4 Ways to Tame the Wild West of Workstream Collaboration

From BYOD to remote work, cloud to instant messaging, and email to persistent chat, the way we work has become cluttered by many of the same digital channels inundating our personal lives. In its early stages, the category Gartner now refers to as “workstream collaboration” is an evolution bringing together the best of these technologies and trends into one collaborative and business-friendly environment -- think Microsoft Teams and Slack.
 
Just as email disrupted the workplace as a ubiquitous communication channel more than two decades ago, workstream collaboration is on the precipice of becoming a platform and channel-agnostic solution to tomorrow’s digital workforce. In fact, according to Gartner, by year-end 2022, 70% of teams will rely on workstream collaboration as the primary means of communicating, coordinating, and sharing information.
 
While this digital transformation will ultimately displace email by bringing all business conversations and content into one centralized portal (or “workstream”), the disparate nature of the market has created a volatile environment with little direction on how best to communicate. One minute you may be coordinating a time to schedule a call over email, the next you jump on a conference line using Microsoft Skype for Business, then you follow up on next steps via Slack. Keeping track of these siloed conversations not only causes headaches, but also can decrease individual productivity and negatively impact collaboration among team members.
 
These frustrations have extended to enterprise IT departments, which have all but lost control over the proliferation of messaging, collaboration, and unified communication (UC) apps within their organizations. Staying up to date on the hottest tools and trends has meant chasing after and often turning a blind eye to the popular platform of the moment -- or at least until the organization decides when and how to mandate what the corporate-standard app should be. This has ultimately created a Wild West scenario where employees pick and choose their preferred apps, even though they often fall outside the bounds of the larger IT-driven strategy.
 
Here are the four key ways IT can tame the Wild West of workstream collaboration, without suppressing employee benefits:
 
1. Empower IT Departments
Workforce communication has become user-driven, compelling enterprises to adopt the apps and platforms preferred by consumer audiences. This shift in tech adoption decision making has notable implications for when, why, and how IT teams are able to intervene when issues arise and systems begin to fail.
 
Even with such a shift, IT teams still need to be empowered (and provided with the resources) to make short-term decisions that align with longer-term strategic plans. Flexibility and bigger picture thinking are invaluable to the ability of IT to embrace multiple, comparable platforms co-existing and functioning simultaneously within a single organization. IT may not be the change agent during this period of rapid growth and adoption of collaboration apps, but ultimately it will need to be at the forefront of larger platform and adoption strategies that will unify organizations under a shared communication platform.
 
2. Address Security Early
With the workstream collaboration market in its nascent stage, so is the understanding of security considerations. While workstream collaboration apps such as Microsoft Teams have basic built-in capabilities to help address security concerns, IT teams should be prepared to bake security into every decision and strategy -- from platform selection to the adoption of third-party apps and general training of end users on best practices.
 
While some organizations might consider a security strategy that allows for zero risk, it’s important to balance security against end-user productivity and collaboration. IT teams will need to ensure unique security concerns have solutions while introducing protocols and procedures that are effective yet easy to implement. Otherwise, employees will render workstream collaboration less effective, derailing innovation and inhibiting the free flow of information.
 
3. Embrace the Cloud
Workers today already expect to be able to plug into the office wherever they are, whenever they want, and cloud-based solutions are truly embracing this constantly-connected culture. Cloud adoption in the UC and collaboration space is already very much on the rise, with Gartner recently revealing that 70% of businesses will be provisioned, in whole or in part, with office system capabilities from the cloud in the next two years. For the workforce of tomorrow, this means IT will be prepared to rapidly deliver the apps necessary to improve productivity, accelerate decision making, and stay connected while away from the office.
 
All the leading workstream collaboration apps are cloud-based, have solid mobile clients, and offer some form of app store for easy extension of functionality using additional SaaS apps. Similar to how Apple accelerated mobile, this cloud-centric workstream app approach creates an unprecedented opportunity to fully embrace cloud technology as organizations build policies and solutions from the ground up. Despite the ubiquity of the SaaS concept, many IT departments are still working through various organizational, policy, or infrastructure-related issues impeding their ability to move fully into the cloud. IT organizations that get their cloud houses in order will be best prepared for the impending arrival of workstream collaboration.
 
4. Interoperability of Apps
Disconnected apps and fragmented communication experiences is the single biggest hurdle to streamlined workplace collaboration. Outlook may “talk” to Gmail, but Skype for Business can’t exchange data with Webex and Slack is certainly far from doing so with Microsoft Teams. Overcoming this hurdle is imperative to creating truly collaborative communications in the workplace, regardless of what team you’re part of or even the company you work at.
 
Quite a few different apps have already gained notable traction in the workplace; however, even the app vendors have acknowledged they have no immediate roadmap plans to create interoperability protocols. Email suffered a similar struggle in its early stages. The introduction of Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), which allowed interoperability among disparate and competitive email software platforms, largely drove email’s broad adoption. Workstream collaboration is in a similar period of early adoption today, with platform providers hyper-focused on staking claim to large chunks of market share. Creating a communication channel as universal as email will require one of the leading vendors (or perhaps some industry working group) to set out with the intention of enabling cross-vendor communications. For IT, this means a long period of piloting different methods and gracefully reining in the variety of channels and platforms used by employees. Given today’s rate of consumer adoption across such a fragmented communications landscape, the only route to consolidation is through proactive adoption of omnipresent channels.
 
Just as the UC category changed the role of voice in the enterprise, workstream collaboration is just a few short years away from changing the way we will collaborate every day. How will your IT department tame this Wild West?