Collaboration: We Can Work It Out – or Can We?

G. Willsky

Summary Bullets:

  • The unprecedented size of the work-from-home (WFH) population has made ‘collaboration’ a marketing buzzword virtually overnight.
  • To compete in the collaboration space, service providers and vendors will soon need to offer a critical mass of specific capabilities.

A monumental byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic is a WFH population of unprecedented size. Eager to preserve pre-pandemic productivity levels, companies everywhere are seeking to mimic the in-office work environment. Service providers and vendors have answered the call with an abundance of integrated tools intended to facilitate team collaboration. Virtually overnight, ‘collaboration’ has become a marketing buzzword.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines collaboration as “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.” While service providers and vendors claim to offer collaboration capability, the matter is up for debate. Merriam-Webster’s definition lacks the specificity needed to settle the score, because multiple collaboration tools fall within those parameters. For example, audio conferencing, e-mail, and file sharing each enable people “to work jointly.” Complicating matters further is the fact that no standard portfolio has emerged across any number of suppliers that can be tagged as ‘it.’

But the most crucial element missing from the equation is the true value collaboration brings: that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If done appropriately, collaboration can yield greater output of higher quality in less time than solitude. Examples bear this out. Lennon-McCartney composed some of the most beloved songs ever recorded. Michael Jordan made winning NBA crowns an annual ritual once he was paired with Scottie Pippen. Richard W. Sears and Alvah C. Roebuck created the Amazon.com of its day around the time Jeff Bezos’ great grandparents were young.

What then constitutes an authentic set of collaboration capabilities? Are there service providers and vendors that proffer that, and if so, whom?

Taking into consideration an assortment of offers in the market along with widely published anecdotal customer commentary, the following list is a nomination for ‘A Genuine Set of Collaboration Capabilities’:

  1. Collectively revise a single-source document in real time.
  2. Share documents.
  3. Whiteboard ideas.
  4. Automatically transcribe discussions.
  5. Assign action items.
  6. Switch instantly from one communication mode to another. This can occur while maintaining one-to-one interaction (for example, from chat/IM to a phone call), but more often, it involves one-to-one communication transforming into group communication (for example, from a phone call to a team call/video conference).
  7. Hold video conferences.
  8. Capture ‘context’ or a history of meetings and other interactions.
  9. Converge collaboration and meetings into a single app.

Service providers and vendors which can check off at least a critical mass of the above items will win the ‘race’ to help organizations remain productive in a post-pandemic workplace. RingCentral, Microsoft, and Google are some strong contenders. Regardless of who might currently earn the prize, quite soon this inventory will become mere table stakes for competing in the collaboration space. Stay tuned.

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