Collaborative Workspaces: Will Email Survive the Race?

Email has increasingly become an ineffective tool for team collaboration as teams are gradually finding an alternative to the email dilemma in the form of collaborative workspaces.

V KanchanaEmail technology has long been used by organisations with the key purpose of enhancing employee productivity and information management across various levels. While very powerful, email is not inherently secure across organisational boundaries and provides very little structure for effective teamwork and seamless collaboration. As the volume of email increases, important items are increasingly lost in a sea of information. Keeping track of approvals or the latest version of documents becomes increasingly difficult.

Email often results in much productivity losses as it becomes a constant distraction, and much time which could be spent doing quality work is spent digging through emails for information. Email has often has been labelled the number one “killer” of productivity with businesses losing billions of dollars due to unnecessary emails. Rather than stretching email as a one size fit all tool, a vastly more productive approach is to use online collaboration tools.

Unlike the email approach, where all data is treated uniformly, and jammed inside the inbox, collaboration tool deployment differentiates data by type such as task management, document management, performance management and schedule coordination. When each type of information is handled optimally, a net positive effect flows from it in terms of employee productivity and business efficiency.

Online collaboration tools allow you to focus on the work to be done rather than trying to force email into doing things it doesn’t do well. Ever had a sense of drowning under a flood of email? Endless messages that come in waves faster than you can ever hope to deal with them – numerous discussion threads, tasks your boss asked you to finish, meetings you’re supposed to attend, semi solicited sales messages, or spam that crept in in-spite of all those spam filters? Feel like you’re spending more time playing catch up with emails, rather than actually getting quality work done?

A majority of our emails contain file attachments, which we are supposed to edit, review, or give comments on. Using emails to collaborate on documents is inefficient. Apart from creating network congestion because of the large files going around, our inbox’s are also clogged because of the same file attachment going around multiple times as it is changed, reviewed, re-edited  reverted, re-reviewed before the final document is arrived at. Moreover, this also creates the problem of multiple instances of the same document floating around on everybody’s system, and it is not uncommon for a previous-to-final document version being sent out accidentally ultimately. Also, in case a situation necessitates that an older version of the document be retrieved, it means digging through a sea of emails to get the right version.

Collaboration tools allow you to store and organize documents in a central online location using cloud technology where everyone relevant can access them. For document collaboration purposes, team members can log on to the system and edit, comment or review the document which needs their inputs. Since there is only a single instance of every document stored online, there is no problem of multiple versions floating around. Moreover, document collaboration features allow better management of the collaboration process – audit trails help track who made changes, what changes were made, who reviewed them; document version control allows users to easily revert back to earlier versions, document comments allow participants to have discussion threads around each document.

Today, email is the most used business application and has been labelled the number one “killer” of productivity. According to a new infographic, businesses lose $650 billion a year due to unnecessary emails, with the average worker costing his or her employer an annual $10,000 because of distractions such as emailing. All too often, employees disrupt their activity to check email and then switchback to the activity, eroding overall productivity. Often they tend to avoid taking any action on the tasks assigned to them by their manager via email and try finding excuses for inaction. This behaviour tends to feed on itself leading to further distraction and delayed decision making on important e-mail requiring immediate attention and action.

While online collaborative workspaces are proving to be remarkably useful business tools, businesses have only begun to tap their potential. Recent studies have also supported online collaboration as a technology which will witness great growth. According to a recent Forrester report on software-as-a-service, online collaboration is set to be one of the hotter areas of adoption with enterprise Web 2.0 collaboration market expected to hit $1.8 billion by 2013.

The ability for teams to be more productive and efficient is magnified when workspaces become part of an end-to-end business process. Online collaboration software is a new generation workspace technology that has the power to transform workspaces from standalone entities to a powerful unified business process model embedded with multi-functionality and directly linked within business applications. It completely optimizes business processes within your company. Less time is spent on emails and bureaucracy and the whole work-flow process becomes more streamlined. Online collaboration tools minimise the need to physically monitor the activities of employees or on following the latest developments in the company or searching the necessary data gets drastically reduced.

Collaborative workspaces are a key piece in increasing efficiency and productivity across the decision chain in an organisation. Online collaborative business solutions are set to become mission critical applications that are as important to business as email is today. In this arena, there is much scope for software companies to develop promising collaborative workspaces with the ability to work with business applications, drive and enforce transparent business processes and manage resulting information as a single dashboard reporting for effective organisational decision making.

V Kanchana Author: V Kanchana

Senior Marketing Analyst

RMS India