The world is awash in team collaboration tools of every kind—video conferencing software, project management apps, email clients, and chat apps are just a few of the categories that collaboration tools fall into, each one with countless offerings to select from.
In theory, this moment in history should be a golden age—a hyper-efficient techno-utopia where anyone and everyone has access to critical information at their fingertips. Information which is archived, searchable, and easily contextualized.
Reality however, has reared its ugly head.
We’ve reached a critical mass of collaboration tools. Conversations about specific projects are spread out across various apps, phones, and in-person communications. It seems that the way we’re using team collaboration tools is actually making it more difficult than ever to—you know, collaborate.
If this resonates with you, you’re not alone. So what’s really hurting your team’s communication?
We’re here to break this problem down into three main elements, and offer solutions to each issue, so that your team collaboration efforts can get on the right track.
Problem #1: Your data is disconnected from the conversations surrounding it.
At work, decisions need to be made. Most often, there is some kind of discussion about why, what, and how a particular problem should be solved. These conversations often take place across multiple channels, including email, chat, and video conferences. To be blunt, there are a lot of downsides to this. Not every decision-maker is able to be present for every conversation, which leads to a lot of catch-up information sharing later.
Worse still, most email and chat apps have poor indexing, which makes it difficult or even impossible for team members to search for the critical contextual information they need in order to avoid redundant conversations and problem solving processes.
Consider this scenario:
Bob and Erica are troubleshooting a problem together, but the conversation happens in a private chat channel so the rest of the team aren’t privy to the problem-solving process. If Bob and Erica leave the company—even just for a week-long vacation—and a similar issue comes up, the rest of the team can’t access Bob and Erica’s original conversation to refer back to and will have to troubleshoot the issue all over again.
This situation (or something similar) happens all the time.
There are a number of potential solutions, but they can all be boiled down to one key principle: conversations about projects, processes, and data need to be held in fewer channels, and they need to be organized into searchable, accessible records. Building a project management system where all files, discussions, and steps to completion are kept in the same place, with a highly indexable search feature will ensure that anyone with a previously answered question can find the information they need without treading the same path over and over again.
Problem #2: Communication is unstructured.
When people were sending snail mail, just about every letter sent had a complete collection of meaningful information contained within. As email has become more and more widespread and casual, it has caused conversations to become much more fragmented and atypically structured than they were in the past. Now, piecing together a conversation requires searching for multiple emails across different chains, and piecing together fragmented, incomplete information.
Read also: Why Email Is Making You Miserable
Adobe’s recent survey found that people in the workplace spend an average of 3.1 hours per day sending and checking their emails, which amounts to 15.5 hours per week—and 20 weeks per year.
Papers from Victoria Bellotti, Gail Fann Thomas, and Stephen R. Barley et al, “...shows a trend toward increasing communication from 50 emails per day in 2005, to 69 in 2006, to 92 by 2011.” Radicati Group put the average daily number of work-related emails that employees responded to in 2019 at 126.
The easier a communication channel is, the more people will use it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but without proper email protocols, it becomes a chaotic system of unstructured, unscheduled messages. You don't choose when to receive them. They occur sporadically throughout the day, with no formal structure to the content. When people are sending messages back and forth, carelessly cc’ing people, a problem which could have been solved in a three minute phone call can easily stretch into 20 back and forth messages.
And that’s just email.
Chat apps such as Slack and Google Chat make it even easier to send messages, compounding the problem of email. Conversations are increasingly happening in one of several different channels, and nobody knows quite where to look if they need to follow a conversation.
Splitting message systems between chat and email would be bad enough for team collaboration, but most people aren’t just using one chat app. Mio’s survey of chat and messaging apps reports a staggering 91% of companies are using at least two chat apps for work, with an average of 3.3 chat apps used.
The truth is, all of this unstructured communication isn’t just detrimental to efficiency at work, it’s making us miserable.
So what’s the solution?
In addition to setting up policies about what kinds of conversations happen in any given channel, (project management stuff happens in the project manager app, external communications happen via email, and internal company comms happen in chat, for instance) you can also use software that will let you bake those policies right into your apps. It might require stepping into the unfamiliar realm of process design, but you’ll save everyone a lot of time, money, and headaches once you have it set up.
Problem #3: You.
If you're like most managers, you have found yourself acting as a conversation router, passing information and reminders along to the correct parties. Anyone who finds themselves in that position will know how much mental space and energy that takes up, leaving you without the necessary bandwidth to improve workflows, make informed decisions, and fulfill all of the other responsibilities incumbent upon a good manager.
In order to solve this problem, you need to be able to automate any sort of regular, standard communication workflows. If you are acting as a go-between for departments that require input, confirmations, or approvals from each other, congratulations! You’ve instantly identified an easy spot for automation.
There are plenty of software solutions out there which provide automation tools, you just need to find the right one. Imagine a world in which your copywriter finishes an ad for your social media account, uploads the file, and it’s automatically sent to the legal team for review, complete with automated reminders so that your company’s attorneys don’t lose track of the task.
That world is possible.
Every one of these issues is just a piece of a larger whole, but that also means that when you start figuring out how to tackle one part, you can solve for the others at the same time. In fact, there are plenty of tools out there designed specifically for those who don’t fall under the traditional idea of a “developer” to create their own solutions, all without writing a single line of code.
If you want to learn more about what you can do to keep these communication issues in check, give our free ebook a read, The Company That Never Lost an Employee.
About the Author
Mark is an avid writer with a ton of experience in journalism, experience design, performance, and event production. He also has impeccable taste in music. He currently lives and works as a writer/editor in the SF Bay Area. When he's not working, he's probably either spinning records or scoring goals on a bike polo court near you.