How efficient are your collaboration spaces?

Collaboration, by definition, involves people or groups of people working together toward a shared goal. Today people are working in geographically dispersed locations, often separated from their co-workers, students, partners and customers.

Article by: S Ann Earon, IMCCA Founding Chairperson

Collaboration spaces can include traditional office spaces, open floor plans, conference rooms, etc. While some people work in traditional office spaces, often these spaces go unoccupied for extended periods of time while employees travel to a variety of sites or work from home. There is a need for people to reach one another and work together without the need to travel and to do this without losing the productivity that comes from in-person meetings. Collaboration spaces need to be natural and intuitive with minimal training needed in order to use them.

To be efficient and effective organizations worldwide depend on a variety of collaboration technologies such as audio, web & video conferencing, instant messaging, voice-over-IP (VoIP), immersive video & presence capabilities, all commonly considered as unified communications & collaboration (UC&C) tools. These tools help increase productivity & efficiency, improve learning, increase the ability to more frequently work with customers/students/partners, enhance client retention, result in faster decision making, decrease in travel expenses, etc. and must be delivered in a way that the overall experience is positive.

UC&C applications are designed to simplify communications for the end user by making it easy to integrate all devices and “click to communicate”. More advanced UC&C offerings provide tools and devices to allow individuals to more readily find and communicate with other people to work on common goals, initiatives and projects.

UC &C solutions can integrate non-real-time communications tools (i.e. fax, email & voicemail) with real-time communication tools such as instant messaging (IM), chat, and web conferencing. These offerings are often coupled with IP telephony solutions, screen sharing, text messaging, and video conferencing. Many solutions also use presence awareness technology to locate people to see if and how they are available to communicate.

We have shifted the way we work. Content is accessible when we want it, accessed from anywhere, and is on a variety of devices (mobile, desktop & room) that are easily linked together. Many organizations have moved from the traditional conference room to a newer, more casual, more flexible format. These spaces, often referred to as the agile/flexible offices or collaboration rooms, are often more “living room like” with sofa’s that surround large displays, small tables with speakerphones, open seating, and communication scenarios where workers brainstorm on ideas as they walk by a large display wall. The concept is being referred to as ‘smarter working or smart learning’. Its tenets include not just new space design, but also ideas that support collaborative communications. ‘Work’ is not a place people go to, but rather what people do. If one can work from spaces other than traditional offices, organization often realize savings in related real estate costs. If work can be done from a home office, savings increase exponentially, measured in tangible numbers such as power & HVAC costs, and in intangibles such as commute time returned to the employer as increased productivity and the employee as better work/life balance.

Driving adoption of collaboration technologies helps increase productivity, improve communications, prevent meeting delays, and provide faster access to information. To ensure successful, ongoing usage it is important to help users develop beneficial applications so the technologies can become second nature to users, resulting in a positive impact to the way they work.

A group of experts, involved in the IMCCA AV/IT panel from InfoComm 2017 provide their insight to how best to drive adoption and usage of collaboration.

David Buchholz – Intel
Principal Engineer – Enterprise Computing Strategy

Collaboration needs to support many different use cases, products & devices. As we move toward the merger of AV & IT, and collaboration evolves to include more than traditional conference room type spaces, ease of adoption becomes paramount for end users. They want to use the devices they have in their native capacity and with little to no training. We can’t build Windows, Apple or Google only solutions, but instead, build a solution that allows them all to operate and consume equally. The solution should be a natural piece that can be plugged into an IT ecosystem and should meet current security models. Ultimately the solution should also make it easy for AV/IT to change products easily as needed without affecting the overall experience or technology stack.

The keys we have found to success in next gen collaboration are the following items:
1) Focus on experience first – As important, as the reliability of the solution you are providing, is the experience. We look at how users will consume these solutions in various spaces (home, traditional, open floor, education, healthcare & many more) and try to build an experience that can adapt and be intuitive to any of these environments.
2) Designed from the ground up with IT in mind – With the merger of AV and IT, there is enhanced scrutiny on many solutions. When you can show from the ground up that your solution not only comprehends IT, but compliments their toolsets, it makes it much easier to succeed and implement.
3) Focus on the Entire Solution – Many products out there do one thing very well, or focus on that one thing, but they aren’t designed to be part of a larger solution. Many organizations have the need to support many different UC components, room automation pieces, VOIP, etc. The solution you choose should provide consistent experience and interface, and seamlessly switch between any of these. Your solution should unite these products and not use them individually.

