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Technology and the Team


DeskBeing miles apart, whether tens or thousands, is no longer a barrier to team working thanks to technology, yet staff are often slow to grasp these opportunities. Kelly Low, sales director of Premiere Global Services, looks at collaborative technologies and their implications for training.

According to new research from Frost and Sullivan1, collaboration is a key driver of business performance. Collaborating effectively however, in today’s disparate business environment is more challenging than before. As companies grow and teams become geographically dispersed, it is difficult to maintain the constant and consistent dialogue that employees want and need with their colleagues. Physical interaction is costly, and in many situations completely impractical. Technology is therefore becoming more important than ever in connecting people and collaborative tools are available to allow teams from all over the world to work together in real time. Being collaborative however is not just a case of buying in technology and expecting employees to use it. To get the most out of collaborative tools, there are a number of barriers that need to be overcome.

Mobile technology
Collaborative technology is about linking the communication tools that people are already using, i.e. phones, email and the web together to create a solution that can be used to connect people in real time. Imagine sitting in front of your computer in London, working on a presentation with your colleagues in Tokyo and New York at the same time. Not only, can the three of you edit the presentation, but you can also discuss, explain and converse with each other in a virtual environment decreasing the time taken to work on a project and increasing productivity. Using basic technology would have involved working across time zones and going back and forth, taking days instead of hours to change documents, get feedback and gain approval.

Global companies use collaborative technology to spread company initiatives to different offices and departments around the world. In particular, training departments can use the virtual classrooms and webinars to train their employees about a new product, bringing them together and synchronising information without having to organise timely and costly training sessions. Companies who have sales teams working in the field can benefit by remaining in contact keeping them in the loop and ensuring that consistent product information, messages and updates are rolled out at the same time to everyone. They can also request urgent up-to-date data and statistics for their meetings.

Sounds great: collaborative technology makes communicating across borders easier and increases productivity. However, there are a number of barriers that need to be navigated before collaborative technology can be truly effective, these include languages, cultural differences and differing time zones.

Language is always a problem for communications and is a big barrier for communicating effectively. Trying to understand someone who has a different mother tongue to your own can often result in misunderstandings and miscommunications resulting in things not being done correctly. Online collaboration has a visual element that ensure that whatever is being said is being reinforced. Webinars provide a visual environment to support what is being said, helping people to understand and retain information.

In addition to language, differences in working culture also has an impact on the take-up and effectiveness of online collaboration solutions. Some cultures are far more open to accepting new technology into their working lives. The take up of online collaboration is higher in the US than anywhere else in the world. Americans have had to be one-step ahead in using technology, as they need to communicate across large expanses of land. They can see the benefits of online collaboration and are comfortable with using the technology to communicate with each other.

Europe is a different kettle of fish altogether. Distances are nowhere near as big and people are far happier to travel to meetings as it is seen as a perk to the job and they are also more comfortable with meeting people face-to-face. Companies in Europe therefore, need to spend more time encouraging their employees to use collaborative tools by showing how it can help to increases their sales, use their time more efficiently and in effect make their lives easier.

If you are going to collaborate effectively you need to think about when people are going to be most effective. Working across different time zones, people are not necessarily at their peak of effectiveness first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. When communicating across different time zones, it is important that people think about holding the session at a time that is convenient and appropriate for everyone involved. Interestingly, 2pm (GMT) is the peak time for conferencing calls to take place, this is when Europe, America and Asia are able to communicate with each other during reasonable working hours.

Beyond these barriers, when introducing new technology into a company there will always be teething problems. People do not feel comfortable at first with new technology because they assume it is going to be complicated or it can take them out of their comfort zone. Companies can overcome this by ensuring that employees see the benefits of using the solutions, both to the business and to them personally. Training is key to helping people see how simple it is to use and get them comfortable with using the technology. Additionally it is important for senior management to be bought in so that they can demonstrate the functionality.

As great as collaborative technology is, it does need to be policed. Companies should look at implementing a fair usage policy to stop employees abusing the system.

The market for online collaborative tools is growing, but adoption within the companies that have bought them is still slow and will remain so until companies find ways to circumnavigate the barriers described. Companies cannot simply invest in whatever technology comes along and hope that it will work. They do need to spend some time in ensuring they have chosen the right solution and tool to fit with their company. Once this has been done, they will see the technology begin to bear the fruits of increasing productivity, decreased costs and improved employee morale.


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