Collaboration Tech’ – Do They Actually Create a Culture of Collaboration

What came first? The collaboration technology, or a collaborative culture?

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

I’m serious.

Philosophers posed this as a question to ruminate on how life, the universe and copious amounts of laundry began in the first place.

It’s also quite a good way of articulating circular cause and consequence. Which is what I am cogitating currently.

Yesterday I met with a very old friend, actually he was my first grown up boss, and remains as inspirational today as he was then. We were talking about his requirement for collaboration in the work place, especially as he has newly dispersed teams. In short; his team are not working well together, and would rather avoid each other rather than communicate and share together. His assertion was that it was a question of culture, and therefore a Human Resources issue. He proffered the theory that collaboration technologies wouldn’t shape a cultural shift towards greater co-working and it’s set me off thinking….

Thinking, what did come first? The Collaboration technology, or the collaborative culture some of us live amongst?

Collaboration Statistics

According to Alexa.com Facebook has 800 million active visitors globally collaborating with each other, and is second only in the world to the mighty Google. The total online universe in the UK is around a mere 55 million, and 32 million of them are active on Facebook. That number is stratospheric. Most popular with the 18-34 crowd, and most telling of all, is accessed mostly from schools. It’s as staggering for Twitter. Lord only knows how much backed up corporate data is made up of Instant Messages, which is also mega?

So my question really is, were we collaborating before social media? And how are we collaborating now we have it and use it in abundance? Jess3.com visualised some Facebook data really well, see the diagram below to illustrate what the average FB user is doing.

What’s really interesting here is that 10% of coworkers are communicating with each other outside of the traditional workplace framework. The Mr & Ms Average Facebook user are team-working with an average 22.9 people out of their total network. If you very roughly extrapolate that with current usage statistics, that equates to almost 60% of the UK workforce using collaborative tools to communicate during the working day.

Are they collaborating about work? Well that remains an unanswered question currently. However a straw poll of all my friends revealed that they used collaboration tools to enhance their working day and to help them with work related issues. Generally IM to get quick decisions made around day to day issues, as well as searching for industry relevant information. An emerging trend is web based tools used alongside video conferencing, for real time document / product creation. (Interestingly some aren’t relying on Enterprise grade tools to do this even though many have them, but more your commoner or gardener consumer kit).

Alas, in the words of Mandy Rice-Davies when told that Lord Astor had denied their affair, ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they’ – all my work-mates work in the media, either in digital or technology roles. So, to be fair, as a sample group they are probably more likely to be on the ‘first wave’ of the adoption curve.

That said, there is no doubt that the internet has changed the working lives of most of us. The killer app’ being email, which is more or less ubiquitous as a work tool now. However email is passive and a mere communication tool. Social media tools, by definition are not, the very act of engaging with them means you are collaborating. As the data shows two thirds of the workforce are using them as a quick way of resolving issues and, importantly, sharing the responsibility for their choices.

So what did come first the chicken or the egg? Are two thirds of us driven to collaborate because of the tools available, or inspite them? The jury’s still out.

Maybe the most pressing of questions might be as social media becomes prevalent as a work tool, and therefore the personal and the corporate merge, how you wrap governance around the overlap. Further, how you retain and manage your knowledge base, if it’s been captured and aided by the world wide web and therefore outside of corporate jurisdiction?

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