Enterprise collaboration: big business without Big Brother

Designing a productive collaboration strategy amidst privacy and governance concerns.

A woman and a man have a conversation while holding a notebook and pen, coffee and a mobile tablet.
julief514 / Getty Images

The enterprise collaboration industry is experiencing two distinct forecasts in 2018. The latest data shows that employees are optimistic about technology’s ability to impact work, as 70 percent of employees believe that collaboration platforms are changing their workplace interactions, according to Bersin by Deloitte. It’s almost impossible to imagine the workplace before digital communication. The traditional “water cooler” conversations have been replaced by pings, threads and chains. It’s a positive sign to see not only the increased usage of collaboration tools, but a collective sense of optimism about their impact on how we work.  

Instead, the collaboration discussion has shifted from “will this help us be more productive” to “how can we use collaboration to drive better company results?” The answer is complicated, as widespread positivity around adoption has also come with increased questions around platform security and data privacy.

In particular, the post-GDPR era has created a wave of anxiety around the information available to employers on their favorite productivity tools and communication platforms. Many employees are surprised to find out that employers have access to messages, emails or discussion threads. This leads many to question how companies can design a collaboration infrastructure that stimulates a culture of sharing and spreading of knowledge for the company benefit without concerns that employees are being policed or watched unnecessarily.

Most recently, a messaging application vendor raised concerns around the premise of “compliance exports,” removing the notifications employees receive when the exporting feature is turned on. This lead many to question whether the platforms themselves are making it easier for employer spying and policing.

From my perspective as another collaboration vendor, we have an obligation to our customers to allow for any degree of governance their business requires. However, there must be a balance between governance and a climate of information sharing. In fact, my advice is simple: for collaboration to succeed, it must be rooted in helping employees succeed. Efforts at increased restriction or governance can stifle the healthy spread of ideas. However, a lack of governance does not imply a lack of structure. Companies have ample opportunity to transparently outline the guidelines and principles in which guide behavior within their online workspaces.

Here are a few common parameters that we recommend when designing a productive, yet approachable collaboration framework:

Lead by example with communication and engagement

We find that communicating a strategy around macro-level business goals puts employees at ease regarding the types of information they can share on collaboration platforms. This creates a collaborative environment welcoming of all dialogue, as long as the goals are met. It also provides an opportunity to be transparent about the types of conditions when employee correspondence would be subject to review, hopefully putting many employees at ease about their own online dialogues.

Define acceptable collaboration

By explaining appropriate knowledge sharing, management can communicate a variety of examples of collaboration success.  This sets a level of common understanding, helping employees feel confident in engaging with these digital tools because expectations have already been set. However, we often find that companies themselves don’t know the optimum processes for sharing information, so we created a series of suggested work patterns that help guide companies towards popular and effective collaboration frameworks, based off their industry, company or team.

Access to information is everything

We’ve heard stories from customers who were heavy-handed in their approach to access restriction. At these companies, employees who had to ask for permission to participate in communities complained that the experience felt constrictive and bureaucratic. Attempt to limit the layers of access restriction on groups and threads, where necessary. Groups that require high levels of access control should not be overtly promoted outside of each group.

Set the example

Those rolling out a collaboration framework can serve as initial examples of how information sharing should work. There’s no better approach than soliciting a wide variety of valuable contributions.  Garner employee insight on whether tools are assisting in their daily tasks, distribute work-related content across platforms for easy employee review, or showcase success stories of tools driving business results. Sharing begets sharing – both proactively, and in the solicitation of responses and engagement. 

Turn on platform analytics and dashboards

Establishing a clear and flexible analytics solution helps companies more easily see what should be archived, which helps from a compliance perspective. Additionally, the up-front visibility allows employers to determine sharing patterns and fix collaboration roadblocks before they limit the sharing of knowledge.

Carve out niches for self-governance and autonomy

Ultimately, collaboration platforms are often flexible about the controls and sharing patterns on a group by group basis. Allowing employees the opportunity to govern and construct a group around their individual needs encourages and empowers participation.

We ultimately believe that in the collaboration business, sharing is everything – and creating a sharing environment outweighs many priorities in terms of productivity. However, in the age of data privacy and access, companies cannot ignore the concerns of their employees. By establishing a clear framework to guide online behaviors, online workspaces can mimic the positive conditions of a healthy physical workspace – one that allows employees to work hard, be themselves and engage with their colleagues to secure great results.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

NEW! Download the Fall 2018 digital issue of CIO