As never before, Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other such apps are playing a key role in evolving workplaces, especially now with widespread work-from-home requirements due to the coronavirus pandemic. Enterprise employees surveyed (before work-from-home orders) by Unify Square expressed a “love-hate” relationship with workplace collaboration applications.

Such mixed feelings can lead to increased IT support tickets and/or decisions to opt-out of usage all together, according to Unify Square, the maker of the PowerSuite software to manage multiple collaboration platforms. The company released its report as an ebook this week: “A Love-Hate Affair: Overcoming Challenges of Workstream Collaboration.”

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“Contrary to popular belief, enterprise employees crave structure and strict guidelines from management when it comes to the use of collaboration applications,” according to Unify Square, which surveyed more than 500 enterprise employees in late January and early February. Some 40% said they wished their employers would enforce stricter rules around collaboration app use, and 60% said such enforcement would contribute to improved work-life balance.

Scott Gode, the company’s chief product marketing officer, recalled a similar sentiment with email deployment. “If we think of chat and collab apps as the successor (of sorts) to email, the love-hate idea is not too surprising,” Gode said. “Everyone ‘loves’ email as the channel to help get work done and to communicate, but ‘hates’ the way that it dominates mind-share and focus.”

“The presence of collab apps have created this same phenomenon, but perhaps even amplified it because of the ‘always-in-your-face’ nature of the UI and the expectations that are set for how to interact with the apps,” he added. “Remote work simply compounds the issue since it’s impossible to just wave or yell across the office to a co-worker that you’ll follow up with her later.”

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Last year, Gartner Inc. predicted the worldwide market for social software and collaboration in the workplace would grow to $4.8 billion by 2023, nearly doubling in size from 2018. “By 2023, we expect nearly 60% of enterprise application software providers will have included some form of social software and collaboration functionalities in their software product portfolios,” Gartner said.

Enterprises in all industries are preparing people for a new reality as downloads skyrocket for work and meeting applications.

Respondents of the Unify Square survey worked at organizations with at least 1,000 employees, over a range of industries, including enterprise technology, consumer technology, consumer packaged goods, education, and healthcare.

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The report examined the most used features across both unified communication and workstream collaboration application platforms, application use trends, and how they were impacting productivity, employee behavior, security, and more.

It found that email is still alive and well. “Employees across the board, regardless of age/level/work schedule, agree that 66% of their colleagues have mastered the art of effectively balancing the use of both email and collaboration applications,” according to the report.

Some 40% of enterprise workers agreed that a chief benefit of collaboration applications is fewer emails, yet 74% say they have not seen any significant decrease in the quantity of emails they receive since starting to use these collaboration applications.

Personal conversations (41%) and incoming requests taking away from current projects (39%) were noted as the biggest culprits for distraction caused by collaboration applications during the workday.

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The report found collaboration security is not a shared responsibility:

  • Employees working in high-tech industry companies are the least likely to let IT know about their app use than any other industry, with nearly 40% admitting to downloading collaboration apps for personal use without IT’s approval.

  • For respondents working in consumer-packaged goods companies, over 90% say they have never downloaded collaboration applications without IT’s approval.

  • When it comes to making sure that collaboration applications are secure, over 60% believe the responsibility of securing collaboration apps should lie solely on their organization’s IT department.

Gode of Unify Square said there were a few surprising findings. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, he said Zoom had established itself as a video conferencing leader, however, it was not necessarily known for its chat functionality. “This survey showed (and remember this data was compiled before the WFH requirements were implemented) that Zoom chat has a much wider usage pattern than we previously believed.”

He also noted that the survey found that fewer than 20% of enterprise workers considered the following typically held biases regarding collaboration apps as downsides: Competition among teammates to reply quickly (18%), creating silos within the company (15%), information not being secure or private (13%), and personal conversations taking away from work (16%).

“In spite of the advancements in remote video conferencing and chat apps, there is still nothing that beats the good old-fashioned ‘sneaker-net’ or in-person meeting,” Gode said. “In the meantime, during the WFH era, all modalities of collaboration—video conferences, 1-1 phone calls, and chats—assume an even higher level of importance; availability, connectivity and reliability are paramount for all users.”

Image: Unify Square