In today's global economy, effective communication matters more than ever. When large enterprises have offices at locations spread all over the globe, being able to easily collaborate on projects is vital to the success of any operation.
The cost of poor communication can be significant. According to figures from Mitel, employees spend more than two-thirds of their time collaborating, yet nearly 15% of their total time is being wasted due to inefficient communications. As a result, the average firm loses $11,000 per year due to poor comms systems - meaning large enterprises could be losing upwards of $5 million.
At the same time, chief information officers (CIOs) are also having to cope with a changing IT environment as users become far more decentralized. As well as having to deal with offices in multiple locations around the world, there’s the rise of remote and home working to take into account. In the US, the number of homeworkers increased by 159% from 2007 to 2017, with 70% of employees now working from home at least once a week, so it's essential this growing cohort is well-catered for and not left out of collaboration activities or decision-making.
The key challenges facing businesses
Therefore, improving communications needs to be a major priority for any CIO. Indeed, according to a global survey conducted by Ovum, 66% of CIOs consider communications and collaboration critical to business success, rising to 75% in the US. However, this often poses a range of challenges.
One of the first issues facing businesses when they come to deploy communication and collaboration tools is to ensure they’re able to be used effectively across a global organization. Consistency is vital to the success of such initiatives - if certain locations don't have access to the same tools as the rest of the business, they’ll quickly become isolated, while efficiency will take a hit as employees have to come up with ad hoc solutions to keep in touch.
A key cause of these issues is a sprawling IT environment. In its study, Ovum noted more than a third of companies use four or more vendors for their communication and collaboration needs, and this can result in multiple issues. For example, 37% of businesses surveyed said this leads to higher costs, while 36% found it challenging to manage multiple systems and contracts and 35% complained of low levels of integration between their solutions.
To make a global rollout easier, it's essential to consolidate collaboration tools. Ovum also noted that when IT departments no longer have to procure, install and maintain multiple systems - as well as manage the various integrations needed to connect these systems - they can significantly reduce both the time and costs needed for a deployment, while also enabling more time to be spent improving business operations.
The need for a unified communications solution
Therefore, having a full unified communications and collaboration (UCC) solution in place is vital. This ensures that businesses can bring together all the elements needed for employees to work effectively as a team, no matter where in the world they’re located.
A UCC strategy differs from other approaches as it allows enterprises to secure all the tools they need as part of a single solution. It goes far beyond traditional communication tools like phone systems and video conferencing, also incorporating instant messaging tools, document and desktop sharing, email, calendars and other scheduling tools, and even user tracking that can allow employees to instantly see where their colleagues are and if they’re available.
What are the benefits of unified communications?
There are a number of benefits of such a joined-up approach to collaboration.
1. Improved productivity
First and foremost, it can boost productivity by ensuring all users have instant access to the information they need and don’t have to waste time dealing with multiple disparate systems or poorly-performing legacy communications tools.
2. Easier management and administration and lower costs
For the IT team, it also means easier management and administration and lower costs than procuring the various elements from separate suppliers.
3. Enhanced user experience
An integrated UC system provides a much better user experience for employees as they’ll be able to access all the tools and applications they need in one place.
What elements must be included to boost global collaboration?
A good UCC solution will cover every facet of how a business may need to collaborate, but there are a few key elements that are at the core of such systems, which no enterprise can do without.
1. Video conferencing
It's said the best way to communicate is face-to-face, but in global enterprises, this isn't always possible, so video conferencing is the next best thing. This technology has come a long way in recent years and high-definition streaming with no lag or dropouts in quality is essential for everything from conducting initial hiring interviews to brainstorming key business strategies.
When video isn't feasible, quality voice communications are the next option. Good VoIP tools don't just offer high-quality audio, but should also give users a fine level of control over their communications, from easily redirecting calls to streamlined conference calling and the ability to access the system cheaply from anywhere in the world.
3. Integrated instant messaging (IM)
Tools like Slack have become hugely popular among many enterprises, as they give employees the ability to quickly and easily collaborate and discuss simple issues via text, while still being tightly integrated to video and audio tools when more in-depth conversations are required.
Aside from these, other elements that businesses should consider as part of their communication and collaboration strategy include cloud-based platforms that allow team members to work together and discuss documents in real-time. It also covers the specific tools firms use to collaborate, from interactive whiteboards and team spaces to effective sharing of documents.
Another key requirement in the coming years will be artificial intelligence (AI). When it comes to communication and collaboration, applications for this technology range from digital personal assistants that can manage scheduling and help users connect with colleagues to automated transcription services and smart analytics tools.
How to ensure employees are on board
Even if firms are able to successfully implement a UCC solution that encompasses the entire company, including offices in multiple countries and home workers, they still need to ensure employees will actually make full use of the technology.
If certain members of the team aren't using key tools like IM, for example, they can miss out on critical information, while it also creates confusion if users don't know which tools they need to get in touch with a specific individual.
There are several steps businesses can take to encourage adoption. Microsoft identifies six essential stages to ensure new tools are adopted. These are:
1. Have a sponsorship team
This should include IT pros, line of business managers and end users who are involved from the earliest planning stages.
2. Get executive buy-in
C-level executives can set an example by using tools like video conferencing for key internal communications.
3. Identify 'power users'
These personnel can be great advocates for the technology and help others see the value they can bring.
4. Market your solutions
Build excitement around the new solutions and conduct internal awareness campaigns to get your key messages directly to users through marketing messages or roadshows.
5. Focus on training
This shouldn’t just teach employees how to use the collaboration tools, but also why they should be doing so. Focus on benefits such as better productivity and improved user experiences to get people on board.
6. Use change management strategies
It's important to remember collaboration and communication tools aren't just about technology - they’ll mean a new way of working for many people. Therefore, following change management best practices that focus on the human side can help ensure employees are comfortable with the tools.
Get this right and you stand to see a wide range of benefits. Good communication and collaboration tools that incorporate advanced video conferencing, smart business telephony and new innovations such as AI help improve your company culture, bring people from all over the world together and simplify the management of your critical connectivity systems.