June 26

The missing element in new collaboration tools



We struggle to keep email under control. And that is key to understanding adoption challenges for the new wave of Collaboration/Unified Communications products and services.

collaboration missing component

In my last post, Why your inbox is killing you, I mentioned that there was an important learning hidden away for people developing new collaboration services. This post explains what it is…

It’s all about work-flow.  As knowledge workers we all develop our own ways to get things done. I am a big fan of Wunderlist for to-do lists, and was amazed when I found several colleagues don’t even have a to-do list!  Until I discovered that they effectively use their inbox as a to-do list, emailing themselves notes so they don’t forget.

(By the way, using your inbox as a to-do list is a great productivity strategy IF it only contains emails that you can action, and a terrible strategy if your inbox also contains articles to read, emails you are waiting on somebody to respond to, and other interesting things you’ve yet to file!  Hence the strategy I recommend of separating these different email types into different folders or views.)

Think of tools like enterprise social networks like Jive, products like Slack, HipChat or Cisco Spark, or even things like direct collaboration in apps like Evernote. Now, the problem with many of the new collaboration tools available today is that they:

  • don’t allow you to track your actions at all (you can read a channel, say, but not flag that you need to act on it); or
  • only allow very basic tracking (perhaps you can flag a conversation, but not say if it is urgent or to monitor in a week, or whatever); or
  • they do allow you to create a “to-do” of sorts, but only within the confines of the app in question… thereby creating a new silo for managing actions just within the app. Just one more place to go check my outstanding actions.

Notifications aren’t enough. We all have too many notifications and they beep and are largely forgotten. It is unified action tracking / to-do lists that can tie all these things together.

That might be as simple as emailing me with a list of my flagged threads every day (so I can process it within my inbox system) or as sophisticated as using a Wunderlist API to show the status directly in that app, but we desperately need to stop adding places for employees to check in order to ensure they are up to date on their commitments!

Do you find these new tools create workflow & to-do fragmentation? Leave a comment below or on Twitter/LinkedIn!

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About the author 

Richard Medcalf

Strategist, consultant and business leader with 15 years experience in helping companies thrive in an Internet world. Formerly a partner in strategy consultancy Analysys Mason; now at Cisco Systems, developing new strategic partnerships with leading telecoms players.

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