Social Collaboration Tools - Helping or Hindering Productivity?

April 18, 2017 Caitlin Bauman

“Collaboration” is a big word in any workplace. So many of our projects are focused on working with a team and accomplishing goals together. This is even more relevant in product design and engineering. Most products we use today were likely developed by a global team working across multiple time zones and geographies.

Because of this, implementing social collaboration tools into your daily job seems like it would only be a positive thing, right? The easier it is to connect, share and collaborate on work, the better. Well, we’ve decided to look at both sides to see if this is really the truth.

In this age of instant gratification, people increasingly have short attention spans, with some data showing people today (thanks to smartphones) have shorter attention spans than goldfish! This has forced companies to adjust the way they communicate internally. Shorter chats (synchronous communication) throughout the day are becoming more effective than long winded emails (asynchronous communication). Chatting also typically includes and elicits responses from a wider base of participants, whereas in the past the majority of digital communication was happening strictly between top level employees.

Outside of work, people are doing a lot of their communication through sharing, liking and commenting digitally. This is becoming a natural, comfortable and “normal” way for people to communicate with their family and friends. So why not make this an option in the workplace? Making workplace communication mimic your daily life communication is comforting to people and empowers team members to contribute their two cents.

With 41% of employees citing they spend more time away from their desks than they did two years ago, it’s becoming more and more important for employees to be able to communicate while on the go. With the implementation of the cloud (see: CAD goes to the Cloud) it’s actually becoming realistic that employees have the ability to communicate whenever and wherever works best for them, and the right social collaboration tools will make this possible.

That said, like everything else in life, nothing is ever as rosy as it seems. Social collaboration tools at the workplace is not an outlier in that sense. First, as with any new technology, there’s always push back from people comfortable with status quo, which dare I say, would include most of us. Employees naturally shy away from change, and new technology can be scary. It is very important to make sure there is a simple and easy to understand on-boarding procedure in place when bringing a new tool to your team members or employees. Gathering everyone together for a training session is a great place to start.

Secondly, if you try to implement too many different collaboration tools you can get to the point where you’re losing productivity. Constant chatter can add to the “noise” and be distracting. If your team members are spending all their time trying to find materials, searching through all their apps, they aren’t being productive. Instead they are left feeling confused and frustrated. Stick with only the social collaboration tools that you need, and make sure everyone on your team is on the same page.

Collaboration takes a whole different meaning for engineers. Although global product development is now a norm, it's not always easy to collaborate on complex design and engineering issues. In such cases, adding a lot of social collaboration tools to simplify communication can have the exact opposite outcome, especially considering that we often times need to communicate with people from all over the world, not all of whom might be comfortable with communication in the first place because of their language skills, or lack thereof.

All in all, I think we can agree that when they are introduced and implemented correctly social collaboration tools are an asset in the workplace. After all, everything else seems to be connected digitally, so shouldn’t our work lives be connected this way too? And even though we’re discussing the pros and cons of social collaboration, there’s really no slowing this trend down. So if you find yourself in a position where a new tool will become the norm in your office, make sure to go into it with a positive outlook and do your research so you know how to use it in a way that will help, not hinder, your productivity. Social collaboration tools are here to stay. You better get on board!

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