By David Coleman, Collaborative Strategies
Based on our recent research, more and more organizations (of any size) are moving into distributed collaboration. About 93% of all meetings are under five people, and most of those meetings have at least one person at a distance (hybrid meeting), which implies a distributed team. There are hundred of tools available for teams, and for collaboration, so why is being successful with distributed collaboration so hard?
People don’t stand still, most people today (based on our December research) work on about four distributed teams (no matter what company size). Although the number of simultaneous projects depends a lot on your role (i.e. Support, or Professional Services may deal with 50 projects (clients) at a time. But normally in most other organizations people work on three to four projects at a time.
Survey: “Most people work on about four distributed teams at a time”Collaborative Shift
With people on all these teams and projects, when you add in distance, you have a very complex situation. The first and greatest challenge is a collaborative mindset. What is driving these changes in collaboration is something I call the “Collaborative Shift.” In some ways it does not matter what collaboration technology(s) you have, it is more about your mental state, as we have seen examples of organizations with any collaboration tools they want, and collaboration is still poor.
Large corporations always have a culture and anyone working for that company is absorbed into that culture. Trying to get that culture to shift is like trying to turn the Borg into Peter Pan. Any cultural shift has to happen one person at a time, as the culture is a summation of each person’s (in the company) behaviors, knowledge and experience.
For collaboration to be successful this shift has to happen. It can happen through a change in the way people view the world, or a shift in their mental models. It is a change in your mental models of how you're doing work with others, a shift from “me” to “we.”
Collaboration Tool Challenges
In our recent survey, we asked what were the biggest challenges to collaboration? Almost 52% felt that their tools and infrastructure do not support distributed work. Support was having the greatest number of issues with tools not supporting distributed work with 90% of those surveyed (in support) felt they had inadequate tools. To top it off they had the largest number of managers that do not want to support flexible working options (45%), and also had the highest number of workspaces that do not support collaboration (25%). People in all departments felt that time zones and language differences also made distributed collaboration more difficult (31%). The third biggest challenge was management being supportive of flexible work environments (25.1%). However, the size of the organization and a person’s role in that organization did have a big effect on what they saw as “challenges.”
Survey: “Almost 52% felt that their tools and infrastructure do not support distributed work”Tools and technologies used
It is no surprise that 86% of those surveyed had e-mail, 73% had desktop or web conferencing, 69% had IM/Chat/SMS, and 59% had screen sharing and 54% collaborative content and document management. What we see here is a mix of synchronous and asynchronous collaboration tools with the goal to support people in the way they work. People move fluidly from working alone to working together, from working in real time to working with others in a time-shifted manner. Yet distributed task and project management tools were only used by 23% of respondents.
“One of the biggest challenges the survey respondents found was that they had to move from one tool to another to get the different functions they needed to collaborate in a specific way.”One of the biggest challenges the survey respondents found was that they had to move from one tool to another to get the different functions they needed to collaborate in a specific way. I call this the “context switching” problem, which I will talk about in much greater detail in Part II of this series.