SAP Report Finds Digital Technology Isn’t Improving Collaboration

A survey sponsored by SAP throws cold water on the notion that digital technology such as email, chat, video conferencing and mobile devices has improved workplace collaboration for most companies.

Digital Tools for Collaboration

A global survey of 4,100 executives and employees shows that most companies don’t have the management skills, organizational culture or technology in place to make collaboration pay off broadly.

The study found that only 27 percent of executives place a priority on collaborative tools and yet 96 percent of executives blame ineffective collaboration and communities within the organization for failures. The study, commissioned by SAP, was performed by Oxford Economics in the second quarter of 2016.

Technology has the potential to improve collaboration when properly deployed and managed, but SAP executive Daisy Hernandez said there are other factors to consider.

“While technology and software are enabling us to do our jobs better, they are only part of the equation when it comes to collaboration at work,” Hernandez, a Global Vice President of Product Management, Enterprise Collaboration at SAP Labs, told eWEEK in an email.

Ultimately, managers will have to use their best judgment on when technology can help address a need to communicate based on factors, including audience, speed, practicality and the need for documentation.”

At its core, Hernandez said that collaboration is a human activity and technology and tools can get in the way if they are being used inappropriately by managers to hide behind engaging with their employees.
“While technology helps us collaborate in new ways (i.e. video town halls, real-time chat, virtual workspaces, etc.), it should not change the substance of our conversations,” she said.

Only 16 percent of the companies surveyed fall into what the study calls Digital Winners for mastering the deployment of digital technologies. These companies tend to have better-developed tactics for encouraging partnerships and teamwork, the study said; they also perform better in the marketplace and have happier, more engaged employees.

Hernandez said the biggest surprise in the study is the rise of millennials to management and leadership positions. “They are in decision-making roles and are shaping workplace and company culture in their image,” she said.

“It’s time to stop ‘preparing for millennials’ because they are already here—in the workforce and leading it. Rather, businesses need to switch gears and begin melding millennial executives into the general group we perceive as business leaders.”

But she also warned it’s a mistake to single out millennials or any group within the organization when it comes to new policies and other changes. “Calling specific attention to workers in this age group will only further reinforce generational differences instead of focusing on how all generations can work together to evolve with changes in the workplace culture,” she said.

A big challenge for most organizations is that collaboration in and of itself is not the end goal. An article in the Harvard Business Review last year titled “Collaborative Overload” looked at all the time people spend in meetings, on the phone, and responding to e-mails.

In reference to that article, the SAP study noted that at many companies the proportion hovers around 80 percent, leaving employees little time for all the critical work they need to complete on their own.

For companies led by Digital Winners it’s a different story because they are effectively distributing power and decision-making across the organization and investing in technology that makes collaboration more efficient.

“Management should lead by example—but leadership at most companies could stand to improve their collaboration skills, both in the ways they work with others and in promoting collaboration across the organization,” the report said.

Only about half of executives say senior management is proficient in facilitating collaboration within the organization and they are much less likely to say mid-management has this capability. Conversely, Digital Winners are better at facilitating collaboration inside the organization (74 percent versus 55 percent of others) and outside the organization (68 percent versus 56 percent).

As for technology, the report states that employees need tools that allow them to communicate, share ideas, and plan projects within and across teams and outside the company. But only 42 percent of executives and 43 percent of employees say they have the technology they need, although the percentages are better for North America (55 and 38 percent).

A majority of satisfied employees believe their manager is proficient at collaboration and the report suggests companies consider collaboration an employee benefit. The report found 60 percent of very satisfied employees report that their organization provides technology to facilitate collaboration, compared with only 32 percent of dissatisfied employees.

“It’s also important for business goals to be tied back to collaboration so that intrinsic benefits are understood,” said Hernandez.

David Needle

David Needle

Based in Silicon Valley, veteran technology reporter David Needle covers mobile, bi g data, and social media among other topics. He was formerly News Editor at Infoworld, Editor of Computer Currents...