Michael Goldman – Crestron
Executive Director, Enterprise Strategies & Development

Workforce technologies are cementing themselves as the new productivity multiplier; and companies are making large investments that enable workers to operate smarter, accomplishing more during their workweek. To maximize this productivity, user adoption is the lynchpin.

Given the shift toward collaboration enablement, tools are hitting the market at a dizzying pace – perhaps too quickly and perhaps, in many cases, solutions are designed or rolled out without enough input from the user community and the impact it may have on their work. When this happens, the end result may be a solution that meets the technical challenge but misses when it comes to the ideal user experience. If the solution misses-the-mark of a good user experience, it will never reach its potential return on investment. Simply put, if the employee is not comfortable with the solution they will avoid it.

Technologists that plan and roll out these solutions, no doubt, have the best intentions. However, while the person who created or installed a new solution may feel it’s a no-brainer to use; an end-user who is less familiar with the device, application or system may not feel the same way. Training and start-up guides are deployed to bridge this gap, but often times are confusing and misunderstood. For that matter, shouldn’t the system be intuitive enough that a guide isn’t required? Ideally, technologists should focus on teaching people how to adopt technologies into their workflow by focusing on why they use the tools; not on how to make the tools work.
By embracing this concept, adoption becomes part of the experience. By focusing on the experience first, technologists can develop solutions that solve the technical challenges and deliver the increased productivity desired by the organization, while making it easy to use. Often times, processes or terminology that are second nature to an IT or AV professional, feel or sound like a foreign language to the everyday user. Bridging the gap between the two groups is critical to user adoption. Experience first, technology design second.

Beyond design and implementation, on-going centralized monitoring and management of workplace technology is critical to success insuring a faulty system is never discovered by an end user during their workday. By networking secure technology, then connecting it to software that alerts staff to issues, it not only prevents user frustration, but also provides invaluable data about usage. Usage data leads to clues about adoption and will reinforce the cycle of coaching for adoption, as opposed to training for how to turn it on.

Collaboration technology is a must-have in the modern workplace to boost productivity, but the tools need to work intuitively. You’ll know it’s intuitive when the experience of using it feels natural. User comfort and confidence are paramount if businesses want the technology to be successfully adopted, truly delivering on the promise of productivity.

Danny Rogers – AVI-SPL
Vice President Global Channels

The Implementation of Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) can be a significant step in increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of your organisation’s workforce. However, the adoption of new technology and ways of working can prove to be a complicated process to implement.

Establishing user acceptance and everyday behaviour begins by recognising your environment, audience and what you want your new technology to deliver. The importance of a well-defined User Adoption program, to support users during the transformational changes the company is going through, cannot be underestimated or overemphasized, regardless of the technology or services a company has chosen, they will need to undertake many operational steps. One of these steps is informing and educating their workforce and stakeholders with the right information, at the right time.
As suggested, it is highly recommended that a well-defined User Adoption program is specifically designed to help a business inform and communicate with all staff to make the technology/service transition as easy as possible.
The User Adoption program will first centre around persona profiling, as it is clear that different departments will use and utilise technology and services in a different way and therefore ‘one size’ does not fit all.
It is vital how the messaging is communicated and staff need to know about your launch if it’s going to be successful, so it is recommended to start by building awareness. It is often best to teach the least technical employees first.
With the right communications, information, training and support, it can happen quickly and seamlessly.
The User Adoption tools that can be deployed in a pre-launch and post-launch environment help ensure the appropriate message and call to action is conveyed to all users. Based on this it is important to think carefully about the usability and flexibility of the technology/service platform you choose to work with and understand the business benefits of said solutions and offerings.

