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Culture shock: collaborative tools in the workplace

The introduction of collaborative tools in organisations involves much more than merely implementing software. It entails a significant cultural change. As an organisation, you need to be prepared for this, otherwise the launch will be a failure.

Let’s do a thought experiment: A few days ago your employer switched to Microsoft 365 and launched MS Teams. The technical rollout went perfectly, without a hitch. Now you’re sitting there needing an urgent update from your boss, who is on a business trip. Do you send an email? Do you try to chat with her on MS Teams? And if the latter, what do you do if she doesn’t reply because she doesn’t even see the push messages? In the worst case, with all your mental kerfuffle you’ll waste an hour on a three-line message and wish for the good old days of email to return.

It’s a shame for everyone involved, both you as an employee and your employer, because the new possibilities shouldn’t just make things easier technically, but culturally as well. But let’s start from the beginning.

Like pineapple on a pizza

The transition from traditional working practices to a modern, collaborative and cloud-based environment such as Microsoft 365, Google Workspace or Slack has become an integral feature of the workplace. When married to flexible working models, these environments offer many benefits. But what’s often forgotten, despite all the enthusiasm for the IT, is that the changeover always requires a rethink at various levels within the organisation. Employees have to get used to new interfaces, but above all to new processes and ways of working together. Suddenly they go from being on formal terms with their boss to chatting with them like buddies. It’s like pineapple on a pizza: some people love it straight off and give it a try, while others have to be introduced to the new (taste) experience, and others still never get used to it at all. All these types, from early adopters to traditionalists, are part of a cultural change and need to be got on board.

Knowing where you stand

The first thing you need to know is what the culture in the organisation was like before the rollout. Only by being aware of the status quo will you be able to assess how far the launch of the new platform takes you away from it. Depending on the initial culture, other aspects of the new technical setup may be relevant that have nothing to do with IT at all. Here are two examples that illustrate the core of this statement:

Example 1: The new software enables all employees to access their work files from any device, including personal ones. This allows flexible working from anywhere. But what does this mean in terms of remote working? Should this working arrangement be stepped up, did the option already exist before, and is it accepted by all managers?

Example 2: The new software can be used to represent project teams in which documents, notes and conversations about a project can be accessed in one place. This allows employees to collaborate across teams and organisations, regardless of hierarchy. But what does this mean in terms of responsibilities? Can and should everyone in the project publicly express their opinion in the virtual space, regardless of their position beyond the project, or should they stick to bilateral emails? How did communication work before the rollout?

Communication shapes culture

As experts in communication, we need to be aware of these cultural nuances, get other departments such as HR on board if necessary and adapt communications accordingly. In doing so, we ourselves help shape the culture of the organisation. After all, the language, media, formats and topics we use to inform and share knowledge about the rollout will shape the way people will perceive the new mode of collaboration. We set standards. So we should move away from headers such as “Our new IT rollout”. It’s more than that. Titles such as “This is how we’ll be working together in the future” are more appropriate.

About the author

Daria Tamagni advocates cultural awareness when introducing new collaborative tools. Because not everyone likes pineapple on their pizza, and you need to know that before you serve it up.