Online Collaboration Tears Us Apart. Here’s How to Up Your Productivity Game


In the cloud era, Zoom, Slack, Webex and Microsoft Teams have become fundamental solutions and not just nice-to-haves. But can they be integrated with other productivity platforms such as ERP and CRM? Documill’s CEO Mika Könnölä details why a mishmash of siloed enterprise productivity and collaboration tools simply won’t cut it in digital workspaces and how better integration can lead to improved workflows.  

We see this happening day to day, especially in bigger enterprises: salespeople run the sales but need help from other experts in other teams: product management, legal, delivery, customer success, and so forth. 

These professionals tend to work in their own physically dispersed silos. Some of them are external, working in partner and customer organizations. The silos are often deepened, not lowered, by the office productivity tools we use. Why deepened?

Because each silo has its own productivity platform: ERP for business management, CLM for legal, CRM for sales, and so forth, these platforms hardly interconnect. Together with our organizational structures, the diverse productivity platforms tear these professional teams apart into bubbles of their own.

We get a fragmented work process that requires workers to jump between applications, upload files, and copy multiple data points when reaching out to their fellows to collaborate on a single task. Not fun nor productive.

Learn More: Cloud Collaboration Tools: Risks vs. Rewards

Productivity Wrecks Collaboration, Collaboration Wrecks Productivity

And there is even more to this: another disconnect exists with perhaps even more dramatic consequences. It is the one between our many communication and collaboration tools: email, messaging, word processing, video conferencing, you name it. Many of our cloud collaboration solutions just don’t collaborate properly with other solutions.

This is something that has gradually emerged as a challenge over the years. In 2020, approximately 26 million Americans, about 16% of the total workforce worked remotely. In the decade from 2005 to 2015, the number of workers engaged in telecommuting grew an astonishing 115%.

COVID – An Acid Test Failed

However, it was only when the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic put the move to remote work on the fast track that it was all brought out to the open. Up until then, collaboration face to face as possible in most cases whenever necessary. People could choose to communicate verbally, using their own applications side by side whenever online communication tools proved too clumsy.

When COVID-19 and the lockdowns hit, workers were all of a sudden trying to communicate and work together from their computer screens isolated at their homes. What they found themselves doing was jumping from window to window: from the word processor to email to video callOpens a new window to a messaging service and beyond. Such application hopping is confusing and can undermine productivity big time, especially if there is a lot of data to copy between applications.

The underlying problem is that collaboration tools from Webex to Zoom to Slack were developed as individual applications. But collaboration is a capability that connects, not an application.  Or as Girish Mathrubootham, CEO of Freshworks: “Collaboration is a feature. The truth is collaboration works better with context.”

Learn More: Collaboration is Key to Improving Efficiency in Your Organization

Too Many Windows Blocking the View

Context? What does that mean?

To illustrate this, let us look at a simple example of how sales teams work these days in companies. It is common for these teams to create an internal instant messaging channel for each deal they collaborate on. External instant messaging channels are also getting increasingly popular for collaboration with customers once a sale is closed.

However, all customer and contact data reside in the CRM, where also the pipeline reporting and forecasting are done. For the sales teams, this means they need to constantly jump from window to window and manually copy data from one silo to another.

Out go the sense of focus and productivity. It sneaks frustration at a process broken by a collaboration tool out of context. 

Productivity Platforms & Collaboration Convergence Can Drive Success 

What to do with that broken process? For one thing, we have our silos because we need the diverse skills and knowledge of specialized professionals. They, in turn, need their dedicated data and processing platforms, which sink them deeper in their silos. 

We cannot break these silos. But why not try to connect them? We have our collaboration tools: Slack, Zoom, Webex, Teams and so forth. Now they tend to be separate from our productivity platforms. But why not embed them into the productivity platforms: ERPs, CLMs, and for sales, the CRM? This way, a CRM could reach out to the back office and open up as a collaboration hub to ALL internal experts participating in the sales process. With its intelligence, the CRM could even help the sales team run much of the process.

What is more, our productivity platforms could serve as the bases to connect the collaboration tools that are operated by and large in isolation now.

Then we could share the contact information, data, tasks, reminders, dashboards, even documents related to a project directly via the applications we use to collaborate with our colleagues without glitches and jumping across screens. 

In fact, it seems to us that this is gradually happening already.

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