Multiple Platforms In Today’s Hybrid Workplace w/Blair Pleasant
Blair Pleasant is an independent analyst, President and Principal Analyst of COMMfusion, and co-founder of BCStrategies. She has 20+ years of experience in unified communications and helps both end-user and vendor clients, and provides a variety of custom consulting services.
With the rise of the hybrid workplace, online communication is more important than ever. Blair shares her insights on how the past two years have affected the landscape of the digital workplace.
The evolution of platform needs
A few years ago, “we saw a big uptake in messaging and collaboration tools…companies deployed Slack, Microsoft Teams, Webex, Google Hangouts Chat, and so on. Some of them were using video, but the core applications and use cases were messaging and team collaboration.”
Fast forward, and a pandemic-driven workplace has resulted in “not just acceptance of, but expectation for better collaboration and video tools.” Video conferencing is now a must-have for smooth workplace communication.
The need for better video conferencing tools has resulted in the implementation of multiple platforms.
“Some companies started with Microsoft Teams because they were using Office 365 but then wanted to add video. Then they felt that Microsoft’s wasn’t the best of breed and decided to add Zoom. Or some companies were using Webex because they’re Cisco shops, but then some workers started using Zoom video on their own.”
Collaboration apps on the rise
Though it may seem that Zoom appeared out of nowhere, “businesses have been using Teams, Zoom, and other collaboration tools for years, but it might have been for specific groups and teams.”
Zoom, of course, has been around for quite some time. Check out the history timeline we put together:
“I also don’t think it’s just Teams and Zoom — we’ve seen all types of collaboration and video tools take off in the past couple of years,” Blair continues. “I think businesses realize that workers want choices and they don’t want to be forced to use one tool rather than another. People want the tools that will make them more effective, productive, and help them do their jobs better.”
Collaboration apps are finding their place in all demographics.
“It’s amazing, people of all ages…I’m on a committee with some elderly people, and they’ve taken to Zoom no problem. It’s wonderful to see how technology is helping people in so many different areas.”
Making a choice
The multitude of free chat apps empowers workers to make their own choices. Rather than having to go through an IT department, users are exploring their options and taking the online workspace into their own hands.
It’s not uncommon for “one location to be using Microsoft Teams, while another uses Webex, and then individuals might be using Zoom.”
This raises concerns on an organizational level. Due to licensing requirements, Microsoft Teams is often implemented by an organization’s IT department.
In contrast, “we see Zoom brought into companies without it being planned for in many cases.” Issues with security and compliance also come into play. “When IT isn’t involved, you don’t have the security, privacy, and compliance that companies may need.”
This is referred to as shadow IT — individual users deploying “free or low-cost cloud-based services that don’t require any hardware, without the blessing or even knowledge of their IT departments.”
These concerns are all the more prevalent as users continue to work from home.
Pros and cons of a multi-platform workspace
What is the best way forward?
Supporting the use of multiple tools gives workers the freedom of choice. Native comfort is certainly a benefit in a hybrid workplace that thrives off of individual productivity.
However, a multi-platform workspace is not without drawbacks. Shadow IT, workplace silos, and difficulties collaborating cross-platform pose a real challenge.
After all, if everyone makes their own choice, it’s inevitable that companies will end up with departments on different apps.
Utilizing multiple platforms also means that a company “may not get the full value of these technologies.”
To Blair, “the value of team collaboration is limited when users are on different collaboration tools, since collaboration requires a critical mass and works best when everyone can easily participate in collaborative sessions.”
“It’s not unusual for companies to have at least two to three team collaboration tools used by different groups and locations,” Blair shares.
“What’s happening is that, in many organizations, different groups or departments use the collaboration application that best meets their needs.”
In these instances, Blair advises that “it helps to have guidelines on when to use which applications — for example, Microsoft Teams for internal collaboration and Zoom for external collaboration with people outside of the company. Setting up guidelines will be useful for companies that do have multiple tools.”
Pros and cons of a standardized workspace
What about committing to a single platform?
“If you standardize on one application,” Blair says, “it’s easier to manage and integrate with the company’s UC solution. It makes it easier for different groups to collaborate seamlessly.”
This is especially beneficial in multinational companies with branches in different time zones.
But what happens when companies attempt to consolidate from multiple platforms?
Organizations choosing migration now have to spend time planning and undergoing the process.
“How are you going to migrate users from one collaboration product to another?” Blair asks. “It involves migrating content, and conversations, and workflows, and it’s not an easy job.”
Forced migration can also result in internal friction, end user frustration, and periods of broken communication during the transition.
Achieving unified communication
Regardless of which platform — or platforms — are selected by an organization, Blair notes that “people have to understand the different capabilities of these platforms, and when and how to use them.”
“We take for granted that people will just pick [the platforms] up and use [them] and understand how these tools work, but that’s not always the case. Especially as they keep adding more and more capabilities and functionality, it’s really important to focus on user adoption training.”
Unfortunately, taking time to familiarize users with new platforms does not seem to be a priority.
“I just don’t see it getting enough attention,” Blair shares. “Companies just throw out these tools and technologies and think that people are going to just use it and everything is going to be fine, but that’s just not the case.”
Providing multiple types of education should also be a priority.
“People learn in different ways…I need to read something to really understand it, while some people need to listen and some people need to be hands-on. When it comes to training, it’s important to offer lots of different modes so that people can use what works best for them.”
Blair also highlights the importance of offering continuous training through resources that are readily available.
“When it comes to unified communications and collaboration,” she says, “it needs to be an ongoing type of thing, not just a one-and-done.” She recommends a video library for ease of access and asynchronous learning.
She also suggests a return to in-person training when it is safe to do so. “People like to be able to try things out with someone there, see what works, what doesn’t, what the best practices are.”
Planning for integration
Steps can be taken at the organizational level to promote comfort as new platforms are brought in.
Blair suggests that companies reach out to their vendors, resellers, and system integrators.
“Ask them about integrations that they’ve done for other customers. Find out what worked, what didn’t, what they should be thinking about, and the best ways to make the integration work.”
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It’s clear that there are benefits to maintaining multiple platforms as well as migrating to a singular app.
However, both options also pose significant challenges.
What if there was a way to give users the freedom to remain on their platform of choice while eliminating cross-platform communication barriers?
Or perhaps migration is a necessity, but the period of communication breakdown seems an insurmountable task?
With Mio, there is another way. Chat interoperability isn’t an option in the distant future — it’s here today. If this sounds like something you need, learn more about Mio here.
Why continue to waste time with broken communication? After all, as Blair says, “collaborating alone is like one hand clapping.”