Mixed Feelings Regarding Small Businesses & Social Collaboration

Working through a class focused on Social Collaboration within the Enterprise hasn’t been easy. Had I been more involved in my career with larger organizations, working on the inside as a technology leader, I could bring more valuable insight and relate to the inherent struggles of massive divisions and virtual teams. However, as my career has been exclusive to the small to medium businesses and my largest teams consist of thirty staff, the advantages of an internal social collaboration effort seem largely lost. Not to say that there isn’t a huge benefit in utilizing social media as a marketing strategy for the business, but speaking purely about internal benefits in enhancing the efforts within project teams and enhancing inter-departmental efforts through a unified vision of social collaboration, there just doesn’t seem to be a huge demand for it within the small business.

Let me break this down a bit more through a few technologies …

Instant messaging, email, desktop sharing, and even video conferencing (cool, but rarely required) are great tools for communication, and small businesses are definitely engaged with them today. These are the basics of today’s virtual team and generic communication forms in the business.

Now, on top of the layer of general collaboration techniques we add the various collaborative portals a business could utilize which include wikis, blogs, forums, project portals, and document storage. Todays’ enterprises have a vast array of solutions to meet all of these common goals, and many are single software solutions that enable users across the organization to create projects, share and converse about ideas, and even collaborate on documents. Even at my organization we have the software implemented to do so, so the problem is not access: the problems are interest, adoption and efficiency.

Can my team of 10 people log on to a site, host a Word document, and then discuss it? Yes! Would the discussion be easier in person by walking down the hall to another cubicle? Absolutely. And, in the small business, the ability to collaborate is often desired to be in person rather than in a portal. Moreover, in a small team all it takes is a single user (which could be 20% of your team) to resist the technology curve and your ability to adopt the technology for the entire team now fails miserably. I’m not advocating the removal of these technologies, however, I see things taking their time in the small business to when social collaboration becomes a necessity. I see adoption taking hold when business process forces adoption due to an increased interest in accountability and profitability within departments, which will drive workflows, reporting and other aspects of the small business which can only be seen when technology becomes the medium of these interactions between staff.

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