Collaborative Software offers today’s tools for changing 21st century occupations

By George A. Von Skal
Special to In Motion

Software designed to help people work together is changing the workplace and Slack, HipChat and Skype-Teams are prime examples of this next generation of business apps.

slackAccording to Fast Company magazine — launched in November 1995 by Alan Webber and Bill Taylor, two former Harvard Business Review editors —when cloud-based team collaboration app Slack was launched 14 years ago, it had 8,000 subscribers within 24 hours. The app offers users a centralized place to communicate with co-workers through instant messages and in chat rooms and therefore, it greatly reduces time spent on e-mail.

Users upload files, get and handle information stored in spreadsheets and other applications, and instantly sift through databases using searches enhanced by artificial intelligence. There is no need to be at a desktop computer to use the technology since apps are easily accessible from mobile devices.

Anindya Paul, Chair of School of Computer Science at Daytona State College, teaches a Software Design and Development class using Slack. One of his students, who follows Microsoft developments, suggested it for their team projects.

“The students communicate effectively with me and with each other in real time using the app. Adopting it saved me time,” said Paul.

Collaborative software is a multi-billion dollar business and Microsoft knows that corporations, irrespective of their size, do not have the luxury of ignoring significant trends in technology. After aborting an $8 billion bid for Slack Technologies, the software giant decided to develop its own collaborative app and launched Skype-Teams in November. It added the Teams functionality to its Office 365 Educational Suite on March 3.

By the time of this publication, the icon for the app on DSC’s Office 365 Suite won’t be visible and most students will never know that it had been there.  Regarding this issue, Bill Harrison, Instructional Technologist for DSC, said in April, “This feature will be disabled in our center for Office 365 due to security concerns and privacy concerns regarding how the teams are created and the groups, and email, and that kind of stuff on the back end.”

Many of the features that propelled Slack into the limelight have been available for decades.  In the early 1990s, the U.S. Navy developed the COMPASS system that allowed up to six users to communicate with each other by creating point-to-point connections. By 1992, Lotus Notes became a major example of groupware, software specifically designed for collective work.

So why, all of a sudden, do organizations, the workforce, and students find collaboration software so attractive?

Today’s business culture is different. Teleworkers are more numerous and many never meet their coworkers.  A 2016 Gallup poll shows that 37 percent of U.S. workers say they have telecommuted. Although this is only up 7 percent over the last decade, it is four times greater than in 1995, just three years after Lotus Notes got in the picture.

Corporations are also taking notice that collaborative technologies lead to positive outcomes in productivity, sales enablement, corporate communications and process optimization. They also know that to remain competitive, their business tools must either replaced or updated.

A field study by Ning Lee of the University of Iowa, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in July 2015, found that employees who contribute beyond the scope of their roles have a disproportionate impact in team outcomes. These workers understand that collaboration is essential for upward mobility.

Kyrin Mayfield is a graduate of DSC’s AA program who transferred to UCF’s Nicholson School of Communication to pursue a degree in telecommunications. Mayfield is part of the millennial generation forcing changes in the way people communicate and work together. He said, “I have been using Slack in my honors classes, which all require team collaboration.  HipChat is another app that does exactly the same thing.”

Messages on Slack or HipChat tend to be short and casual, similar to the texts people use in their personal life instead of email.  Students and workers are looking for real engagement from wherever they are — they want more than just the data, they want a personal connection — and they want it in real-time.

User experience is at the center of collaborative software’s rise. According to Forbes magazine, consumer psychology standards are beginning to permeate the business arena in areas such as ease of use, personal style and comfort, accessibility, and a sense of choice.  Collaborative software reflects these values and therefore adds significance to the workplace, the magazine says.

Email, was seen as a cure for the telephone in the mid ’90s. Two decades turned it into the “Cockroach of the Internet.”  Collaborative apps like Slack may or may not completely replace email, but one thing is for sure: Today’s products and services are more complex. Greater complexity requires more  people’s expertise to find effective real-time answers.

Tools that improve communication and foster cooperation are not a fad. They are akin to survival gear for today’s ever-changing, fast-paced world of business and technology.  It is a world that takes no prisoners.