Workplace collaboration tools: 5 pitfalls to avoid

Published 28th March 2018 by Investors In People

The Training Pitfall

Unfortunately, lack of training and lack of confidence are two areas that undermine uptake of new platforms. Familiarity with existing tools or similar platforms is not enough. Just because everyone can use email, it doesn’t mean they’ll be able to use Slack or Trello.

Training should be aligned with expectations around how the organisation wants the platform to be used. If you want staff to send messages only to intended recipients (as a response to employees being CCed on every email), then everyone needs to be trained in how to select and manage recipients.

Alternatively, if you want the platform to be the ‘go to place’ for real-time document collaboration, everyone needs to know how to manage files, upload them, mark-up changes and communicate these changes to others.

The Notifications Pitfall

Even if employees are trained in how to use the new platform, the way they interact with it will be different. Some will keep it open all the time, some will enable real-time alerts and some will check it once a week.

Without usage rules, collaboration platforms simply become ‘the new email,’ with workers facing the same stresses.

There’s no correct option, but notifications drive participation and integration of the tool into the working day. There’s a balance to be struck here. Is it reasonable to expect employees to receive real-time alerts, or this replicating the ‘always on’ problem of email that you’re trying to solve? Should people be expected to check the platform once a day, with email used for more urgent matters?

All organisations are different, but agreeing a set of principles that underpin everyone’s approach to the platform will guide the setup of the platform on each computer, which in turn will drive the type of participation the organisation is looking to achieve from the platform.

Although your IT team’s involvement will likely be focused around security and integrations with other platforms, having them available to help with this setup is important. For larger organisations, ‘train the trainer’ initiatives work well, with platform champions (key employees with a mandate to use the platform to drive uptake) able to assist others in setting up the platform in accordance with agreed guidelines.

The Email Pitfall

Email overload has swept the working world, causing stress, anxiety and eventual burnout. Many workers have unhealthy relationships with email, with constant checking, replying and ultimately striving for the holy grail of an ‘empty inbox.’

Organisations are implementing collaboration platforms to reduce the productivity and wellbeing-zapping effects of email, which – considering emerging evidence of the negative effects of email – makes complete sense.

But it’s easy to replace one problem with another. Without usage rules, collaboration platforms simply become ‘the new email,’ with workers facing the same stresses. In fact, they can be worse, because there’s new peer pressure around being seen to be active in the public spaces of the collaboration platform.

Organisations should be aware of this and once again the solution is clear and transparent expectations on how the new platform should be used and the role of email going forwards.

The Sharing Pitfall

Because collaboration platforms introduce the public social space, as mentioned above, employees feel pressure to ‘perform’ in this space. Unfortunately, this pressure is often added to their workload and so rather than the platform becoming a functional system used where necessary, it becomes a place where people feel the need to ‘show up,’ a sort of online presenteeism.

Often this manifests as sharing information with limited or no context, for example online articles relevant to the organisation or industry, ideas for innovation or ways to improve current ways of working. These are not bad per se, but collaboration platforms should drive action, and it’s easy for the rate of sharing to overcome the potential for action.

Making sure everyone gets value from the platform is the best way to combat this. Rather than see the platform as an additional task, employees should see how it can make their lives easier and help them achieve individual and shared goals more effectively. You can also set up a separate group that’s purely for non-specific information-sharing.

Lack of training and lack of confidence are two areas that undermine uptake of new platforms.

The Silence Pitfall

The Silence Pitfall comes in two flavours. Firstly, there’s an initial glut of activity in the days or weeks after a platform is implemented followed by a significant drop-off as the platform loses its lustre and people return to old habits.

Engage your platform champions here: they should use the platform for mission-critical information and tasks, requiring other team members to spend time in the platform to do their jobs. It’s also worth prioritising the platform for organisational communication, such as about annual leave or social occasions.

The second flavour is that silence tends to put people off using platforms. If no-one has posted for a while, and so the platform looks barren, or there’s a track record of people posting but getting nothing in return, people are much less likely to share.

Ultimately, posting and getting nothing back feels like rejection, so employees will naturally avoid it. Platform champions are again useful here, responding to comments and generally making people feel at ease with posting and interacting with others.


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