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4 Ways UC Services Gather Dust

In the 1989 classic baseball movie Field of Dreams, a voice whispers to an Iowa farmer, "If you build it, he will come." Likewise, businesses eyeing the use of new unified communications (UC) services such as videoconferencing, mobile video calling, and instant messaging and presence may be tempted to subscribe to the idea that, if they deploy UC services, workers will come to use them quickly and consistently.

The reality for organizations turning to UC services to boost employee communication and collaboration is that these tools often sit dormant and unused on a worker's tablet, smartphone, or laptop. However, this isn't inevitable. Businesses can develop effective strategies that drive UC adoption so that the organization and its employees reap all the productivity benefits UC offers.

Here are four reasons your employees are not using your UC services to the fullest potential, along with some strategies to increase usage.

UC that isn't unified
By 2020, millennials will comprise nearly 50% of the US workforce, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Just five years after that, the figure will jump to 75%. Millennial workers do not want to be tethered to a desk, a single office location, or even a single laptop or mobile device.

Understanding these evolving demographics of the enterprise workforce and adopting solutions that map to how your workers want to communicate and collaborate will lead to more active usage of UC tools. This starts by simplifying and unifying the offering.

The irony for organizations implementing unified communications services is that, too often, UC isn't very "unified" at all. Videoconferencing, messaging, presence, and other services are made available, but employees must use different apps for different functions. This compounds rather than simplifies communications and collaboration, and it is a significant reason employee adoption rates for new UC services remain low.

Simplifying the end-user experience is critical to spurring broader workforce adoption of unified communications. Enterprises must find UC solutions that provide a single user interface for voice, video, instant messaging and presence, business directories, and other applications -- regardless of the user's preferred device (employer-provided or BYOD), type of connectivity (mobile, WiFi, or broadband), or type of communication service connectivity (hosted or premise-based PBX).

In addition to providing users with a single view and access point for UC services, the tool should enable synchronization among devices. In the same way workers have grown accustomed to this real-time synchronization for email, usage of a UC tool will increase if all activity is synced via the cloud across all app access points (laptop, smartphone, and tablet).

Lack of mobility
UC services should be designed to improve teamwork by bringing together individuals and workgroups, and increase reachability through single-application access to communications services. Those apps need to run on mobile devices that allow for employees to work from anywhere and on any network. UC services that focus only on laptop, desktop, and office-based communications tools will frustrate an increasingly mobile workforce.

Building mobility into UC isn't just necessary for workers constantly on the move, but also for the increasing number of teleworkers whose productivity and efficiency depend on collaborating with colleagues who may not work in a traditional office.

Organizations should base buying decisions on this new paradigm. Does every employee really need a hard phone? A smartphone? Should all employees be enabled for remote office so they can work from home? Answering these questions, and realizing that one size does not fit all, will go a long way toward creating packages of functionality that will get used rather than ignored.

Lack of awareness and training
Workers must become stakeholders in the success of a UC launch, which means effectively communicating the benefits and capabilities of UC services to the workforce must begin in advance of deployment. In a 2014 Softchoice business survey, more than 77% of employees say their organization does not consult with them before selecting a new office communications tool. This is a mistake, because 72% of employees who are consulted feel their communications tools make them more productive, compared to only 54% of those who are not consulted.

In addition to ensuring awareness, organizations must also provide adequate training on UC tools. One-third of employees, according to the Softchoice survey, say they don't receive training, and among those who do, half say they get less than 30 minutes. Unified communications tools -- the good ones, anyway -- have intuitive user interfaces. However, that doesn't absolve the business of its training responsibilities. Without a proper training program, UC applications sit unused.

Not accommodating ad hoc communications
While structured weekly staff meetings and organized workgroup interactions remain firmly entrenched in today's corporate culture, the pace of business necessitates that communication and collaboration become more flexible and spontaneous. A SoftwareAdvice 2014 survey of nearly 400 employees indicated that one in four workers are using videoconferencing and conference calls, but not very often. Only 9% of respondents use these solutions frequently, while the remaining 16% use conferencing technology occasionally.

In part, closing the gulf between availability and adoption comes down to deploying videoconferencing services that match the fluid nature of how worker teams interact. It isn't just set videoconference meetings at a set time in a set location; it's increasingly ad hoc, fluid communications and collaboration that requires virtual, customizable, always-available personal meeting rooms with multi-person chat, talk, presence, and HD video -- all in one place.

More broadly, unified communications tools need to deliver a simple, easy-to-use interface that is flexible enough to support collaboration for the regular Monday morning team meeting, or if two to three individuals want to jump on a videoconference quickly.

UC deployment does not automatically equate to adoption. Today's workforce is more collaborative than ever, but the tools and the organization need to be aligned to take the fullest advantage of UC. Using unified communications needs to be seamless and intuitive across all end user devices, and flexible enough to meet the needs of the teleworker, the desk worker, the home worker, and every profile in between that represents the new way individuals work. The world is the workplace.