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What a Restaurant Can Teach You About Collaboration

For better or worse, collaboration is a fluid concept, and the value comes as much from how the associated technologies are used as how you think about it. Collaboration can be a linear process with clear beginning and ending points, but it’s just as likely to be organic, spontaneous, or ad hoc. Workers don’t think about collaboration in binary terms, as in “I’m collaborating now, but I won’t be in five minutes.” At the moment, workers don’t have quotas for how much time they must spend collaborating, but of course, that could change.
 
Businesses are generally risk-averse, but ambiguity has its virtues, and that certainly applies to collaboration. If collaboration was being driven entirely by IT’s vision and/or what the incumbent vendors deem to be the solution, UC would be the universal standard, and workers would have to adapt to it. Of course, we’ve been down this road before with telephony and the world of proprietary PBXs that defined voice communications in the workplace for decades.
 
The Tyranny of Legacy Thinking
That all changed with VoIP, and it’s fair to say we’re better off due to the innovation that opened up new applications for voice beyond what legacy telephony could provide. The story is the same with collaboration; the conventional thinking begat UC, which provided a better way to collaborate but has never been the ideal solution for all needs. Thinking differently doesn’t require throwing out the old and starting all over. Rather, it starts with listening and watching what people are doing, and then discarding what isn’t helpful, then adding new pieces that are.
 
Incumbent UC vendors were, for the most part, too heavily invested in telephony to adopt that approach. Coming back to the fluid nature of collaboration, however, new entries like Slack could do that. By thinking about workplace challenges differently, and applying today’s tools to today’s collaboration needs, Slack has adopted a different set of technologies. Slack is not out to bury UC -- it doesn’t pretend to offer a direct replacement -- instead it has focused on a different problem set that falls along the collaboration spectrum.
 
Further to that, there’s a point of caution here for IT decision-makers. The caveat for collaboration being so fluid is that it can be difficult to tell what the vendors are selling. In the case of Slack, its post-IPO success will ride heavily on Enterprise Grid, and its ability to generate enterprise-grade revenues from enterprise customers. Enterprises spend a lot of money with incumbent vendors around UC because they have genuine needs around collaborative teamwork.
 
That’s the mindset Slack needs to resonate with, but its approach so far has been closer to what’s needed for workflows and streamlining processes. This is another form of collaboration, and favors a different mix of applications than what enterprise workers typically use with UC. These aren’t quite apples-to-apples comparisons, and IT decision-makers need to discern which use cases are best for UC-style solutions, and which align better with offerings like Slack.
 
Moving on, Slack’s recent Frontiers conference led to many interesting takeaways, and I’ve got one here that exemplifies what I’m getting at in this post. It would be easy to talk about success stories with enterprise customers, but since Slack is an outlier of sorts, much better is to showcase a very different type of customer. Knowledge workers arguably represent the biggest and best use case, but collaboration is equally important for many other scenarios.
 
Click below to continue reading: What a 3-Star Michelin restaurant uses to collaborate