The Truth Behind Collaboration Tools – It’s Time To Get Real

Posted 21 August, 2019 in Internal Communications

Collaboration tool miscommunication

There’s been a lot of hype around collaboration tools. And like every tool in the internal communicator’s toolkit, they have their place. But something I see too often is an obsession with collaboration tools.

These may be fine for getting your employees talking (are they work talking or just small talking?), but for everything else they’re just not that effective.

In my last post I looked at why neglecting top-down communications is a huge mistake. Now I want to explore whether collaboration tools can do the job. Are they truly fit for purpose? Or are they just a productivity pit?

As every good communications professional knows, not all tools are equal to the task. Is something designed to enable quick back and forth employee-to-employee messaging equipped to deliver impactful messages that staff need to see, read and acknowledge? In one word – No. Let’s unpack why.

1. Take A Reality Check

Despite the predictions and hype, collaboration tools haven’t become the communication cornerstone some believed. It’s because the value proposition is simple but limited. While the platforms are easy to use, their simplicity, narrow purpose and limited product portfolio limit their value.

A 2019 report revealed that nearly half of internal communicators don’t consider collaboration tools an effective channel. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, overall usage of the channels has dropped by just over 15% compared to the prior year.

And it’s not just internal communicators who are finding that the initial promise hasn’t been fulfilled. In new employee engagement research, Slack and email were identified by employees as the second-biggest issue that frustrates them and decreases their productivity.

How ironic that the shiny new tool (Slack) is being lumped in with the dull old tool (email) they sought to replace.

Top employee pain pointsSource: TINYpulse Employee Engagement Survey 2019

2. Cut Through The Emojis

Collaboration tools like Slack and Teams are unstructured environments with a high volume of noise. The social-style nature of these platforms undermines message authority. After all, can you really vouch for your internal comms message on cyber security concerns or an important CEO message will get seen and drive immediate action when surrounded by frivolous chatting, gifs and emojis?

Slack’s ubiquity is its Achilles heel. With content so broad and largely unstructured, priorities, decisions and outcomes are ill-defined. Like email, the use of Slack has become a one-size-fits-all medium. Messages of importance are easily overlooked.

The nature of Slack also prohibits your control of messaging. Although control would feel contrary to the free-form conversational openness the channel cultivates. But this lack of control inhibits the effectiveness of communicating must-read leadership-driven information to your staff.

Collaboration tools may be a force of nature (at the moment), but when it comes to the communications environment they’re not the natural answer to all needs.

Communication confusion

3. One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Collaboration tools like Slack are designed to suit knowledge workers, which essentially means corporate employees sitting at a desk most of the day. It’s a very specific audience, but far from the only one. For other workplaces and role types, collaboration tools are much less suitable.

For example, frontline staff, healthcare professionals and field-based workers would all find these tools ineffective for communications that assist them in performing their jobs. Service workers vastly outnumber knowledge workers in the US – but would a collaboration tool guarantee the delivery and readership of a priority must-see message?

Collaboration tools will never be the prescription for healthcare communication woes. When it comes to communications tactics which enhance patient care and improve hospital performance, like reducing noise on wards and increasing staff safety, top-down communication is the cure.

Likewise, institutes of higher education, with busy teaching staff and multiple campus locations, could never rely on collaboration tools to improve cyber security awareness.

Employee information overload

4. Please (Don’t) Leave A Message

Picture this. You arrive at your desk, log in and open one of your applications. You’re then successively bombarded by messages about an operational update, free cake available in the kitchen, the status of a project you weren’t involved with, and a video of a cat riding a skateboard. How pointless (and yet frustratingly commonplace) is that?

Flooding a single channel with multiple message types on multiple subjects fails both you as the communicator and your employees. It dilutes the impact of the channel and causes information overload. The resulting message fatigue undermines what the messages are seeking to achieve.

In the case of important communications, the consequences can be serious. Non-compliance with new processes may result in security breaches, neglected time-critical notifications could endanger staff, information gaps will inhibit productivity.

Collaboration tools are built for many-to-many messaging. Short messages delivered between employees, skimmed and then forgotten. The more messages delivered through these tools, the less likely it is any individual message will be read. Having spoken with many organizations, it sounds like the flooded email inbox has just been replaced with an even more flooded collaboration tool.

 

Ultimately when it comes to employee communication that delivers genuine business value, top-down communications has been proven to work. The multi-channel mix and governance around message formats for specific message types actually delivers message cut-through outcomes. Tools like Slack just don’t stack up.

So, challenge yourself to review the effectiveness of your internal communications – are you benefiting the business or just adding to employee pain?

If your internal communications are letting you down, or your employee engagement needs a boost, SnapComms are the experts in top-down communication. See what our internal communication tools can offer you - or talk to us today.

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Internal Communications

Chris Leonard

More blogs by Chris Leonard

Chris Leonard is CEO of SnapComms. A rare breed of financier, entrepreneur and people-person, Chris loves to be involved in all facets of the business. But his true happy place is solving customers’ internal communications challenges.