or setting alerts on particular lists or documents so that if they are modified, they know about it.

Documents have version control, so there is only one current version at any time (with a history), people email the link to the document if they need to email, not attach the document.

Automated workflows have been configured, so you automatically get notified when a task needs your attention, and when you complete it, the next person is notified. Sounds utopic, doesn't it?

However, this technology is not a silver bullet, and many of these deployments have failed. I was recently in a company where the entire contents of the share drive (1.5TB) were literally dumped into Microsoft SharePoint for better sharing but without any tagging. It was impossible to find or store anything. It was worse than having just a share drive.

A clear strategy, consideration of usability, design, governance, executive buy-in, staff skill levels, key champions, a steering committee, taxonomy, and more all need to be considered in large deployments.

However when done properly, the benefits are tremendous. Knowledge is stored and shared in a searchable way, and isn't lost after people leave. People feel empowered, and they are free to actually work, rather than fend off emails all day long. People get answers quickly and are able to collaborate rapidly. Things happen so much faster.

According to the Global Intranet Trends 2009 report, which details intranet data and findings from 227 organisations, most organisations have SharePoint, but only 30 per cent of those SharePoint implementers have an intranet strategy.

Additionally, Gartner mentions "through 2010, less than 25 per cent of sites turning on SharePoint will put effective governance in place."

I have seen companies turn on 200-team sites for staff to collaborate on, but the vast majority of sites weren't used well and staff go back to the share drive and email. It's not enough just to turn them on. The necessary steps of providing decent training, transforming organisational pain points into streamlined automated processes, and having people to provide support to team site owners needs to happen in order for deployments to be successful.

What is really needed is a Technical Analyst, or even better a team of them, to support the business in utilising these tools to their full potential. IT departments don't have the answers, they know how to keep the system stable, manage administration, databases etc, but don't have the knowledge or interest in ensuring the business gets the most out of these tools. There is a knowledge gap, that is begging to be filled, with IT on one side, and the business on the other.

If you have these tools in your business, but you aren't seeing the benefits, then ask your consultants or implementation partner to demonstrate the power of these tools to you. Set up a steering committee including HR, communications, IT and business units, championed by one or two key executives to govern the intranet.

Create an intranet vision, business objectives, policies, project roadmap, and a governance framework. Then you can really go places. Of course, if your organisation is not large, you can keep it simpler.

I recently heard a project manager complain that SharePoint wasn't being used in her new company, and she found the old way of working so painful.  She found it a bit like giving up your smartphone for an old mobile.

Soon, people won't want to work in organisations where the technology is antiquated. They will demand a better quality of working. The companies who embrace this new way of working, will attract the best people, and will be the leaders in the future.

Marcus Dervin is the director of WebVine, a web consultancy based in Sydney.

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20 comments

  • No surprises here. Most of the large "institutional" companies, banks, utilities, insurance are still using management techniques from the 50's. Don't trust the staff, don't let them use the internet let alone msn, they will chat to their friends all day. The last time a manager siad that to me I tore up my contract and left.

    Oh and you can forget IT in Australia. Anyone who hasn't outsourced to oDesk or Freelancer has rocks in their head. There are 10,000 Indian PhDs waiting to build your web based system for $5/hour and they will do it better.

    Commenter
    Allan
    Location
    Prahran
    Date and time
    April 26, 2012, 12:42PM
    • Your list "Picture this' sounds like a sales pamphlet for Workspace, the practice and project management software we use in order to run our architectural practice. When someone left last year, one of his comments when I bumped into him recently was how painful going back to Windows as a management tool was. Often it is in hindsight that people recognise the value of such systems...

      Commenter
      wesleybenn
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 1:15PM
      • Sorry Marcus, who employs technical analysts to get the most out of Word...we imploy writers.

        Why would anyone employ a technical analyst to try and get the most out of collaboration software.

        We need business and communication experts, not IT geeks. People who will say "Use this software to cooperate better" but also say "Get away from the bloody software and go talk to each other."

        Commenter
        Flingebunt
        Location
        Brisbane
        Date and time
        April 26, 2012, 1:28PM
        • Hi Flingebunt,

          Thanks for your comment. In my experience, someone else is needed as well as Comms and IT. Comms know what message they want to send out, or perhaps they have an ideas to use Yammer. IT know how to implement these tools. But no-one is finding out the business drivers behind using this technology. How can these tools lessen the time people spend doing mind-numbing repetitive tasks? Document management, automated work process flows, business intelligence, reducing the email burden, etc these all contribute to greater productivity and less stress in the workplace. But who, how, when? These are the questions to answer first.

          Commenter
          marcusdervin
          Date and time
          April 26, 2012, 3:11PM
      • "we imploy writers"

        All evidence to the contrary. ROFL!

        Commenter
        Allan
        Location
        Prahran
        Date and time
        April 26, 2012, 3:01PM
        • Thanks for this. Its great to have someone so clearly articulate the daily grind of 'fending off emails'. I am going to forward this article on to our online team and my boss!

          Commenter
          Jacqueline
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          April 26, 2012, 4:23PM
          • Hmmm could not email this story to anyone else - is this a sign of the future?

            Commenter
            Jacqueline
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            April 26, 2012, 4:27PM
            • Nice point Allan. Lots of talk about new technology and very little about strategy. Tools and technology aren't much help if people can't communicate in the first place.

              Yes, you need Governance Framework but you need to work out what you are governing first. Not just tools but a way of working that is better. If people need to collaborate to achieve the organisations goals then this has to be thought through - then pick your technology.

              Commenter
              GeorgeV
              Date and time
              April 26, 2012, 4:38PM
              • Doesn't anyone actually interact face to face (talk) anymore? No wonder the left hand doesn't know what the righthand is doing. Seems to me that while it should be the answer technology is just used to shift the blame for poor work practices.

                Commenter
                Mark W
                Location
                Reality Street
                Date and time
                April 26, 2012, 5:20PM
                • Thanks for your comment, it got me thinking..............In our work place we do do a lot of talking as a team and also with our clients... but our workplace is becoming so fast and so vast, that by the time we have left a team or group meeting we already have a mountain more details to talk about with each other....a collaborative 'machine' that helps us easefully work on documents and move the work flow along without email would really assist us. It doesn't replace the really valuable face to face chat (which I findthe most rewarding and most creative time) but it might faciltate the actual implementation of those creative ideas....

                  Commenter
                  Jacqueline
                  Location
                  Sydney
                  Date and time
                  April 27, 2012, 4:54PM

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