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Loutish users scupper collaborative technology

Socially inept choose the wrong comms tools - report

Collaborative technologies are failing because too many users are socially inept and have poor manners, according to a report from the Leading Edge Forum, a consortium of CIOs and academics.

The problem comes because users don't know which tools to use for which purposes, and don't consider the other people involved, so if employers want to get value from the technologies they buy, they need to provide guidance and social training, said Doug Neal, the report's author and an LEF research fellow.

Many email and IM users will know from painful experience how easy it is to offend others by mistake, when all you have to work with is text, but Neal said similar problems can arise with other collaborative tools too – for example, when someone assumes that, because your diary shows uncommitted time you have nothing better to do than attend their meeting.

"This issue will get worse as new versions of MS Office and Sharepoint are rolled out with dramatically greater capabilities," he said. He added that part of the problem is that users choose collaborative tools instinctively, rather than consciously.

The forum, which is sponsored by IT services company CSC, has put together an interactive slide-show summarising its recommendations. It suggests questions people should ask themselves when deciding which tool to use, and offers advice for different types of collaboration, for example:

  • Calendaring – Don't use a broadcast meeting invitation to gauge interest in a topic.
  • Email – If you expect discussion on an issue, don't send it by email.
  • Messaging – Always assume that whatever you say by IM will be seen by others.
  • Shared filing space – Establish the owner of any reference document and a process for keeping it up to date.
  • Discussions – Aim to close as many discussions as you open.
  • Audio/web conferencing – Direct your questions to nominated participants.
  • Video conferencing – To appear natural, you must practice unnatural acts.

No, the latter is not a reference to the goat and the Shih-Tzu that the MD keeps in the videoconferencing room, it's things such as looking at the camera, not the screen, and exaggerating your expressions to give greater feedback. Gurning lessons all round, then. ®

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