It's not what we're communicating with. It's how we are communicating with it.
Email is being overused and has become the place to send everything. Underpinning this is the expectation that if a message arrives in your Inbox, you are going to read it. But we don't. Over time, we develop our own coping mechanisms and use features, tools and services to help us focus on what really matters to us in our email. We even have a view now in Outlook called "Focused" that learns what's important to us "based on the content of the email (e.g., newsletters, machine-generated email, and so on) and who you interact with most often."
We deliver too much to our Inbox. There is so much content from different sources that we don't read and don't spend enough time on the important. We deliver it all to our Inbox in an attempt to create one place to manage all our communications - teams, projects, customers and partners, notifications for informing and those that need to be actioned.
It's not what we are using to collaborate. It's that we have to visit so many places to find and work with that information.
While using one place to receive and answer every communication, at the other end of the spectrum we create multiple places to collaborate and get information from. We have to visit these places to get work done.
The successful use of these collaboration spaces depends on an easy to use information architecture for storage and retrieval of work and information. For intranets and file system structures, that requires careful thought, planning and maintenance. What begins with good design becomes messy as the information architecture is added to over time.
This becomes too much, so we use search portals to find content. As long as we can remember enough about the content to search for it. We bypass the hard work that goes into creating an intranet and rely on good search indexing to help us find what we are looking for. Then we save it to our desktop or build a large list of favourites in our favourite browser.
Put the IT systems and platform loyalties aside. How do we work together as a team?
- We communicate - We call and conference call. We meet. We send messages and reply to conversations.
- We collaborate - We gather information and research. We come up with ideas together, create content, bring the work with us to meetings in some form, or connect to it.
- We coordinate - We plan and set goals/milestones, assign and reassign tasks. We give status reports and agree on deliverables.
- We follow up - We summarise and communicate short updates. We work on/refine/revise and share deliverables. We update the plan, work through tasks and update the status.
Information Technology exists to support these activities. We could carry out most of these activities without technology if we had to. But we use technology to improve our interactions and the way we work. IT shouldn't be used just because we can, or used a certain way just because we've always done it that way.
Location, Focus, Location.
This is why more organizations are choosing to use communication and collaboration services that use the construct of a group, a team, a channel. They help us to focus because all the communication, content and plans are together in one location. You don't have to sift through all the messages and notifications in your Inbox to find a conversation thread with your team. You don't have to rely on a well-designed menu and site structure to navigate to content.
We don't really multi-task well either. Each time we have to search for content and conversations, we increase our chances of being distracted by unrelated messages and content we see. Changing applications further increases the chance of distraction.
Office 365 Groups are a return to more natural way to work together, using different modes of conversation in Outlook, Yammer and Microsoft Teams. Just visit your group or team and continue to work. Communicate the way that best suits your group. Work on all your files in one place. Hold meetings and enable members to participate from where ever they are. Bring information in from other sources and discuss that content with the group. Form a plan together and carry it out. Do this all from your group, your team.
Organisations still need email to communicate with the rest of the world and for certain use-cases internally. They still need a well-designed intranet and information architecture to share company wide information. But consider giving your groups and teams more focus. Decide how you want to communicate and look into using Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Office 365 Groups.