As your computer waits to load up Teams, Zoom, Slack, Accello and countless other collaboration apps every morning, you could be forgiven for thinking the frictionless office is not actually very frictionless. Here are 12 common problems with virtual collaboration tools that are the curse of modern business.
1. There are just too many of them
The tools that are supposed to make our lives easier are, in fact, fragmenting our attention in a way that is threatening the coherence of our communications. Who hasn’t spent all day navigating between Zoom, Slack and Accello to get a project out the door only to realise you haven’t checked your email since 9am - and there’s a vital message waiting?
2. They can store up trouble for you
Those IM messages ping-ponging across the ether contain everything from idle chat about Married at First Sight to approval for software changes. Developers commenting on and iterating code via Slack might speed things up. But are you going to end up without an auditable trail of actions that could come back to bite you? Requirements for version control, formal approval mechanisms and version histories aren’t there to frustrate Hipster developers - they’re vital circuit breakers and record-keeping tools that ensure we can demonstrate quality standards have been met.
3. They can destroy productivity
Those pointless Slack chats, the distracting messages that you can’t help reading because ‘they might be important’ can all add up to one long excuse not to concentrate. One study has shown that for every distraction in our working day - we lose 23 minutes of productivity.
4. They can be really clunky
Away from the dopamine dosing Silicon valley solutions of Slack and Zulip - the world of virtual collaboration gets very dull very quickly. The eQMS dinosaurs still roaming the corporate world can be impossibly clunky and not very rewarding to use. No wonder shadow IT is still such a problem.
5. Security is an issue
Security does not necessarily comes as standard. When you’re using a hybrid mix of platforms to develop and administer your business it’s difficult to consistently manage the access hierarchies and fine-grained control of files that you can get from a single document management system,
6. They’re prone to security breaches
Many of these platforms are the target of hackers and security breaches. And some of these breaches have been pretty spectacular. In 2020 Zoom admitted Mac users of their app could be vulnerable to having their webcams and microphones hijacked. And that’s not the whole story. Check out this damning indictment from one security consultant:
“Zoom violates data sovereignty and data protection policies that are present in every cybersecurity framework (NIST CSF / HIPAA HITRUST / PCI-DSS / ISO27001) and consumer privacy laws such as CCPA and GDPR.”
When choosing software make sure your collaboration platform is developed, certified and operated to the ISO 27001 standard.
6. Your people may be compromising security
Are your people changing passwords frequently enough? Are they leaving their computers unattended in shared houses as they slink away for a coffee? Maybe it’s time for a refresher course for those collaborating from outside the office.
7. They don’t support third-party collaboration effectively
Sometimes you need to let the outside in. If you’re working with third party developers or designers do your digital tools let you open up virtual collaboration spaces that don’t compromise your security and IP?
8. They’re not ‘publishing tools’
When it comes to product release does your chosen collaboration platform have formal tools for publishing documentation? Releasing software or support documents to clients requires a reliable and repeatable mechanism driven by process if it’s not going to risk error and confusion. Just pinging a link to a Google Docs folder is asking for trouble.
“A good extranet solution will allow you to create secure, closed digital workspaces to which you can publish branded material for specific individuals to access and download, while automatically sending notifications to designated licensees and tracking subsequent download activity.”
Do your collaboration tools help you drive repeatable processes or are they more suitable for free flow iteration? If you have requirements for group approval of documents, phase gating and periodic review of files, can your teams set these workflows up easily and quickly through a single tool? Choose a platform that balances ‘flow’ and control.
10. Does it show your team everything they need to see?
Working with modern collaboration tools can be a blizzard of links, invitations to check things out, to approve and to comment. But not everyone has the software on their devices necessary to open CAD drawings or other technical documentation - even though they may need to review them. A great collaboration solution will store documents of all kinds, but automatically convert them into PDF for ease of approval - so everyone is on the same page.
11. The devil's in the detail
How do we know what’s changed between iterations of documentation? Showing a few updates in a Google doc is one thing, but developers sharing reams of code need to quickly see changes among thousands of lines to pin-point changes and comment on them. Make sure the collaboration tools you choose are fit for your purpose.
12. Still haven’t found what you’re looking for?
Who said what and when? Where did you put that file? When did we share that document and who did we share it with? Using multiple platforms for different parts of your collaboration process can end up as an auditing nightmare. A single platform equipped with metadata, indexing capabilities and powerful search functions will help you avoid a future auditing nightmare.
Collaboration platforms have revolutionised the speed at which we work. They have helped teams spread across countries and time-zones to drive forward development even at the height of our Pandemic lockdown. But some tools and systems are more capable of delivering formal project controls than others.
If virtual teams are the way forward for your business make sure they can collaborate in ways that will make their life easier both now and in the future.