4 Obstacles That Are Keeping Your Employees from Collaborating

Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, once said that “coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”  When you provide employees with collaboration-enabling technology, you’re paving the path for your organization’s success.

However, the path to true collaboration can be a difficult one and IT managers are constantly looking for methods to maximize organizational efficiency. Not all roadblocks to collaboration are readily-obvious – many issues, such as content decay, only present themselves after significant damage has been done. Other issues, through small annoyances or frustrating experiences, may slowly chip away at your employees’ perception of their ability to collaborate.

In the comments section, tell us: if budget and time were no object, how would you address some of your organization’s collaboration gridlocks?

- IT Peer Network Administrator

1. Content Decay

Content decay occurs when content produced on one type of platform looks different when viewed or edited on another type of platform. For example, if Sarah creates slides in Microsoft PowerPoint 2013, and an external collaborator views them on his iPad using Apple Keynote, Apple’s presentation software for iOS, then the slides could look quite different.               

Content decay can be more than a mere annoyance, especially in highly-regulated industries where documents must be captured correctly and archived. In these cases, content decay could undermine compliance and complicate discovery and retrieval efforts.

A document created in Microsoft Word* (top image) and opened in Apple Pages* for iOS* (bottom image)—note the
Pages warning, which advises that certain functionality will be lost (emphasis added)

2. Personal Work Styles and Devices

Another barrier is the fact that multiple devices and platforms are now used for business communication and collaboration. This trend means that users have a choice of widely-available devices, applications, and browser-based services they can use to do their jobs — without the involvement or approval of corporate IT.

Users see this reality as a boon to their productivity, but it can also impede collaboration. Widespread adoption of various devices, apps, and services by definition means diminished adherence to common standards, which can lead to confusion, misunderstanding, and wasted time. You have probably heard or had conversations like this many times:

Team member: "The file is too big for my company e-mail limits. I can Skype you and share my screen so we can review it."

External collaborator: "Skype is iffy on my wireless connection, especially for sharing video. Can you just upload the document to Dropbox and call my mobile?"

Team member: "Dropbox is blocked here for security reasons. I’ll send it through my personal webmail."

This conversation and many more like it demonstrate both the benefit and a common challenge with the consumerization of IT. While it can increase user freedom, it can become a collaboration barrier when too many options undermine the common ground of standardization. This lack of standardization can become much more serious than mere inconvenience: it can introduce real risk and compliance hurdles.

3. Security Concerns

Concerns over security can also stand in the way of collaboration. Although internal collaboration tools and processes are built with security and compliance in mind, enterprises cannot give unfettered access to partners outside the firewall. This means that the security and compliance measures built into these internal tools might extend only as far as the network boundary. This limitation is not automatically a problem—e-mail encryption can provide a measure of security for most messages and attachments. However, security limitations can be a collaboration roadblock for information workers who deal with highly sensitive or highly-regulated data.

4. Company Culture

Every company has unique collaboration processes and requirements, in addition to unique expectations about how collaboration is best accomplished. This combination of tools, processes, requirements, and institutional history composes a company culture—an accepted way of doing things. Company culture and personal work styles can make changes difficult. Collaboration tools or devices that require significant changes in user work styles are as likely to create obstacles as they are to remove them because users will work around them or simply not use them.

The good news? Simple, intuitive tools that enable workers to collaborate exist to address these challenges without disrupting workflow. Stay tuned for the next post in this series, which will outline the shortest path to true collaboration.

This blog is part 3 of 4 in a series focused on intercompany collaboration. Previous entries include:

What Does Collaboration Mean to Information Workers?

Cutting Through the Hype

For more information on how business leaders from Microsoft and Cisco are overcoming roadblocks to collaboration, click here.

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