During these unprecedented times, as two of several remote-based consultants on our team, we are lucky to be able to continue to work. Communications and collaboration technologies enable us to not only work more efficiently but also to stay well informed and feel closer to colleagues.

The Most Important Benefit Of Communications And Collaboration Tech Is Higher Productivity

Forrester has completed several Total Economic Impact™ (TEI) studies on communication and collaboration technologies. In almost all cases, the most important benefit is higher productivity. Depending on the type of employee, there are several ways in which employee efficiency and effectiveness can be improved.

Knowledge workers see value in sharing information, finding documents, meeting efficiently, and gathering ideas.

In general, the impact is likely to be the highest for knowledge-based employees, in large part because much of their role is based around finding, using, and sharing information. Not only can the number of in-person meetings be reduced, but the associated time in travel, preparation, and follow-up is also brought down. These types of technologies can also make finding information much easier; collaboration technologies, for instance, enable chat and feedback in the same place as where documents are shared, saving the need to search through emails, go to shared folder links, and update spreadsheets. Crowdsourcing is also a very valuable capability, enabling anyone to post a quick question and access a wealth of colleague experience and knowledge more efficiently. (Note: Knowledge-based employees are defined as those whose primary function is to add value largely through the handling and distribution of information.)

Frontline workers see value in utilizing mobile applications to effectively complete administrative tasks.

Crowdsourcing is also very relevant for frontline employees, helping them to avoid creating new answers to common customer queries. Collaboration platforms on mobile apps also enable frontline workers to complete administrative tasks; they are able to fill in time sheets, request shift swaps, and share ideas and provide feedback on the way to and from work, saving them time and giving them more control over their working life. (Note: Frontline employees are defined as those whose primary function is to work directly with customers, employees, and the general public, providing services, support, and selling products.)

Additional efficiencies are common for all employee types, including onboarding and access to learning and development. It is increasingly possible to connect such platforms to partners such as suppliers and sales channels, enabling these interactions to also be more efficient.

Drive 10% productivity improvements with collaboration platforms.

As a result, it is not uncommon for employees to be able to save 5–10% of their time, equating to 2–4 hours per 40-hour week. For every 100 employees (50% frontline and 50% knowledge workers), that is equivalent to an annual benefit of nearly $250K after applying a 50% productivity conversion factor — a standard TEI best practice assumes that only half of the time freed up goes back to productive use.

Table 1

Improved customer experience leads to increased revenues.

Revenues and customer experience-related benefits can also be impacted by better collaboration, typically through crowdsourcing uses whereby those interacting with customers can provide faster and higher-quality responses. Innovation and new ideas can also be accelerated through improved communication. Research shows that a 1-point improvement in Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (CX Index™) equates with an upside of millions in revenues. For more information, see the Forrester report “How Customer Experience Drives Business Growth, 2019.”

Table 2

A better employee experience removes barriers and silos across the organization.

The impact on the employee experience is one that is commonly seen, though less straightforward to measure. Collaboration platforms, as long as they are implemented across the organization, enable employees to better communicate and connect and thus bring down barriers for all types of organizational silos.

Bringing down these barriers can not only lead to employees being better able to do their jobs but also improves recognition and gives them more of a voice. In turn, an improved employee experience can lead to higher retention, lower absenteeism, and increased discretionary effort. For instance, for a 100-employee organization, a 10% improvement in retention reduces costs by $50,000. If staff turnover is brought down from 20% to 18%, there are two fewer employees that need to be hired and onboarded.

All these benefits are relevant at the best of times, but during crises such as the one we are experiencing today, the value is even more so, facilitating remote working, enabling teams to continue to work together effectively, and helping to share information and spread advice and reassurance.

Costs Include Licensing, Implementation, And Ongoing Administration

Choosing to implement a collaboration platform is, of course, not without cost or risk. The TEI research shows that they are typically priced on a per-seat basis at around $5–$10 per month. There are also important implementation, administration, and support costs; in the case of our 100-employee organization, this could require half the time of one skilled full-time equivalent (FTE). The table below summarizes the total first-year costs, although this is somewhat simplified compared to a full TEI analysis.

Table 3

However, the biggest risk is that they will not be adopted sufficiently, eliminating all the potential upsides. Ensuring leadership buy-in up front is important in ensuring high and ongoing usage, as is providing training and support. Taking down alternative tools also helps ensure that everyone is using the same one, and as a result, there can also be additional cost savings; reduced email and intranet usage can also contribute to reduced costs.