Collaboration technology — ranging from email, smartphones and videoconferencing to emerging cloud-based collaboration applications — is driving dramatic improvements in organizations' efficiency, productivity and business decisions, according to a new report by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services.
More than 80 percent of those surveyed said collaboration technology is very or extremely important for meeting their organizations' top business goals, and 90 percent said they expect collaboration technology to be very or extremely important to their organizations over the next two years.
From smoke signals to video conferencing
"Collaboration is not a new concept," Doug Fink, director, Collaboration Practice at Insight, which sponsored the report, wrote in its preface. "People have worked together to achieve goals since the dawn of time. But collaboration technology is much more recent. We've evolved from smoke signals to wired phone calls and sticky notes to videoconferencing with colleagues half a world away. A lot has changed."
The report was based on an email survey of 421 Harvard Business Review readers (magazine and e-newsletter customers and users of HBR.org). Forty-nine percent of respondents were drawn from large organizations (with 5,000 or more employees), 27 percent were from small businesses (50 to 999 employees) and 24 percent were from mid-size organizations (1,000 to 4,999 employees). Respondents were drawn from a range of industries and job functions. Eighteen percent of respondents were in general and executive management, 10 percent were in sales and business development, eight percent were in IT/software engineering, seven percent were in consulting, seven percent were in HR/training and another seven percent were in R&D/innovation/product development. Other functions were represented by six percent or less of the respondent base.
Greater efficiency was the most-cited "extremely valuable" benefit of collaboration tools (79 percent of respondents). Respondents also cited the following:
- Increased productivity (76 percent)
- Better business decisions (69 percent)
- Higher levels of innovation (63 percent)
- Faster time to market (58 percent)
- Reduced travel expenses (52 percent)
- Increased sales (52 percent)
Mid-sized organizations were the most likely to report big benefits in collaboration technology. In particular, 62 percent of mid-sized businesses said collaboration technology has led to dramatic improvements in the reduction of travel expenses, compared with 56 percent of large organizations. The same held true in operational efficiencies (53 percent of mid-sized organizations compared with 43 percent of large organizations), profit growth (34 percent compared with 25 percent) and market share (30 percent compared with 22 percent).
However, Collaboration tools are not without their challenges. Respondents said they've struggled with some aspects, including the inability to include contractors, consultants and other nonemployees (46 percent), complicated setup (40 percent) and difficulty of use (31 percent).
"To mitigate these challenges, companies innovating in the space have continued to evolve these tools and technologies," Fink said in a statement Monday. "We are seeing the proliferation of both new and next-generation technologies specifically designed with simplicity and the non-tech end-user in mind. This will help ensure that your employees use them and that they generate their promised return on investment."
As with many other technology and process changes, Fink noted that support from C-level leadership is essential to building collaborative workplaces. Sixty-six percent of respondents agreed that collaboration culture needs to be led by C-level executives, but only 50 percent said they believe their executives model that behavior.
"As with any organization change, buy-in from and leadership by the senior team is an imperative," Fink said. "They not only need to make a commitment in terms of investment, but also commit to using the tools themselves. For example, if your organization has employees all over the world, and having face-to-face interactions is important to the workplace culture, then videoconferencing should be a standard. This can also reduce the need for travel and its associated expenses, underscoring how adoption of these cools can have a clear ROI both in terms of culture and cost."