Online collaboration needs culture before technology

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It’s culture before platform choice…

I’ve been writing about collaboration platforms off and on for a while now.Even I find myself getting lost in the technology choices at times. This after having to make SharePoint and other collaboration tools have to function as advertised while working as a technical writer.

When I got back to writing about collaboration platforms for CNET TechRepublic and Projects@Work, I took stock of my industry experience and it struck me the importance of culture to ensure for successful collaboration. Build it and they will come is only a movie sound bite, corporate culture has to envelope online collaboration in order for it to be successful.

A collaborative corporate culture has to give employees the space and tools for success to collaborate with their coworkers, contractors, and external customers.

Some integral elements of a collaborative corporate culture include:

Schedules that flex beyond “face time”

To paraphrase an excuse I heard once against teleworking, “We don’t have enough work for you to do at home. We need you here for ‘coverage’.”

While “face time” is an old school management crutch, today’s workforce runs at a different pace with alternative work schedules, telecommuting, offsite contractors, and a myriad of employee personal commitments can foster what I like to call a “Come and go as you Please schedule.”

Having online collaboration tools in place backing up this culturally accepted work schedule means these workers are never out of touch and accessible for meetings, questions, and other collaborative efforts. Workers may access the collaboration platform from a mobile device, their Mac at home, or from a laptop in Panera while enjoying a bear claw and free wi-fi.

Little or no knowledge archipelagos

An old IT contractor colleague of mine once coined the term “Knowledge Archipelagos.” This is where employees hoard institutional knowledge whether it be key documents on an employee’s local hard drives or in their heads much like an archipelago of islands.

Job security through obscurity can feel like a safe harbor to some in today’s down economy. However, the attitude cheats an enterprise organization, their projects, and clients. Organizations that have a central repository off local hard drives and individual’s email inboxes don’t have knowledge archipelagos meaning that you don’t have to run down somebody to get access to their information.

Sharing of project artifacts and corporate information online is integral to a collaborative corporate culture.

Presence beyond the office (and regular office hours)

I once had a client consider that if I was online regardless of the hour or day that I was available to discuss work topics. Online presence has been key to collaboration and I dare say culture since project teams adopted consumer instant messaging applications as an alternative to email.

However, to communicate with the client’s overbooked technical staff, I routinely went online after hours. It was their preferred method of contact and I didn’t want to violate their corporate culture.

Now you have free mobile and PC clients for most enterprise social and collaboration platforms. This might mean applications like HipChat or Huddle, an up and coming Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) challenger to Microsoft SharePoint has a free mobile app that employees can use to extend their presence beyond the office:

huddle has an easy to use iOS app for their collaboration platform

There are even third party mobile apps for SharePoint. Harmon.ie is my go to for mobile SharePoint collaboration. Here’s a taste of their new Android app:

Harmon.ie recently launched a mobile SharePoint client for Android

However, while Huddle and Harmon.ie are examples of compelling mobile collaboration apps

Tech savvy employees

Through my career as a contract technical writer, the organizations I saw excel at online collaboration had a very technical savvy employee base which shaped corporate culture in their own right. Organizations without a tech savvy base may have a bit harder of go towards collaboration. However, the evolution of enterprise social and collaboration platforms (Take a look at Huddle to see what I mean) make the tech savvy employee less of a factor in the successful adoption of collaboration with each new product interaction.

Supportive management

A collaborative culture requires a supportive management team that wants their workers to be accessible to each other through multiple channels. They also realize that traditional working modes won’t attract and retain the best talent.

It also helps if these managers are early adopters and are champions for online collaboration and the benefits it gives to their employees. The management team should also champion the environment, be technically savvy (not prone to fall for the latest enterprise social network trend). Another quality of supportive management is that they aren’t shy recruiting employers or contractors outside of commuting distance from their nearest office.

Successful online collaboration is about culture

Culture not technology is the critical piece of an organization’s collaboration platform that is too often overlooked. Don’t throw tools at collaboration issues. Throw tools and the right corporate culture to ensure your employees, contractors,and partners are collaborating with each other effectively.

Will Kelly

My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content creator based in Northern Virginia. These days I write a lot about cloud computing and DevOps. My articles have been published by TechTarget, Samsung Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and others. By day, I work in the corporate growth group of a large systems integrator. At night, I do circuit training, then go home and write more. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.

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