No matter where your employees get their work done — whether it’s onsite, at home, or elsewhere — they need to stay connected. Collaboration tools can help.
Few employees work completely in a vacuum — they collaborate with others to get jobs done. When collaboration is seamless, work flows swiftly and accurately. When it’s not, log jams occur, typically followed by frustration and mistakes. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated how challenging it could be to get work done when people were separated. It also showed us how critically important collaboration tools are.
Whether teams are distributed across the country or on other sides of the room, the value of collaboration tools has never been more appreciated. A quick check on the progress of a project that’s only a mouse click away saves time and effort. The days of phone/email tag for data and updates should be behind us. Collaboration tools put them where they belong — in the rear view mirror.
Employees need on-demand collaboration
Your staff may be onsite, remote, or hybrid, but wherever they get the job done they need to be connected. The open office floor plan of the past may have been one of the first victims of COVID-19. Social distancing replaced the trend of working in close quarters — some say for the better. While it might have been helpful to have colleagues at your fingertips, most employees need space and time to themselves for a bulk of their workday.
The challenge is to keep that “open floor plan” accessibility while offering distancing, space, and private time. Collaboration tools create accessibility-on-demand. They’re there when you need it — on mute when you don’t.
Collaboration tools create accessibility-on-demand. They’re there when you need it — on mute when you don’t.
Hybrid is trending
PwC polled 133 executives and 1,200 office workers for their United States Remote Work Survey published in 2021. Either intentionally, or by default, the workplace is shifting to some form of hybrid model: their findings verify the trend. About 1/3 of the executives polled believe they’d need less office space in the coming 3 years due to employees working remotely.
To support those workers:
- 72% are planning to invest in tools that improve virtual collaboration
- 70% will invest in IT infrastructure to secure virtual connectivity
- 64% project spending to train managers to manage a more virtual workforce
What collaboration tools offer
To keep your workers connected, collaboration tools will be more important than ever. Some are communication tools; others help teams manage projects. Shared files, calendars, and whiteboards provide information company-wide or to specific people or groups. Finding the right tool for your organization depends on its needs. Work with your teams and staff members to choose what supports their work and their need to communicate.
You’ve probably already been using some form of collaboration tool: Google documents save materials to the cloud that can be shared with others. We jumped into video conferencing and other tools overnight when workers went remote. Now that business is reworking how they work, it’s time to evaluate the tools you’ve been using, and make sure they’re the optimal applications for your needs.
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Types of collaboration tools
People hubs empower business to communicate widely or target information to individuals or groups. Collaboration hubs serve people, teams, and business leaders with applications that are widely used or highly specific.
Some offer connectivity to discuss, question, and cooperate. More than emails, texts, or calls, these tools provide instant or open access to keep the conversation going in real time.
Some teams need help managing projects. Project management tools track things such as:
- Who is assigned what portion of the task
- Who needs to contribute data or information for them to complete their assignment
- Verification of completion
Managers can check in routinely to see where the project is moving forward, where assistance may be needed, and when it’s complete.
Instant messaging tools offer employees the option to speak individually or group chat to keep work flowing. Many of these tools allow workers access through their laptop or text messaging.
Some collaboration tools allow multiple workers to import and perform work on documents live and in real time. These offer space for comments and chats and save edits automatically. Google Docs is the most common file-sharing tool: it lets workers share documents, spreadsheets, and more with others to review and edit.
Some tools are task-oriented. Managers set up to-do lists, delegate to specific employees or groups, then follow-up for completion. These allow single tasks or large stacks of work to be assigned.
Choosing the right collaboration tools
The variety of collaboration tools available is wide and growing. From the most commonly used — like Zoom and Google Docs — to the most sophisticated software, there are collaboration tools for every business.
Choosing the right tool for your company depends on need. Where are your remote, onsite, and hybrid workers running into difficulty? If it’s communication, look for tools that empower staff members to connect quickly and effectively.
If keeping assignments on track is an endless text or email thread, look for project management tools that keep everyone in the know at all times on progress, needs, and completions. For work that requires brainstorming and real time development, look for tools designed for simultaneous multi-users.
If team members need to access information, some tools let users search messages, chats, files, and links. The software finds that idea, reference, or data no matter who said or sent it, in what format, or when.
What to look for
Depending on the sophistication of your team and the application, look for tools that address specific need and will be easy to use for everyone in the group — no matter their digital aptitude.
Whatever your need, there’s probably a collaboration tool available. The next step is finding tools that are cost-effective and user-friendly for your team. Some are free, others very affordable, and others are high-end. Depending on the sophistication of your team and the application, look for tools that address specific need and will be easy to use for everyone in the group — no matter their digital aptitude.
Don’t under-buy but don’t over-buy
Look for tools that manage the task and have room to grow with your teams as they become more fluent in the application and what it can offer. Nothing is more frustrating than outgrowing a collaboration tool shortly after you’ve mastered it. The opposite is another problem: you don’t want to buy software so complex employees spend more time trying to figure out how to use it than actually using it.
Look for tools that multi-task
Find a tools that serve more than one purpose if you can. Project management tools may be very specific; some have an added bonus of instant messaging that project teams and others can use. All-in-one tools make it easier to multi-task, rather than jumping from one application to another.
Look for privacy
Not all collaboration is for public consumption. Managers may want to share thoughts privately. Make sure the tool you purchase has private access capability for conversations that are not to be made company-wide.
Save to the cloud — safely
Saving data to the cloud not only frees up bandwidth on your servers, it allows workers access to anything from anywhere. Make sure employees work hard to keep access private. Use two-way authentication passwords; remind staff to keep their phones on lock screen when not in use; and never leave their laptop unattended in a public space.
Look for compatibility
Make sure the software you choose supports your file types. Employees may access through Apple or Microsoft operating systems — either with laptops or phones. If files are not compatible you’ll run into problems. Look for software that’s compatible with all the programs you use, if possible.
Collaboration is key
Collaboration will be key moving forward — whatever the makeup of your company and teams. Even when everyone is housed in the same facility, business leaders will find staff turning to collaboration software. They’ll click first, before they trek across the office to see if someone is in the building, at their desk and free to talk. For business, any tool that boosts efficiency is worth having.