Collaboration in Microsoft Office 365
“Collaboration” has become something of a buzzword in recent years, hot on the heels of “digital transformation” which went before it. But like most IT innovations that deliver benefits for your clients, this excitement is warranted.
The importance of collaboration
With the entire global marketplace at their fingertips, your customers have more choice than ever before. As a result, your business needs to work harder to distinguish itself from the competition – especially when potential clients are looking at factors other than price alone.
Unfortunately this is not some secret revelation – businesses will make customer experience their most important brand differentiator by 2020, above price and product, according to one study. Speed of business and quality of service are among the most highly valued benefits that your customers are looking for when making purchasing decisions. By making internal operations more efficient, you can offer customers a better service – and reduce costs at the same time.
With collaboration in place, your business can improve data availability and provide employees with the tools they need to work with that information. Your employees actually want these tools - 38 percent of workers feel there is not enough collaboration in the workplace.
Investment in collaboration tools won’t be wasted either - according to new Navisite research [link to Navisite research], 81% of IT decision makers agreeing there are clear returns demonstrated.
How to collaborate
Effective collaboration is made up of two elements – the tools that help your teams work together, and a corporate commitment to using those tools. Ultimately, there are three stages to increasing collaboration throughout your business.
Centralise tools and data
Whether mandated or not, your business is already using Cloud applications – more than 1,100 on average. Often these platforms are chosen by your employees specifically for their collaborative qualities.
But although these tools increase productivity, the sheer number of different services in play increase the complexity of your operating environment. You must consolidate and centralise data and tools to create a company-wide standard, in turn encouraging further uptake by everyone, and minimize security risks to your environment.
As a result of disconnected data, workers are on average spending more time searching for, acquiring, entering, or moving data (eight hours per week) than they do making decisions on that data (seven hours per week).
Choosing a collaboration platform like Microsoft Office 365 allows you to create centralised file repositories, making key information available to any authorised user, anywhere. Centralisation also allows you to regain control of the corporate data strategy, improving compliance with data protection laws and cutting costs. As Gartner once noted:
“Areas of non-standardization will also increase ongoing costs, because each unique technical environment will require uniquely qualified support personnel.”
Collaboration is not only about simplifying access to information however. You must also provide a communications layer that allows employees to work together with that data.
Ironically modern teams are increasingly decentralised, so collaborative tools are required to replicate the in office experience. Voice calls remain the key communication medium for multi-discipline teams, but as projects become more complex, video calling and screen sharing are increasingly important.
Unified communications provide a standardised experience across all channels, and ensure that team members can interact through a single point of contact. With access to calls, screen sharing, instant messaging, and email, employees can interact whenever and however they choose.
When surveyed by SIS Research, employees estimate that as much as 40% of the work week is lost to communications inefficiencies.
Enable any time, any place, any device working
Workforce changes have seen an increase in the use of teleworking as businesses make use of remote resources and skills and reduce reliance on central offices. There has also been a steady rise in the number of people working in the field on a full-time basis.
No matter where these individuals are physically located, they have many of the same data needs as their office-based counterparts. Their knowledge and expertise will also be needed by employees elsewhere in the company on a regular basis.
Helping these people collaborate in the field will be reliant on your technology platform. They will need to be equipped with communications, productivity and data tools that can be run on a smartphone for instance, giving them access to data and insights that allow them to better serve customers on-site.
Choosing a productivity platform like Office 365 provides them with a suite of tools for creating and editing documents, hosted email services, and communications tools that help them maintain a presence wherever they are. All of these features are available on tablets and smartphones too, so field workers are always available to collaborate.
Your choice of tool will prove critical; 61% of employees have difficulty in establishing collaboration sessions with their colleagues. Averaged out, they spend 3.3 hours every week attempting to address issues of inaccessibility, or other collaboration limitations of their communication tools.
Collaborate or die?
Looking at the statistics, employees are wasting large parts of every week trying to find the information and people they need to do their jobs. People want to collaborate because it makes them more productive, efficient, and happier at work.
On a more pragmatic note, failure to collaborate means that the quality and speed of service offered to your customers will suffer. Anything that negatively affects the customer experience is likely to result in loss of market share to rivals who are better able to meet expectations. And this is true in both B2C and B2B markets.
Your business is undoubtedly already using collaborative tools, although they may not be officially sanctioned. If they fail to create new efficiencies however, you must urgently re-evaluate your current provisions, replacing them with a collaboration-focused platform to prevent further wasted spend. 87% of IT decision makers agree [link to Navisite research] that collaboration is important to accessing different teams and skill sets within their organisation; those without suitable tools are unintentionally inhibiting productivity.
For more help and advice on choosing a collaboration suite for your business, please take a look at our free Managed Office 365 eBook.