By its nature, collaboration requires interaction among parties, and for that reason I’ve been exploring what this means to different stakeholders. Some people collaborate more effectively than others, and that can mean many things. On one level, there are good team players, while others just want to be left alone to do their thing. Then you have group dynamics where certain functions or departments interact easily with peers doing similar types of work, but not so well will those who work in completely unrelated areas.
Another important factor is how well employees are able to use the tools that unified communications supports. There are many social and interpersonal factors to consider, but independent of this will be their comfort level with communications technology. This is where things get interesting, but not really in ways that vendors are addressing.
In my last post, I talked about the downside of personalization, and how this can really undermine UC, especially among Millennials who have grown up with the Internet. They may have great intuition with all things digital, but their expectations regarding social interactions will be very different from their older generation co-workers. This means they could be the savviest users of UC tools, but if they’re just not inclined to engage on group projects, you have a different problem on your hands. In other cases, they may be the go-to people to show others how to use these tools, and even though they’re willing to be good team players, they’re just not very good at it.
Of course, businesses wouldn’t have this problem if all workers were bots and had exactly the same skill sets. There would be no interpersonal issues or variances to mess up the process and everyone would simply do as they were told. On paper, sure, this would make UC wonderfully productive, but the whole point of collaborating is to bring together disparate and unique skill sets to achieve better results than if we all just stayed at our desks hiding behind our PC screens.
So, which would you rather have? Most of your older employees are probably good team players with fair-to-middling technology skills. Within that cohort you will certainly have some with sharp technology skills, and they will be your collaboration stars. However, most may see UC as intimidating or something they use around the edges. Unless you’re willing and/or able to provide training to specifically address these deficiencies, be careful where you set the productivity bar here.
Just as I argued in my last post that personalization can undermine UC, I can also take the opposite position. This may seem contradictory – and these are the types of ideas I’m trying to raise in this column – and it’s really just a matter of perspective. If you study Millennials, you’ll find that they actually collaborate very well, particularly among themselves since they have a common frame of reference and sensibility about how to get things done.
However, this reality may not square up well with the processes you have in place today, and would explain why you don’t think they get the collaboration concept. This is why Millennials tend to thrive in startups, where everyone is from the same generation, and knows how to use the same tools. Shift them to an enterprise setting with a lot of processes and hierarchies, and they have a much harder time.
Personalization can certainly make it easy for employees to tune out and build roadblocks that interfere with collaboration. However, if UC is introduced and deployed in ways that resonate with them, their affinity to personalize everything they do can more easily extend to UC. In other words, if they have an active hand in defining the UC toolset, Millennials will feel a greater sense of ownership that will allow personalization to have a positive impact on collaboration.
This may be hard to envision, but there is definitely upside to be had here – you just have to see it from their point of view. Can you do that? Just remember, learning is dynamic – Millennials have a lot to learn from the older generation, but this will be their world someday, and they have a lot to teach us as well.
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