Increasing Productivity = Contextual Interactions

What is the business value of chat? Is there intellectual property (IP) contained within your weekly team meetings? What happens to the brainstorming output expressed on the nearest whiteboard? And finally, are organizations doing enough to identify, capture, and manage the lifecycle of their contextual interactions? That’s the big question.

Most organizations are chasing after these lofty goals without a strategy, hoping to find that magical answer within their productivity tool and collaboration platform adoption activities, unsure of the relationship between the tools they deploy and any gaps with their actual information management needs.

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

As collaboration solutions rapidly evolve, most of them tend to fall into one of two product categories: structured or unstructured collaboration.

Structured collaboration tends to happen within the forms and taxonomies within your traditional ECM platform, sometimes deployed in a way that mirrors your organizational hierarchy, or product and project management topologies. Organizations that use this model of collaboration require some degree of control over who can access the content internally and how the documents and artifacts are handled, archived, or destroyed. At their core, structured collaboration environments help organizations meet industry and regulatory requirements for security, auditing, and compliance. In the typical enterprise, structured collaboration generates, at most, 30% to 40% of content.

Unstructured collaboration, on the other hand, is about the democratization of content and ideas. These tools and platforms tend to be centered around real-time connectivity (meetings, chats), content creation and demonstrated expertise (Word documents, PowerPoint presentation, spreadsheets), and about developing community around topics, interests, and individuals (Q&A tools, social platforms like Yammer).

For the most part, these unstructured collaboration activities fill the gap between automated business processes and other structured activities, and they have the ability to solve end user engagement and adoption issues, helping organizations (when done right) to more quickly realize benefit from their collaboration investments. For example, a detailed workflow is halted as there is an exception with a piece of data, resulting in a quick call between team members to discuss, modify related records, and then restart the workflow process. This brief but important interaction was key to the success of the structured workflow, but was the conversation and the resulting adjustments captured? Was there a rule change? A modified procedure?

These ad hoc collaborations act a sort of human governance or oversight, adding necessary context and adjustments at various points along the path to ensure that structured collaboration continues to function.

What is the connection between unstructured collaboration and business productivity? There are three facets:

  1. Our natural state is ad hoc collaboration – It is widely accepted that teams who communicate well are much more successful in achieving goals and delivering solutions — and doing it in a more holistic, inclusive way. Social tools, for example, whether they be consumer-based platforms like Facebook and Twitter or business-focused platforms like Yammer or Salesforce Chatter, allow individuals and teams to instantly connect and converse, adding people to the dialog as needed. Many organizations achieve the best results when they provide multiple ways for end users to connect. Social collaboration tools provide a complementary collaboration method to IM and Web meetings, as well as to more structured document management platforms.
  2. Structured collaboration cannot persist without human oversight – There is much disagreement about the rate of innovation within the artificial intelligence (AI) space and the speed at which AI automation will displace most human interactions. While I am bearish on the idea that “the singularity” will happen and some Ai somewhere in the world will become self-aware within my lifetime (or at all), we do see remarkable progress made in the speed and complexity of business system automation. Having said that, there will always be an “operator” role to provide oversight, and guide the change management process around structured collaboration platforms.
  3. With the exponential growth of content, we need to focus even more on enhancing metadata, taxonomies, and folksonomies – Every interaction you have generates metadata: you follow someone, you share a document, you Like something, you rate it, you comment, you add keywords to make that content more relevant to you, so that you can more easily find it in the future. These interactions all add context to data, building an intricate web of data connections. This metadata is guided by and populates defined taxonomies and also generates a massive folksonomy, connecting content and data and people in a way that cannot be replicated through automation and machine data.

There are many different features within unstructured collaboration tools and platforms, but at the end of the day this third facet has the most direct impact on bridging the gap between your structured collaboration platform and your unstructured social tools. Social generates metadata around content, unlocking your ability to find, organize, and manipulate your data. Search is a powerful productivity tool, but without metadata associated with your content, search is useless. The more rich your metadata, the more searchable (and findable) your content becomes.

At the heart of any business collaboration platform is content. It may not always take the form of a document, but it is content nonetheless: requirements, lists, list items, campaigns, customer records, feedback forms, approval workflows. Within this world of structured and unstructured collaboration, social will play an increasingly important role. Social connects disparate systems together, not through a single vendor or a single platform, but by providing a social layer across many systems. Stronger communication methods always have a positive impact on collaboration. If users are more engaged, they will complete more business activity (document creation, business process management, project management activities). If the platform helps people feel more connected, and in return they can find more relevant content and expertise through social interactions, more people will use the platform. And as more people participate, it helps improve upon every measurement you might have to define collaboration success.

Understanding that the real value of ad hoc collaboration and the various social interactions we have during the work day as we move between meetings, between online or offline conversations, and between workloads is more than just a discussion about the technology we use. We need to recognize and do our best to capture this rich contextual data and treat it much the same as our structured collaboration activities. Contextual interactions are the key to unlocking hidden organizational knowledge and breaking down content silos. As organizations begin to see the link between these two sides of collaboration and develop tools and processes to capture and utilize the rich contextual data being created through our social activities, they will be rewarded with increased user productivity.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and M365 Apps & Services MVP, and an award-winning product marketer and technology evangelist, based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He is the Director of North American Partner Management for leading ISV Rencore (, leads content strategy for TekkiGurus, and is an advisor for both revealit.TV and WellnessWits. He hosts the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) series.