Old Collaboration Habits Die Hard: Why Folks Use E-mail Over SharePoint

Ann All
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Six steps you can take to improve collaboration in your company.

Old habits, as we all know, die hard. This is especially true of ingrained business processes.


I suspect that's at least partly why most folks cling to e-mail, even though almost everyone can agree it falls short as a collaboration tool. I wrote about this several months ago, citing a study conducted by All Collaboration and Elearning Media Group that found cultural rather than technological shortcomings were seen as the biggest barrier to successful collaboration.


More proof of this is seen in a uSamp survey of business e-mail users commissioned by Mainsoft, a company whose products include tools designed to help companies derive value from Microsoft SharePoint, one of many collaboration solutions designed to reduce companies' reliance on e-mail. The survey found 83 percent of e-mail users prefer to e-mail documents back and forth, instead of uploading the document on a public folder, shared drive or workspace. More specific to SharePoint, 80 percent of e-mail users with SharePoint access continue to e-mail documents back and forth, instead of sending document links and using library services for check-in, check-out and version control.


Writing on the Distracted Enterprise blog, Mainsoft employee Jenna shares some of the reasons survey respondents cited for using e-mail: fastest option, mentioned by 76 percent; what they know best (44 percent); and all business contacts are in e-mail (36 percent). And the top three SharePoint dislikes: They don't know how to use it; It takes too long/is too cumbersome to use; It's difficult to find documents once they're uploaded.


Most of these reasons have to do with habit. E-mail being the quickest option is directly related to users' familiarity with it. No one likes to struggle through the steps of an unfamiliar process if they have another, better-known way of achieving the same result.


Readers chimed in with some great comments on Jenna's post. Writes Keith Suckling:

The whole intranet collaboration thing seems to be focused on what it can do-and it can do really cool things no doubt. Adoption isn't about it what it can do though. What I see in the resistance from others is that they are already flowing along quite strongly on a path (ie. Emailing attachments to 'collaborate'). Email replaced fax and snail mail because it became easier and faster than those options. Collaborative intra/internet tools will have to do the same thing. It must be possible though-look at the communication, sharing and 'collaboration' through Facebook and other social media tools.

While I think he's got a point about social technologies offering a more intuitive experience than enterprise collaboration tools like SharePoint, I wonder how many folks found e-mail easy to use before it became a ubiquitous tool. I suspect a good number of folks struggled with it initially but were motivated to keep trying because it made communication so much easier and more efficient than existing options.


Tim Smith shares his experiences with a deployment of Salesforce.com, noting it took nearly three years "to have Salesforce be embedded into the natural way of doing work." The organization stuck with it, he writes, because senior leaders drove the initiative. SharePoint likely won't garner similar executive support, he says:

... Does SharePoint fail to appeal to the highest levels of the organization? From my previous example, a half-hearted attempt to deploy Salesforce would have resulted in failure. But, in the executive's eyes, Salesforce had very tangible benefit (their almost real-time view of sales activity was a powerful and real benefit). SharePoint's benefits, from an executives view, may be perceived as diluted/intangible, as risky-therefore any deployment project would be left to the lower ranks of the organization-leaving the executive to play the role of potential critic or being indifferent about its success. SharePoint though, is one of those products that require a huge push to move the cultural norms. SharePoint might suffer from being in this 'no-mans land' between being critical enough to the executive, or being a simple enough addition to current working practices.

Earlier this year I shared some tips on how to get folks to use wikis, another collaboration tool. I think some of the suggestions could also be used to encourage people to use SharePoint. A couple I especially like:

  • Host a brainstorming session in which users are encouraged to suggest content that can be housed on wikis (SharePoint). This will help ensure information is useful and give users a sense of ownership.
  • Managers should perform regular quality checks to ensure information remains accessible and relevant to employees.
  • Host an event in which power users can discuss and demonstrate how they use wikis (SharePoint), spreading best practices and new ideas among different teams.

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