SharePoint Work-Shifting: Collaboration in the Real World

SharePoint Work-Shifting: Collaboration in the Real World

By Dmitry Kagansky

There’s a great term that I came across recently that describes what is happening, not only within the SharePoint community and user base, but at organizations everywhere. That term is “work shifting.”

It implies not only that the work people are doing on a regular basis is changing, but where, when, and how they are doing it is also different.

Work shifting also implies that certain burdens are being moved to other people areas, or tools, and nowhere is that more evident than with SharePoint.

SharePoint: Hub and Embedded Platform

In the past, SharePoint has been a collaborative hub, but much of the work was done on the outside.

Now, however, you start to see true applications getting embedded directly into the platform.

Most noticeable is Microsoft Office 2013 (now Microsoft Office 365), which can be run entirely server-side.

This means workers can not only access these apps from within SharePoint, but they can do so on a variety of platforms, including mobile devices and non-Windows machines.

With this notion of work shifting, those outside the traditional corporate walls, such as partners, customers, and vendors/suppliers, are getting into the collaboration efforts as well.

Larger amounts of content are now created outside the corporate walls, and much of the sharing that is happening is often through consumer-oriented sites and services. This has led to the rise of “The Dropbox Problem.”

What Dropbox Problem?

The Dropbox Problem is a common term now referring to any consumer-based service (including email and file sharing) where corporate data is being shared without any corporate controls.

Organizations have been slow to respond to this problem, but in survey after survey, acknowledge that it’s a growing concern.

So what is a SharePoint shop to do? How do you allow users to work shift and be more productive, yet still maintain control over the content?

Unfortunately, there is no single right answer.

Many of the traditional tools in network and access management aren’t capable of handling the new requirements of work shifting. At the same time, many of the cloud and mobile solutions available on the enterprise side are also siloed.

Bring Employees into the Conversation

The thing to keep in mind is that organizational concerns haven’t changed, but users now have many more options available to them.

With the whole notion of work shifting, employees need to get brought in as part of the solution.

This means that the first and most important step is to make sure that users are properly trained.

It may sound obvious, but training doesn’t have to be a session in a training room.

Training simply means that users are made aware of the concerns that an organization has about its content. It can be through a set of emails, or a conference call, and should also include an update to any organizational policies about remote access.

Next, policies need to be reviewed and updated on a regular basis, and with input from employees. There’s no point in establishing draconian policies that employees will ignore and seek to bypass.

Enroll them in the process of defining policies, and let them know that you want to make them more productive, but you also need them to be more aware of the dangers.

Also, be sure to survey them and find out what devices they are using for work.

I recently asked IT for logs from our own organization about mobile device usage, and found that users are accessing content with everything from Windows and Macs, to iPads, and even Chromebooks. Microsoft has adapted SharePoint (and, by extension Office 365 and the corresponding web apps), and users have caught onto that fact quickly.

Not a Single-Device World Anymore

Lastly, IT needs to reevaluate the available tools they are using to manage and monitor content and remote access.

Many of the traditional solutions organizations are using are ill-equipped to handle these new scenarios where users are using multiple devices from multiple sites.

At the same time, many newer solutions that focus on mobile devices do not take into account the variety of options that users have. Users no longer work on a single device, not even during a single session.

Can You Still Have an Audit Trail?

This post is a great example of that.

It was started in Word on a Windows machine, later edited on Office 2011 on a Mac, further edited and reviewed on an iPad using the Office web apps, and finished on a Surface RT.

All those edits were done when convenient, and when time was available to me.

But if an audit trail is needed, it is all available within SharePoint because the document remained in SharePoint.

Had my company not allowed an open BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, and required me to use corporate resources for corporate work, this document would never have made it onto the corporate network.

And that audit trail would have been lost to the organization, as I would have used an available consumer site (like Dropbox) to write it.

Collaborate to Create Secure Collaboration

So trust your employees and partners, but work with them on creating an environment that allows them to collaborate. Look at upgrading your SharePoint installation to get to the latest version, or even moving to Office 365, to allow your employees even more flexibility in how they work.

And make them a part of the control process so that the organization’s content can stay secure.

The “bad guys” are more persistent and opportunistic than ever, but technology – along with awareness and training – can still let you maintain a secure posture.

Dmitry Kagansky is Vice President of Enterprise Applications, Mobility at AvePoint. Dmitry has more than 15 years of senior management experience in developing technology solutions focused on cyber security, compliance, identity and access management, and virtualization, with that experience ranging from development and quality assurance, to data warehousing and system administration. He holds Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP) and Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certifications.

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