What is collaboration technology?
What are collaboration tools for business?
Humans have always worked together to achieve more than they can alone. Sometimes a task simply requires more than one person to complete. There are always two people holding stop/go signs, for instance. But at other times, particularly when creativity or problem-solving is required, it is different skills and experiences that will produce the best result.
So what’s wrong with just getting the right individuals together for a meeting? Well, nothing. And, of course, that’s still going to happen. But with an increase in flexible working and a growing desire by businesses and their clients to form virtual teams to achieve a goal, face to face meetings are not always possible. And that’s where the latest raft of collaboration tools fill the gap.
These collaboration tools fit into several categories.
If we can’t sit in the same room to discuss something, or pop over to someone’s desk to get the answer to a question that’s stopping us move forward, what can we do? There is still a role for phone calls and emails, of course. But increasingly, we’re finding that people are recognising that these tools have downsides. Like it or not, if we fail to recognise that ‘millennials’ don’t like or are accustomed to using these channels, we’re going to alienate them. Secondly, from an organisational point of view they have limitations. Inboxes can become silos of information without copying in all and sundry and as for phone calls, no automatic record of what was discussed is created at all.
The latest ‘unified communications’ tools (awful term, but it is one you’ll hear) incorporate voice video, desktop sharing and instant messaging. They also show ‘presence’, i.e. whether someone is currently busy or not. Typically, all of these services can be provided seamlessly wherever an individual is, as long as they have an internet connection. Artificial intelligence has developed to the extent that accurate transcriptions of voice and video calls can be created and stored. And of course, these are searchable, alongside files and instant messages.
We got used to sending files via email to other individuals to review and maybe add a contribution. This often led to different versions of the same document and wasn’t always very productive. Collaboration tools can be used by individuals to work on documents at the same time – even when those individuals are on the other side of the world. Each person seeing the changes being made by the other in real time.
As well as long-established file types such as documents and spreadsheets, ‘digital ink’ is increasingly being used to whiteboard ideas and designs.
When working on a project, activities need to be allocated and progress should be visible to all participants. Planning and project management tools can help with this. And sometimes, you may be in a situation where you don’t know who has the skills or knowledge to help you out. Some of the collaboration tools allow users to maintain a searchable profile, with skills, projects they’ve worked on before, education etc.
Why use collaboration tools for your business?
Collaboration tools provide the platform to work together in a world where we are not necessarily in the same place. Work together on a marketing creative when your designer is two counties away. Develop your budgets with your area manager whilst she’s grabbing a Starbucks at a Motorway Services. This sort of collaboration enables flexible working and provides a shortcut to productivity gains.
It also resolves some of the issues associated with working flexibly – notably a feeling of isolation and being left out of the social ‘loop’.
Over time, the information resource in the organisation grows. Call transcripts, instant messages are all added to the already searchable files. Layered on top of this are project plans and contact skills and experience. Providing a rich knowledge base from which to pull.
Our top collaboration tools for business
It sometimes feels as if a new collaboration tool comes out each month. And everyone has their favourites. Many of them fulfil part of picture, but do not cover all of the areas covered in this blog.
Trello and Monday.com cover the project planning piece well.
Slack is increasingly popular for those wanting business-grade instant messaging.
Asana and Wrike specialise in document collaboration.
And building on its social platform, even Facebook has dipped its toe in the water with Workplace.
But only a few organisations have a toolset which addresses the entire vision. And, as you’d expect, they come from the tech giants.
In 2011, Microsoft launched Office 365. Since then, the product has evolved from being a way of subscribing to the Office suite, document management (using their SharePoint collaboration, file hosting, and document and content management platform) and hosted email (using Exchange). Today it is a full web-based collaboration platform, combining unified communications with real-time collaboration on files.
Google has the G Suite, which can trace its origins back to 2006. It comprises Gmail, Hangouts (Google’s unified communications tool), Calendar, and Google+ for communication. This is paired with Drive for storage and the Microsoft Office competitor – Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms and Sites.
Here at Flex, we’ve decided to exclusively specialise in Microsoft’s Office 365 suite. The key reason for this is the product’s heritage. Whilst the G Suite has been ‘beefed up’ from a set of consumer products, Microsoft has ‘dumbed down’ their enterprise toolsets. So we just feel that the bulletproof, tried and tested genetics of Office 365 trumps the slightly more user-friendly, cheaper background of G Suite.
If you’d like to discuss how Microsoft Office 365 could help your organisation collaborate more effectively, please contact us.