It is worth noting that the majority of projects fail to live up to expectations due to poor User Adoption, and there are many reasons for poor adoption that include, but are not limited to:

  • Limited involvement of end-users in the design process,
  • Lack of effective testing by end-users,
  • Insufficient training of end-users prior to launch, and
  • Technology that forces end-users to change their processes.

Following are tips and methods in minimising User Adoption risk including, but not limited to:

  • Strong and cohesive end-user training programs identifying the benefits, goals, and specialisation are important
  • Effective communication feedback loops to track progress pre and post-launch are also key to successful deployment and adoption
  • Superior ROI measurement tools and methodologies to measure success and communicate it back to all users will be required and is the ideal way to communicate the success of any new technology/service deployment
  • Flexible technology that can adapt to any use case and changing process

In summary: The need for expertise to dramatically improve the adoption of enterprise collaboration apps, to transform the usage of technology and services is in greater demand than ever and most companies need strategic guidance on modelling robust business cases to secure investment.

Senior business leaders need and want independent advice on how to create digital transformation / digital workplace strategies that are built to last.

Mark Strassman – BlueJeans
Chief Product Officer

Today’s collaboration technologies span voice, video, web conferencing, and more, from a single platform. But to recognize the benefits of increased productivity, improved communications, lower travel, and faster access to information, users must not only adopt, but actually embrace these solutions. The key to broad engagement lies in understanding and meeting the users where they are.

Across a modern workplace, there are many distinct generations of workers, who are historically and culturally used to meeting over different technologies. Some default to the phone (PSTN), others wear a phone headset while looking at screen shares on their computers. More recent entrants to the workforce often default to video and VOIP (voice over internet protocol). The key to successfully getting workers to work together is not to force them into the same modality, but to respect what they are used to using, letting them join how they want, and encouraging them to step up to greater functionality and efficiency at their own pace. An implementation that meets users, where they are, involves several considerations:

People: End users of all types, as well as IT administrators, are critical to the success of the program. Validate that the right people at the right level are involved or fill in the gaps where they exist. Start an evaluation with a pilot involving not just power-users, but users across the spectrum of technology adoption.

Culture: The corporate culture, and expected use of the collaboration technology, is a key driver to adoption and deployment. Be clear and deliberate about collaboration as part of the corporate culture, and how the collaboration technology is a part of it. If bringing in the new collaboration solution is a catalyst to changing culture, provide tools to cultivate new aspects and behaviours.

Goals: When rolling out a new collaboration solution, set clear success goals, and review current and changing current business processes. Drive a closely managed change process for workflows, tasks and behaviours to reach the business goals.

Technology: Optimize the solution for all users, not just techies or early adopters, then deeply investigate and optimize infrastructure and technology that support the collaboration service.

Services: Work with the collaboration provider on a roll-out plan with clear stages and success metrics. Hold your provider accountable to success at each stage before continuing to the next. Stages may include:

  • Plan: Establish a foundation for a successful launch & change management process while planning for your unique needs.
  • Setup: Execute network/Wi-Fi readiness, optimizations, best practices, integrations and customizations.
  • Launch: Communicate and train end-users, administrators, stakeholders and executives. Kick-off launch activities.
  • Grow: Continue awareness and adoption activities. Monitor technical and operational health.

By partnering with the right collaboration provider, an enterprise should expect to deliver a successful implementation to meet the desired business outcomes. A successful partnership should deliver benefits including accelerated deployment, identifying and removing barriers to success, achieving fast time-to-value, maximizing adoption and value of your investment, and securing long-lasting results.

Interested in understanding more about Unified Communications technology and best practice? Integrate 2018 is running a dedicated stream of UC educational sessions. You can view the full program here.

About the Author: S. Ann, Earon, Founding Chairperson, IMCCA

The IMCCA is a non-profit industry association resolved to strengthen and grow the overall unified communications and collaboration industry by providing thought leadership, impartial information, and education. (www.IMCCA.org) For further information, contact Carol Zelkin, Executive Director IMCCA at czelkin@imcca.org or 516-818-8184.

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