Now You Want Me to Collaborate? Leave Me Alone!

Rethinking Communications

Now You Want Me to Collaborate? Leave Me Alone!

By Jon Arnold, Principal, J Arnold & Associates  |  July 29, 2013

As the namesake of this column implies, I’m trying to address themes that will give you cause to re-think how you use and invest in communications technologies. Collaboration is definitely one of those themes, and I want to come back to how this looks from the employee’s point of view.

I have two basic ideas to explore, and each will get its own treatment over the next two columns. For this month, I’ll look at how collaboration can add unwanted stress, and in my next column I’ll touch on how the personalization of consumer technologies is impacting the way employees think about collaboration.

I have often noted that IT may be the economic buyer for UC, but employees are ultimately the end users and need to be co-opted along the way. The amorphous nature of UC makes the value proposition difficult to understand for IT, and the use case a bit tricky for end users to grasp. Nobody consulted end users about what an ideal UC solution should look like or even if they wanted it in the first place.

As such, even though IT may have struggled for months to settle on a solution and approach to deploying UC, it usually appears out of the blue when pushed out to employees. In essence, you may hear them saying “I never asked for this” or “I’m having a hard enough time keeping on top of e-mail”. If this is how they react to new technology, how do you expect them to embrace the lofty ideal of collaboration via UC? IT is not normally in the business of reading people’s minds, and just because they want UC, doesn’t mean employees do. As such, the success of UC may largely depend on IT’s ability to get end users amped up to use it.

Everyone knows that improved productivity is a good thing, so that doesn’t need explaining. However, for UC to be effective, employees must, to some degree, become adept at multichannel communication. While younger workers are more attuned to this, most research will show that people don’t multitask very well. Not only aren’t we very good at it, but employees generally don’t see a bump in their pay for taking on this extra stress. As such, if you take a steamroller approach to deploying UC, don’t be surprised to get this kind of pushback.

As an example, just think about presence. In many ways, it’s the driver for UC, especially collaboration. More often than not, however, presence is a distraction or even an unwanted interruption. Presence may be at everyone’s fingertips and is often the springboard to multimodal collaboration, but it’s really only effective when all said parties want to use it.

When used for its intended purposes, presence speeds up workflows, but like a lot of new tools, it cuts both ways. The flip side is making yourself too available, and in no time you’re drowning in information overload, and requests for meetings that suck time and energy out of your day. Of course, you can manage that by being proactive with your settings, but this also means you can simply turn presence into a gatekeeper to shut out this activity and peacefully get on with your day.

This may be oversimplifying things, but most presence engines lack context to make them truly valuable, and by extension this is a holdback for UC. If every task required collaboration, we wouldn’t have this problem, but most work is self-managed, and employees can actually be quite productive if just left alone. Management and UC vendors don’t want to hear that message, but a balance is needed between pushing the limits of collaboration and letting employees do their own thing – easier said than done, for sure.

In that regard, UC vendors will be more successful when they can minimize the unwanted attention that presence brings. Real-time tools are great for speeding up business processes, but they also allow people to disengage just as fast when they feel taken for granted. Context is a complex topic, and that’s why nobody has really figured it out yet, but when that happens, UC will truly make teamwork better across the board. This takes us into the realm of big data and predictive analytics, both of which are finding their way into the UC ecosystem, and in future posts I’ll explore why this is a good thing.

Jon Arnold (News - Alert) is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy.

Jon Arnold is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy with a focus on IP communications, and writes the Analyst 2.0 blog. Previously, he was the VoIP program leader at Frost & Sullivan.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi