After compiling decades of research, MIT Professor Tom Allen found that, despite the seemingly booming popularity of business collaboration platforms, people are not likely to collaborate very often if they are more than 50 feet apart.
Kind of a bummer, considering the number of people who work remotely these days. But Allen’s number might not matter so much in 2013, as other findings suggest we’re on the brink of huge social change (as usual). The following infographic from Clinked.com, a UK-based business collaboration startup, states that 75% of businesses say online collaboration tools will be “important” or “somewhat important” to their business this year.
Further, trends like ‘leave your staff at home day’ and the number of hours per week we spend on writing e-mails (McKinsey says 28) push the use of collaboration tools up the ladder, even in the face of decreasing proximity.
“We used to spend half our time educating clients about the benefits of social collaboration,” noted Clinked’s founder, Tayfun Bilsel. “These days, businesses are approaching us with clearly defined strategies for reducing overheads and connecting remote working teams. The market has grown up.”
We Can’t Help Ourselves
If you’re wondering what makes 2013 different, you’re certainly not alone. After all, business collaboration tools have long been touting their change agent-y potential with relatively little uptake. And the truth is that the drivers today aren’t all that different from those in the past–but now they’re coming to a head.
For starters, Facebook is still popular, but now we’re dealing with a billion+ users rather than millions. In other words, more and more people are becoming accustomed to using features that are common in enterprise tools–news feeds, activity streams, etc. Next, the ongoing recession is still forcing businesses to do more with less. That order has been a tall and complicated one for established companies, but the onslaught of smaller players entering the ring have been built around that mentality. For them, this approach often means nixing office plans and relying completely on the cloud.
Finally, the tools themselves have simply gotten way better.In addition to simplified interfaces, many of today’s collaboration platforms play nice, integrating seamlessly into preexisting systems such as SharePoint. Popular calendars like Google and Outlook often sync, mobile versions are usually offered, and in most cases both document storage and security have received major boosts.
WE ARE WORKING FROM HOME. END OF STORY.
Let’s also not forget the WFH trend, which requires these tools. I could get on my own soapbox and stay there for days talking about this subject, but I’ve probably done that enough already. So instead: “To be honest with you, I don’t agree with it very much,” says IBM’s Luis Suarez of Allen’s research. “I am based in the Canary Islands. My boss and my team there are all in the States, and that’s more than 50 meters apart from each other, and we do collaborate every single day.”
Suarez goes on to explain that while virtual collaboration can’t replace the invaluable benefits of face-to-face time, many people are beginning to understand its own unique power and place in the business world.
“Nowadays with the emergence of all of these social software tools like blogs, wikis, activity streams, as well with social bookmarks and tagging and podcasting. That whole range of collaboration is richer than ever, so people have got an opportunity now to decide and negotiate how they’re going to collaborate. And do it virtually.”
Of course, nothing is without its growing pains. David Coleman, Managing Director of Collaborative Strategies, specifically notes the struggle with team goals and innovation — sometimes, collaboration platforms don’t serve either of these endgames. But at least we’re learning that that doesn’t mean they’re any less valuable as a whole.
Like going mobile, using collaboration platforms is much more about behavior change than it is the tool. Our insatiable appetite for connection and sharing has always been a thing; we’ve always craved the ability to be heard and to be relevant. The difference today is that we’re actually capable of feeding those needs on a near constant basis. And so we will, no matter the struggle and no matter the distance between ourselves and our colleagues.