Team collaboration tools became essential applications once COVID-19 forced many employees to work from home. Now, well into the pandemic, companies must reevaluate those tools to determine how well they fit into the still-evolving hybrid workplace.
Communication tools like Zoom and Slack enable virtual meetings and can help with group work. But no tool is perfect, and long-term remote work has revealed some of their weaknesses.
Now is a good time for HR leaders to work with other organizational leaders and managers to review their company's COVID-19 enterprise collaboration tools strategy. They can look to the last two years to understand whether their collaboration tools are truly facilitating teamwork and meeting employee needs.
Rethinking video platforms and other tools
As leaders rethink COVID-19 tech investments, one thing to consider is how familiar employees are with a given collaboration tech. Take video chatting tools.
Zoom has been particularly helpful because nearly everyone is familiar with it, said Diane Gayeski, professor of strategic communication at Ithaca College, located in Ithaca, N.Y.
Abby PayneChief people officer, SailPoint
"[It's] especially useful in collaborating with external partners such as alumni [as well as] individuals with whom I was conducting interviews for my research and for hosting fairly simple conferences of professional societies," Gayeski said.
The pandemic made Zoom a household word. That familiarity, in turn, has produced yet more success for the company. Its widespread use for both personal virtual events and work virtual events has meant comfort and access not always guaranteed by its competitors. That's something HR, business and managers may want to factor in as they consider what tools to continue using, but due to the popularity of virtual meetings and events, options are expanding.
Socially focused virtual platforms SpatialChat and Toucan are helpful collaboration tools, Gayeski said. The platforms enable participants to socialize like they would at a cocktail party or mixer. They are particularly useful for virtual functions after college events.
On SpatialChat and Toucan, icons populate different sections of a virtual space. With SpatialChat, a user moves toward another person on the screen to speak with them, while in Toucan, a user clicks on a person's icon.
"It's as if you walked up to them in a room," Gayeski said.
Collaboration tools show weaknesses
The massive increase over the last two years of employees working from home has revealed weaknesses in some popular collaboration tools.
For example, anyone who's ever been in the middle of a meeting or busy working and noticed the orange "away" noted on their Teams status can understand why some company leaders feel their productivity software is inaccurate. Collaboration tools aren't always reliable on productivity or other metrics.
"We encourage a strong sense of work-life balance, [and] that includes letting employees -- many of whom spent the pandemic at home with children -- get things done on time, in their own time," said Abby Payne, chief people officer at SailPoint, an enterprise identity security provider located in Austin, Texas. "Features that report how much screen time they spent during the traditional 9 to 5 are not particularly helpful in those cases and can just be a stressor for teams."
As leaders, managers and employees increasingly rely on workplace collaboration tools like scheduling software, it's only natural to wish for more effective features.
Bridget Chebo, director of customer success at We Are Working, a remote staffing services company located in Tallahassee, Fla., has encountered problems with Basecamp's scheduling tool.
"The schedule syncs with your calendar on a delay, so if you change a meeting at the last minute, it does not update," Chebo said of the software. "This makes it practically useless, as my busy clients do tend to reschedule at the last minute."
However, determining collaboration tools' overall usefulness may be easier said than done. Company leaders may find it difficult to get a consensus on particular collaboration tools because of departments' differing needs.
"What is helpful for the accounting department may not be so for the marketing department," said Dee Anthony, lead for collaboration and experience solution in the Americas at ISG, a technology research and advisory firm located in Stamford, Conn.
Now that remote or hybrid working arrangements are no longer new, HR and other company leaders should evaluate which team collaboration tools have been worth the investment. Doing so could help prevent unnecessary expenditures and employee confusion over redundant collaboration tools.