Give your teams the gift of collaboration this holiday season

Posted on December 21, 2020.

“I just pasted a Dropbox link into the Zoom chat so you can access the raw files I just showed you.”

“Oh, we can’t access Dropbox on our work machines. Is there another way you can share it?”

“Here, let me share a Google Doc with you so we can work on this together.”

“We can’t access Google Docs behind the corporate VPN. Can I just send you a Word doc?”

I’m not even going to ask if that sounds familiar to you. I know it does. I know it does because every week I work with brilliant folks who are eager to do good work. They’re eager to get stuff done quickly, to collaborate and to build momentum for their seemingly-forever-distributed teams. And then they hit the wall of Corporate IT. The tools that enable productivity, efficiency, collaboration and conversation are banned for use in favor of a “secure” IT-grade solution suite of productivity apps that often feel like beta versions of mass market collaboration tools. 

These tools create obstacles — through difficulty of use, poor integration across platforms and varying availability and quality of support across operating systems — to getting work done. They slow teams down. They lengthen decision-making time and reduce time to market. They limit what can be shared and how people communicate. In fact, they can even reduce the quality of conversation between teams. The net result here is frustrated teams figuring out how to sneak around corporate firewalls and IT policies in an effort to simply have the tools necessary to do their best work. 

This practice is called Shadow IT. We wrote about it in Sense & Respond as a symptom of a culture where creativity and collaboration struggle to take root. Wikipedia defines Shadow IT as, “…(also known as embedded IT, fake IT, stealth IT, rogue IT, feral IT, or client IT) refers to information technology (IT) systems deployed by departments other than the central IT department, to work around the shortcomings of the central information systems.” Feral IT. I love that. Microsoft itself, in an effort to crack down on such behaviors says in a paper from earlier this year, “80% of employees use non-sanctioned apps.” Given how many enterprises use Microsoft’s Office365 suite of products this is an indictment of their own product. If these corporate productivity systems created badass teams (hat tip to Kathy Sierra) there would be no such thing as Shadow IT. 

This is an enterprise-grade example of that timeless (and often ridiculous but in this case useful) meme of the difference between UX (user experience) and UI design (user interface). 

A person walking on a dirt path that cuts a diagonal corner around a paved sidewalk path with a 90 degree angle. It illustrates that people will walk the path they want, not the one you designed for them.

The enterprise-grade systems were installed with the belief that they enabled creative work in your teams but inevitably failed to meet those needs in favor of corporate security. Individual users, teams and sometimes whole departments, desiring a different capability, start walking the “desired path” of productivity and collaboration tools that actually improve their ways of working, going around the more secure but less productive path. 

Now, let me stop you before you start sending me comments about the need to be secure in the office, control what gets on the network and that Dropbox sucks. I’m in no way advocating for the abandonment of corporate security protocols in favor of being able to use Zoom. But this is a false tradeoff. I understand that every organization has security constraints. But you can have secure networks and productive teams. It ultimately boils down to how you measure success. Like any organizational policy or initiative, IT’s security policy is designed to generate specific outcomes — measurable changes in the behavior of your staff. I’d be curious to understand how IT measures the success of such org-wide deployments. Is it in the number of security breaches? Or in the productivity of the teams? The amount of “feral” apps and tools teams install on their laptops in order to get work done? If it’s anything other than how these tools affect the success of your teams, you’re crippling your organization. 

Many of my clients often ask, “How can we reduce time to market?” or “How can we increase our teams’ productivity?” They often reach for process improvements first. As we head into another year of lockdowns and remote working, consider that it could also be the tools they are being forced to use that may be hampering their best efforts. 

This holiday season, give your teams the gift of creativity, collaboration and ease of use. Ask them what tools they need to do their jobs well. Work with them and ITSec to determine how to best use these tools while mitigating risk to the organization. Make it easy for them to share large files across the organisation and with consultants and contractors. Ensure they have robust, easy-to-use digital collaboration spaces that enable, rather than hinder, conversation and idea-sharing. Provide document creation tools that enable constructive conversation instead of making the conversation impossible to follow or respond to. Provide messaging and social interactions in ways that enhance distributed working rather than accentuating what makes it difficult in the first place. Give your teams the gift of tools they want to use. 

Happy holidays. See you in 2021.

P.S. — this article focused on software but these same issues exist with hardware as well and are particularly exacerbated as the work-from-home world continues into next year. As much as you should ensure your teams have the best software to do their jobs, the same focus should be put on their hardware as well or similar problems like the ones described above will crop up.