Collaboration tools in business settings are becoming more and more important. About 20% of people who work via technology already say they have never met their bosses (CNET, 2011). Yet, for the most part, many business or project teams seeking collaboration methods do so without fully understanding the resources and their implications (Rosen, 2010). Most organizations use such services for virtual meetings or document sharing, not for the more complex capabilities opportunities.
In determining what kinds of collaboration systems issues may be appropriate, it is important to look at the size of one's business and the size of one's need. Even though fully integrated systems are now coming online, many business still likely need only piecemeal elements, though they want them to be services that will compatible in the future. In fact, companies tend to place their collaborative activities next to technologies to more or less see what happens (Keitt, 2011). Large businesses may be able to reach across a number of levels, using "far flung" capabilities. According to Malhotra and Majchizak (2004), "Far-flung teams are virtual teams that are multi-unit/multi-organizational, multi-functional, globally dispersed and conduct their interdependent activities mainly through electronic media with minimal or no face-to-face interactions." The kinds of services they could need may be extensive. For smaller or mid-size businesses, the range of options is still broad but usually focused on specific tasks. It could include everything from simple to complicated data or voice management, file sharing, real-time posting, conversation, communication or coordination activities, or even the same types of complex systems used by larger companies (Gould, 2006). In fact, it is now possible for even small companies to buy into "cloud-based," or Internet connected services with all of the levels of intensity that a major corporate provider could use. Doing so, however, does not seem to add much value, meaning it may not be a good business investment at this time (Rosen, 2010).
MAJOR CONSIDERATIONS: In determining which level of collaboration to consider, there are several factors worth reviewing:
TIME: Time is one of the key factors for several reasons: because time covers many issues. For one, it has to do with the actual time in which work and collaboration occurs. Many "far-fledged" group activities that use online technology occur in such diverse locations that their people are not in the same time zone or do not work during the same work hours or days. Or they could be professionals hired for a particular need. Thus it is possible for people to be working on days that do not correspond well to calendars or conventional work timelines. When participants want to communicate with each other or get a response to a question, for example, these issues become particularly relevant.
Time is also related to the duration and complexity of a task at hand. If the requirements of particular activities are of a short duration and not complicated, some may elect not to use technology because it is easier to do the task quickly without it. Others may choose to use technology because a simple email or posting may take that task of the to-do list. In a recent study by CNET (2011) on these issues, they found that some people use email for quick responses while others (some 48%) still use hand-written notes. While this has to do with the richness issues (or how intensive the work is), it also has to do with the time allotted for simple actions. Apparently, this may be good for team-making and collaboration but bad for record-keeping, verification or the full use of complex management task software.
PLACE: The place consideration is related to time also but has its own elements. Some people can work in the same physical location of their collaboration partners, while others may be far removed. Far-flung teams arise specifically because talent is available in many locations and there is no need to move it around. Sometimes these professional may work in the same field but in different locations, but the place concept could apply to pulling people in from outside sectors as well, which is another way to look at the place issues for businesses linked by technology.
RICHNESS: Though often thought of as relating to complexity of use, richness can mean that tools have a breadth of use. Advanced systems effectively inundate a user to the point where they are surrounded by resources and access, helping and recording or document every level of involvement. This is a very resource rich system. Other systems may be complete within a single purpose, thus requiring only minor to moderate system inculcation. Most often it is the far-flung entities that want the richest of capacities across many levels. In regards to place issues, rich system can so completely surround people with support (often using intensive personal or professional profiles), that they almost create interactive Avatars, which is another way of putting employees into a virtual place to conduct business.
TASKS: Tasks for collaboration cross many borders, some of which are technology based and others remain non-technology (or human) centered. More advanced software processes are beginning to adjust to these kinds of expectations (brainstorming, maintaining records, planning, scheduling, tracking progress, presentations and online meetings, etc.), which is in part why they are often referred to in groupware discussions. The richer the system again, the more likely it will be able to do many tasks, virtually regardless of what level the user is at. Some systems are said to have too many tasks because the designers assume buyers or users will think this alone is a sign of quality. A key issue of task considerations for collaboration may center more on participatory involvement or the openness of these resources for group discussions, continuous connectivity, time management functioning, progress monitoring, etc., through which records and activities can be save and used for historic profiling, client tracking, etc.
ADOPTION: System adoptability focuses on whether users and even IT support teams can or want to use the product. Generally, most software and equipment is becoming more user friendly and can stand alone with little technical assistance. Well-coordinated user trainings also help make it possible for employees, customers, or the public to access the business environment. Business collaboration suites integrate the components and ensure that the units work together, though they may or may not work as well with outside resources. Being cloud-based means the operational elements connect through the Internet to a company or service that coordinate the technical compatibility concerns, thus making the system more welcoming to all. Even small and middle-size companies may turn to this for collaboration options as they become better refined and more cost effective.
It is often thought that tools should be obtained by business to encourage collaboration. So far, however, the facts suggest something different -- the tools offer little more than the possibility of collaboration. Business culture, management and organizational readiness have the most to do with whether collaborative practices are accepted and work. Still, for each of the conditions discussed above, some collaborative elements have been noted. Some seek to use these factors to encourage collaboration, while others discourage collaboration or at least on a large scale for companies that are effectively small or project limited. Far flung companies are more likely to be able to address these issues with highly integrated, complex collaboration tools, but even they will only work if there is proper support and a culture of acceptance. It should be noted that while word processing, spreadsheets, faxing, some telephone services, etc. are still considered collaboration tools (because they can be used with other services), these are not the focus here. Instead, the focus is on service options created for these purposes (Collaborative Software, 2009). Gould (2006) also provides some examples of these options: