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The nature of collaboration is changing, thanks to social media, a rising number of teleworkers and — most importantly — better broadband. Instead of one-on-one collaboration over distances and in offices, folks can now collaborate with multiple people easily. Earlier this week, I saw an awesome blog post by Bernard Golden, CEO of cloud consultancy HyperStratus, on how today’s communications tools are allowing people to collaborate easily over long distances, inside and outside the company, and in large groups.
Golden called this flow of information between multiple points “digital communication” and compared it to the older days of email and voice calls, which he likened to analog communications. From his post:
The term ecosystem is a cliché of the day, but it’s very ubiquitousness [sic] illustrates its core truth: the nature of interactions among economic actors is changing dramatically. It may be summarized as: digital interactions are replacing analog interactions. The very simplicity of the formulation belies the profound shift it represents — and the way it changes how companies interact with their customers, vendors, partners, influencers, various government entities, and on and on. One way of describing this change is to characterize it as the replacement of analog interactions by digital ones — which means the role of an organization’s computer applications must change to reflect and support that replacement.
I would add to this the idea that multiple groups are communicating on multiple platforms, which means that while there are products like Yammer or Salesforce.com’s Chatter application, which are used for inter- and intra-company collaboration, there also need to be tools like HootSuite or Spredfast that help companies track their communications across multiple platforms. Speaking of Salesforce.com, on the second-quarter earnings call yesterday, CEO Marc Benioff gave a great example of Golden’s hypothesis. He described how one customer liked Chatter because it gave him the transparency into what goes on in his organization in a way email didn’t:
When you’re in Outlook, you don’t really know what’s going on in the company or to [sic] seeing these, kind of, email messages flying by, but with Chatter you do. You’re able to really see what’s happening and you can make better decisions.
With the CEO that I mentioned, he had a major deal that was working on in a telecommunications’ [sic] company that he didn’t know about and he was able to see it with Chatter going through all the posts and seeing all of his employees, what they are doing, watching their collaboration, going through all the slides, and then all of a sudden he saw that they were having a hard time working with the manufacturing department of his company, and so he called the manufacturing department and said you need to help these guys who are working solely with this telecom company and he said that was the greatest thing for him that he could relieve the organizational friction using Chatter.
As the nature of employee collaboration changes, the skills to perform well in an office environment may follow suit. No longer is it enough to be able to infer from an email what needs to be done and then set priorities. Now, an astute observer could see on a Chatter-like service that, despite the communication in the email, she should be setting different priorities based on the communication across the organization.
In a way, the public nature of such communication could let folks who might be shy or loathe office politics shine in ways they might not in an analog world. It certainly helps remote workers play a leadership role that might be far more difficult and time-consuming otherwise. However, it broadens the amount of information any one person is expected to consume in order to succeed. Hopefully the tools evolve so people can at least consume that information in one place.
Related GigaOM Pro research (sub req’d): Making Co-Working Corporate Scale