It goes without saying that the right business technology can improve productivity. For example, a software upgrade or switch may mean that employees can now telecommute more. They can create, write and edit documents with one another in real time even if they’re on opposite sides of the world.
However, not all small business owners think about collaboration and technology strategically. Some may look at a collaboration tool and decide to use it without 100 percent understanding why they’re choosing this specific tool over another. Is it really the right tool? What makes it the strongest tool for the needs of the business? Is it trying to fix something that is not broken? Strategic thinking helps SMB owners recognize the areas in which collaboration gives them the greatest value.

Anticipate the needs of the business

Your business won’t be the same in two years as it is today. Even a mere week or month from now, it’ll have changed. One thing that’ll remain constant, though, is the need for collaboration. The right collaboration technology will be able to grow or evolve with the needs of the business, at least for the next year or two. A basic example: If your business plans to expand its telework options next year and you’re choosing new software now, it makes sense to factor in how friendly a program is for teleworkers or any telework-specific options it has (ex: does it have time tracking? Video calls?).

Streamline processes instead of bloating them

Collaboration isn’t always effective. In fact, the wrong tools or approach can seriously hamper a business. Take an SMB owner who would like employees to work together more on creating project presentations. One question to ask before implementation would be whether there actually is a need for more collaboration in this area. Have project presentations been lacking? If so, why? If they have not been lacking or the underlying reasons aren’t addressed, then the SMB owner risks tying up his or her employees’ time with an unnecessary or wrong collaboration tool.
Similarly, if new collaboration software means that the employees in your department have to take an extra step to collaborate with workers in another department, it may not be the best choice.
Collaboration is supposed to make things easier, not harder. There’s such a thing as collaboration burnout. Managers today may spend 85 percent of their time in meetings, on email and on the phone. It could be that the right technology for your business decreases this percentage and frees up more time for managers to do other things.

Fit the technology or approach with the company culture

This point expands a bit on “collaboration burnout.” The culture of some SMBs is 24/7 work. In other words, employees are expected to be reachable at any time. That works just fine for some employees and companies. However, if you don’t own this type of business, it’s important to choose collaboration programs or goals that reflect your norms. Alternatively, you can take extra steps to uphold your values when collaboration is so easily available.
For instance, if an employee calls in sick and your company uses a BYOD policy, you may be tempted to ask her to work from home that day. Depending on how sick she is, this move could actually result in less productivity and collaboration.

Learn more about the business

Here’s how you can maximize your collaboration tools:

  •    Focus on the problem/goal and not so much on the technology itself.
  •    Give serious consideration to tools that employees already love and that have been proven.
  •    Take a look at the big picture and the total cost of using this collaboration technology.
  •    Make sure that your IT services provider understands your needs.

To address these issues, you have to learn more about your business, and that’s a good thing!