Why I’m Sold on Collaboration Tech


By Adam Buteux, with contributions from Jake Mauro

You know technology is truly powerful when it begins to alter a company’s culture, and that’s exactly what we are seeing as real-time collaboration software takes hold.

We first began to notice and analyze the changes at PwC when our team used the real-time collaboration software to pull together a sales presentation to propose PwC’s services to a high-profile financial institution. Right off the bat our five-member team determined that creating, reviewing, and editing a document collectively and in real-time was the most efficient way to utilize the software. In addition, we shared a conference line so we could actively communicate about the development process. Folding in that traditional form of communication was key to the dramatic transformation we’re about to share with you.

We were all in the document at once and making changes together when it dawned on me that this software was organically and fundamentally changing the way we worked together. What was fascinating was how the behavior arose in an automatic fashion. No one told us how to adapt to this new software and way of working. It just happened. From a culture change perspective, real-time collaboration software is plug and play. Most importantly, altering the dynamics of how we work together enhanced the final product and probably played a major role in us winning the business.

From this experience with collaboration technology, we observed a number of benefits:

  • Consensus building. Making changes in real-time with everyone watching and listening significantly reduced the amount of time it typically takes to get buy-in. The matter was settled. We could move on much more quickly and confidently with everyone on the same page and not feel a need to rehash or rework. We spent less time making our cases and more time channeling that energy into advancing the content.
  • Showing vs. Telling. There was a noticeable increase in the amount of showing versus telling that enhanced the clarity of our communications. Previously, the review process entailed more junior members of PwC being told by senior leaders what edits to make and doing their best to interpret what they were told. Working with the real-time collaboration software dramatically reduced the amount of back and forth and errors in the document. Rather than routinely hunting for and correcting blemishes we used that time to do our best work. I wouldn’t want to go back to working without this invaluable feature.
  • Motivating. It was obvious that we worked better together on a personal level and our motivation remained high because we preferred this process. Simply put, we were happy so we work harder.
  • Empowering. The leaders on our team were more willing to delegate the responsibility of making changes to documents since everyone can see the changes being made and understand why. Who actually executes the change was less important and reduced the amount of hierarchy to an extent.
  • Innovation inducing. This form of collaboration cultivated fertile ground for experimentation. We were more willing to try stuff out with rapid iterations and real-time feedback. When it worked, it was obvious for all to see. And, when it didn’t, we collectively and quickly veered a different direction. Rapid-fire experimentation fueled our most inspired work.
  • Fostering Flexibility. We worked on the fly more than we ever have. Based on where the content was taking us we naturally assigned ourselves roles to complete whatever task was needed in the moment. For example, one or more of our team members would create content and get their ideas out quickly while other team members cleaned up typos and other mistakes. We reduced the rigidity between our roles so we could work faster with more fluidity.
  • Building Ties that Bind Teams. Sometimes they say when you know someone for a long time you start to act alike. Working with real-time collaboration software seemed to propel us forward in our understanding of each other and how we work. That dynamic gave rise to a more cohesive, consistent team.
  • Real-time coaching. At times the more junior members of the group would perform a task while more experienced members of the group looked on and provided real-time critiques that make for powerful teaching and learning moments. We grew together.

Real-time collaboration software is cultivating a new way of collaborating that is beyond what we’ve ever seen before in the workplace. In fact, collaboration technology is birthing new behaviors to such a powerful extent we felt a name was in order: ‘Collective Creation’. This is in reference to Kevin Kelly’s book, The Inevitable, which highlights collectivism as the next step on from collaboration.

Our definition:
Collective Creation: The behavior exhibited by a group of two or more individuals when creating, reviewing, or editing a piece of work concurrently. Characterized by a high level of communication between individuals, and individuals incorporating new information from others working on the same document in real-time.

Word of mouth is driving the adoption of the software at PwC and we suspect the same is true at other organizations as well. In part, adoption will spread rapidly because anyone can adapt to this new way of working. People naturally gravitate to this new work environment regardless of their age or level of comfort with technology. The bottom line is that it doesn’t take behavior change training to settle quickly into this new way of working. You can keep the behavior change modules on the shelf.

However, there are a number of challenges to its adoption. As with any change, resistance can come at first. And, currently some of the online tools lack some of the functionality of the traditional office suite of tools, which can be off-putting to some users. Other concerns can be traced back to risk aversion among team members. Some people are not ready to let anyone edit or update their content within a document and lose the control of version management that track changes offers.

But risk aversions can be overcome. We suggest starting small with a limited number of non-critical documents. It doesn’t take long for teams to see the immense value in this new way of working. Slowly but surely this software will change the workplace as we know it.

Is your company using real-time collaboration software? What has been your experience with it?

Image shared by Jeremy Segrott