This week’s Ask the Expert is answered by Johann Butting, Head of EMEA at Slack.

Ask the Expert: How can you effectively scale collaboration in a rapidly expanding business?

The challenge

You’ve gone from a team of 50 to a team of 500 within two years. The business is on the up and, overall, you are doing really well. It’s an exciting time, but not one without its challenges, because large companies don’t work the same way that small ones do.

One of the biggest but often overlooked challenges is how to collaborate effectively at scale. If you’re seeking to grow teams, thinking about how you can set them up to work effectively with other parts of the business isn’t always front of mind. However, if you scale up smartly, it doesn’t need to be.

Collaboration tools should be unobtrusive. They need to bring the right people together with the right information, and empower them to collaborate effectively. Put simply: A business with great collaboration tools is a business that spends no time worrying about those tools. But how do you get there?

The solution

If you want to put an effective enterprise collaboration tool in place, there are three simple questions you should be asking yourself.

  1. Is the tool intuitive and easy-to-use?

Collaboration tools need to be accessible and intuitive. Not everyone in your company is an IT expert. Regardless of tenure, seniority or function, the entire staff needs to be able to learn how to use your chosen collaboration tool quickly. Bringing in these tools should help facilitate work for your employees, not create more of it. Likewise, IT admins are notoriously busy people – ensuring your chosen tool is both powerful and easily controlled will free up their time to get stuck into the trickier problems, like why that laptop still refuses to turn on!

  1. Is it bringing the right people together, helping them find the information they need and maximising your team’s expertise and time?

If your team consists of ten people, it is relatively easy to stay on top of communication and collaborate effectively. However, once you begin to grow, you will quickly realise that you need a tool that can scale with you, eliminating the need for lengthy reply all email chains. Not everyone needs to instantly be aware of every conversation taking place, but they may need to be able to find information from that conversation quickly and easily in the future. That is why people are increasingly turning to messaging and channels. Channels are where the majority of a team’s communication can take place. Each channel is a separate conversation that can be set to be public or private, with members easily added or removed when needed.

Compared to email, the ability to work in channels provides greater transparency and more efficient responses (for example, through using emojis to manage workflows), allowing simpler collaboration. Using @notifications in channels helps create an instant signal of priorities, ownership and action items. Email is a noisy and low signal means of communication – it can be difficult to assess which messages are directly relevant, or require immediate attention. All of which adds up to a lot of time saved.

  1. Is the tool able to integrate with other applications, and drive productivity?

Finally, it’s all about making things easy so people can get work done. People don’t want a homogeneous suite of tools forced upon them. They want to be able to create a bespoke toolkit that allows them to do their job effectively. If you need to switch applications to find out the latest sales stats on a customer, or that contract they signed a year ago, you waste time. The more your collaboration tool can serve as a true communication hub and integrate data, conversations and applications, the greater the productivity gains. Bots and virtual assistants are also here to stay (and to help!). Choosing tools that have an open and unbiased ecosystem will ultimately help future-proof your expanding business.

The takeaway

The way people are working and communicating with each other is changing. Collaboration tools at work should mirror this trend. The siloed approach to information sharing introduced by emails 15 years ago isn’t built to handle the scale and complexity of information that flows through businesses today, restricting productivity and limiting collaboration. Like any infrastructure, it must evolve.

Today, we work together, across the globe, in real time. We move at pace. And to do this effectively, a collaboration hub is required. Fundamentally that means connecting the right information with the right people, at the right time. Companies that get it right are the ones that are primed to succeed.

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