Nov 05

Overcoming our attachment to attachments. How the cloud is leading to true collaboration.

Collaboration in the cloud

Cloud computing can mean savings in time and money for charities

Cultural Change

Recently I helped a charity make the switch to Google Apps when I came across a common stumbling block.

It wasn’t to do with the differences between Google and legacy systems such as MS Outlook, but a cultural change in the biggest difference to the way we work since email itself.

It was to do with collaboration. Now you may think that you are using technology to collaborate already, using email to share information and work on documents. But the truth is, using email is as much a hindrance as a help in many ways, and I thought I would share why this is.

I took the information from two studies by Microsoft, one in 2010 the other in 2012.

The starting point was the finding that people send or receive about 15 emails a day with attachments. That’s more than 5000 per year.

Starting with that staggering figure, the Microsoft study’s first stumbling block was that 73% of these emails ran into problems with bounce backs due to the attachments being too large. That’s 3650 emails a year needing to be resent. If you spend 90 seconds splitting the attachment and having a second go, that is over 90 hours a year resending attachments!

Once your colleague receives the email, Microsoft reckon that 5% are deleted before they are opened. Which is not exactly conducive to collaboration.

But now we get to the real crux of the problem.

Document control

According to Microsoft, 71% of the attachments were already out of date by the time they were receievd, and a quarter of people had this problem once a week.

So now we have multiple attachments, with people working on different versions.

The next finding was that 75% of people don’t actually organise their attachments, and that 44% of documents sent via email go through at least 3 versions before they are finalised.

Ok, so you could use a legacy system and just work from your shared drive, taking turns updating and contributing to your Excel and Word documents. Though you will have to take turns, as they only allow one person to be editing a document. I know from experience that I am not the only one who has had to wait for someone to get back from lunch or a meeting to close a document so that I can start my part!

So legacy systems leave us with a number of problems:

  • Sending multiple emails
  • One person editing at a time
  • Multiple versions
  • Document control
  • A lot of wasted time.

Doesn’t sound much like collaboration to me!

As a little experiment, quickly work out how much you are paid by hour, and times that by 90 to work out how much it costs chasing these attachments. Remember, this figure won’t include the time waiting for other people to finish with documents. Or the same struggles of the rest of your team. Ouch, right?

So the point I brought up in training (quick note, yes, there are other cloud services, such as SkyDrive and Box, but this was with Google Apps) was how using shared documents for collaboration was a fundamental change in the way we work, allowing ‘real time’ collaboration, updating and document control.

One of the trainees brought up the issue that stands in the way, as it does, with all advancements of this type.

She had been using Google apps since I deployed it for them, including the ability to share documents rather than send multiple copies and versions to everyone.

However, one of the people kept emailing her asking for the document, even though she had had received the link and instructions as to where to find it in her Google Drive. It seemed that the simple fact that it was not there in an email as an attachment had rendered it almost invisible.

What we are looking at is a cultural change in the way we work.

Training is only half of the story

As much as I try to make training interactive and amusing, there will always be some people who find the stress of the normal working day means that they just don’t get round to applying it in their everyday work lives.

One of the ways I’ve discovered that helps overcome this is to launch an important, non-client centred aspect of your organisation onto cloud-shared documents.

The reason for this is that you don’t want people missing out on client dependent work contributions and either holding projects up or simply missing out on them altogether.

An example that you could use might be expenses or annual leave. If you moved your expense forms to online shared documents between employees and the bookkeeper/finance officer/line manager who approves expenses, then staff get used to using shared documents and are motivated to do so for their own benefit!

I am sure you can come up with other examples, but the point is the same. Find an aspect of your organisation that benefits the individual, move it to cloud documents. Once their use has become familiar, you can move your organisation forward culturally, into a new era of effective, efficient collaboration!


Take-away point

  • When changing the way people work, trial with something that is there in interest to seek out and use (expenses, timesheets etc) to help it become part of their working life.