Communications technology tools are getting better but the choice is, perversely, slowing businesses down. To boost productivity and efficiency, companies need to get their house in order

Only 10 years ago, communicating with colleagues involved emails, faxes and phone calls – leaving voicemails in the hope that they would return your call. The system worked, but it was slow.

Fast-forward to today and employees use instant messaging, videoconference calls, presence information to track whether they are available, and much more. Bringing all these tools onto one platform is what unified communications (UC) is about.

“It’s all about efficiency,” says Mike Wilkinson, VP Product Marketing at BroadSoft, a global communications software provider. “You can set up a meeting with colleagues all around the country and get things done immediately.”

Evolving work patterns

Work patterns have evolved so that many employees now work remotely. Being able to keep in touch with the office despite being in a different geographical location is one of the key benefits of UC.

“Most of the UC tools produced today are as good on mobile as they are in the office. I can do on my iPhone what I can do on my Mac,” says Wilkinson.

For mid-market businesses, this technology is a huge advantage. Employees can collaborate and communicate in real time, no matter where they are. But getting your house in order is essential for the system to be truly effective.

Mid-sized businesses suffer from employees using ‘shadow IT’: devices and applications to communicate with others that have not been approved by the organisation. This could be employees communicating with each other using WhatsApp or Skype, instead of the tools you’ve provided them with.

“Productivity has peaked thanks to UC capabilities, but we’re seeing it drop off because of all the unstructured communication created by this rogue IT. The focus needs to be on how you can bring everything in line and make employees’ lives just as easy through using sanctioned communications channels,” Wilkinson explains.

Two keys to successful deployment

The key to your workforce adopting your UC platform is, first, to be using technology that truly suits your employees’ needs. A fancy platform that isn’t practical or is over-complicated won’t be used. Second, you need to have executive sponsorship. The senior leadership team must be seen using all of the UC functionality for employees to buy into it.

“If your CEO or FD contacts you via instant message, you’re more likely to contact them using instant messaging too,” says Wilkinson. “But if they still just use the phone then they’re not seen to be buying into the technology – so why should you bother to use it, either?”

Which is why training the senior leadership team to use UC tools is important. If they are trained well and use all of the functionality, then it will trickle down into the organisation and be adopted.

Wilkinson also suggests appointing someone who can ‘grease the wheel’ – a primary point of contact for UC deployment whose responsibility is to help people adopt and use the technology.

With the right system in place, mid-market firms can stay in control of their employees’ communication and help improve efficiency within the business – and this can then, ultimately, benefit the bottom line.

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Feature | Operations