The Collaboration versus Employment Conundrum

Charlene OHanlon

Ever since the economy spiraled downward, companies have cut their workforces to the bone, trimming costs to stay lithe or, in some cases, afloat. Two-plus years later, the economy is starting to show signs of rebound, yet new jobs remain elusive. A recent study from the IT services firm Avanade may shed some light on why that is, much to the chagrin of those still unemployed.

The study, which polled 538 C-level executives on their IT plans, finds that more are turning to collaboration tools to boost productivity. In fact, a whopping 92 percent report their company's rate of technology adoption has remained steady or increased. In addition, 75 percent said their company planned to increase spending on communications and collaboration technologies.

The study didn't come right out and say it, but it doesn't take a degree from MIT to read between the lines: those new technologies companies are adopting at such a steady pace are there to replace the folks who got laid off-and to enable those who didn't get the ax do their jobs better. Unfortunately, it also signals that if these productivity tools work as advertised, those jobs are never coming back.

I can understand why a company would choose technology over manpower. It's less expensive to buy and maintain a piece of technology than it is to pay a salary and benefits for 10, five or even two employees (depending on the technology, of course). But for some situations, humans are much better suited for a job than a piece of software could ever be.

I'm not advocating companies dismiss the idea of using collaborative technologies to further productivity. Quite the contrary; I believe in the power of collaboration tools. I don't, however, believe companies should look at these technologies as the panacea to an overworked, overwhelmed work force. In some cases, it's better to hire a few more bodies and redistribute the load.

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