Collaborative applications are now a $3.5 billion yearly business, according to research firm IDC, a number that is only expected to grow. These include such applications as Google’s G Suite that includes Gmail, Hangouts, and Meet, as well as Calendar and cloud-based document sharing apps. Team collaboration is now built into many office applications, and most major companies rely on some form of collaborative tool.
It sounded like perfect solution to the problem of email time suck and the difficulty making dispersed team members collaborate.
In 2012 consulting firm McKinsey published a report that suggested collaborative tools could increase employee productivity by up to 25%, and it noted that workers spent too much time – an estimated 28% – managing email and nearly 20% trying to track down colleagues. Hence Slack and other collaborative tools seemed like the right way to make communication quicker and easier.
Now of course the current “go to” program for office and team-based collaboration is Slack.
On the company’s home page it proclaims “Slack is where work happens.” This is followed by the short description, “Slack is a collaboration hub, where the right people and the right information come together, helping everyone get work done.”
That all sounds like the perfect solution, which is why so many businesses use Slack to communicate today. It has become part email, part instant message platform. It currently has more than 10 million users, so it is easy to see why Slack has been hailed as the ultimate productivity tool; a way to get everyone on the same page.
However, for others, the new wave of collaborative tools are alleged to be having the opposite effect, negatively affecting productivity.
“Slack and other tools make it easy for people to send a lot of messages to one another, but does that equate to successful collaboration?” pondered Josh Crandall, principal analyst at Netpop Research. “No, it does not.”
This isn’t just a Slack problem but one that is common to all team collaborative applications. According to a recent study from productivity-analytics firm Time Is Ltd, employees at some larger companies are sending more than 200 Slack messages a week, while power users can exceed more than 1,000 messages daily.
With so many messages it is easy to see how the important ones can be lost in the mix, while just reading each one can be time consuming.
“The underlying problem with any productivity software tool is that they still require people to pay attention and care about the outcomes of their projects,” said Crandall. “Co-workers need to be conscious about whether or not they are communicating effectively no matter whether it’s via Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts or good-old email.”
Proper Communication Tools
One of the biggest issues is that collaborative tools were designed to replace other proven forms of communications. While it is true that the way people communicate has evolved, with some preferring a phone call to an instant message, when it comes to collaborative tools, the platform becomes the only option.
Moreover, collaborative tools aren’t used as productivity as possible. The irony is that a tool designed to increase productivity can have the opposite effect, and in turn make workers far less productive.
“Too often, people use software tools like Slack ineffectively,” explained Crandall. “They believe that the software tool removes the need to confirm that their coworkers understand what the issue is, or what they are being asked to do. Productivity tools make it easy to drown others in too much information. There are too many messages, messages aren’t written effectively or they contain a variety of topics that are easily confused. Productivity software simply makes it easier for people who are poor communicators to communicate poorly more frequently.”
Chat tools are not a substitute for interpersonal communication and cooperation. It’s simply a new way for people to communicate. That might be good for millennials who grew up practically with a smartphone in their hands, but Gen-Xers and notably baby boomers are going to find it just another way to send a message.
Ironically, the collaborative process of having the team actually meet can be lost in this digital communication, as those more comfortable typing than talking have a “louder” voice via these tools.
“Managers who rely on Slack or other productivity software can’t overlook the need to maintain group meetings and scrums so that coworkers can ask clarifying questions and work together on a common goal,” Crandall told ClearanceJobs. “Projects that involve multi-dimensional inputs from a variety of individuals are even more difficult to coordinate entirely online. Again, managers need to tee-up the topics and make sure that design and scope isn’t defined via Slack or risk the consequences of delays.”
While the right tools can aid productivity with the right management, the same tools can result in serious time drains when used incorrectly. However, the tools aren’t the issue – it still may come down to proper management and teamwork.
“Simply stated, interpersonal issues and poor team dynamics will be amplified through the use of productivity tools if present,” added Crandall. “On the other hand, a well-managed team that works together well across multiple channels can leverage the simplicity of threaded discussions that pertain to specific company projects.”