Today’s office is not what it used to be. Today’s office sometimes does not even exist. The early 2020s vastly accelerated existing collaboration technology trends towards remote and hybrid work, multi-state operations, and redefining the office as a nebulous space.
In this environment, it is a lot harder to just walk down the hall. The person you need to talk to may only be in the office on Wednesdays. Or they might be a fully remote worker doing the digital nomad thing in Barbados.
Remote work has increased the value and the need for technological collaboration tools. Everyone from business owners to new hires needs to understand how these tools work and information technology needs a strategy for ensuring that your business has the tools they need.
What is Collaboration Technology?
Collaboration technology is software designed to improve team communication and collaboration among people. It is also called collaborative software or groupware.
Collaborative technology made the transition from play to work quickly, however, and the first commercial projects showed up in the 1990s with tools such as Lotus Notes. The projects resulted in early predictions of the change of the office to a hybrid system.
So, collaboration technology can be as simple as an internal chat room or as complex as systems that bring together chat and voice communications with shared documents, conferencing, and workflow and knowledge management systems.
How Does Collaboration Technology Support Your Business?
So, why does your business need virtual collaboration software? There are several reasons why collaboration technologies help your business thrive:
Improved Employee Productivity
Even in 2019, studies showed that, for example, companies that promoted collaborative working were five times more likely to be high performing.
Increased Accessibility of Resources
The average knowledge worker spends 2.5 hours daily gathering information instead of analyzing it. Collaboration technology ensures that the data is available and reduces siloing, eliminating much of that wasted time. Even for workers who deal with information less, having everything centralized saves time and means people are not answering requests for documents.
Attracting and Retaining Talent
Moving forward, many prospective employees will continue to consider hybrid and remote work availability when selecting a new employer. Companies will find it harder and harder to get the best talent if they insist on five days in an office, especially if their headquarters is in a city with a high cost of living. Younger employees are notably less willing to accept the “commute leash.”
Reduced Travel Costs
While some travel for meetings and conferences provides a good ROI through desirable networking opportunities, other travel has proven unnecessary. Half-day training can quickly be conducted remotely, for example.
Virtual meetings mean that not everyone has to be in the office, and managers can schedule appointments based on the best day and time for everyone.
Remote work allows for the higher inclusion of people with extensive childcare duties, such as single parents or disabled people, who may find traveling to an office challenging. This means that you can access talent that would previously have been off-limits.
A well-designed collaborative environment reduces the security risks inherent in remote work. Communications can be encrypted, and VPN use becomes easier to enforce.
Additionally, it becomes faster and easier to check whether a coworker or superior sent that file attachment or requested money or information. Being able to send a quick chat note rather than pick up the phone increases the likelihood that employees will conduct required double-checks to avoid business email compromise scams.
Centralized information, easy access to supervisors and mentors, and the ability of many tools to run employees through checklists can help streamline the onboarding process. An online collaboration tool can also help onboard new employees more effectively.
Studies show that online brainstorming or “brainwriting” works better than face-to-face brainstorming. It eliminates production blocking, where the people who talk the most are dominant or outgoing, not the ones with the best ideas.
Online brainstorming also allows for a larger group. It can also be done with a level of anonymity, which reduces anxiety and encourages people to put forward their best ideas.
So, there are many benefits, and these benefits become even stronger in today’s fast-paced and virtual environment. Many companies that were doing things ad hoc now know that they need proper virtual collaboration technology.
What Tools Are Available?
One of the biggest obstacles for companies implementing a collaborative work environment is the sheer variety of tools available. Some tools serve the same purpose. The differences can be slight but potentially crucial for your specific use case.
The goal is to create a collaborative work environment that allows everything to occur within the same ecosystem. Using various ad hoc tools, as many companies have done for years, can still result in data silos.
Even worse, you could have multiple departments using different tools. Imagine that your sales team is using Teams, marketing has Slack, and development is using Discord. The very tools designed to reduce siloing are now supporting it. Thus, developing your collaborative environment using a single ecosystem is best.
Microsoft offers some of the best remote collaboration tools out there, so their ecosystem is a good choice, especially as you are almost certainly already using their products. This reduces the employee learning curve and provides a consistent user interface that can increase productivity.
So, let’s talk about Microsoft’s workplace collaboration tools and how they can help your business.
You’re wrong if you think Microsoft Teams is just a video conferencing software. Secure video conferencing is a huge part of the Teams platform, integrated with chat and voice call functions.
However, Teams also provide facilities to share documents and files easily. Cloud-based storage is included for free. Additionally, all data is encrypted at rest and in transit. You can attach documents in the chat, call from the same window, or schedule a meeting without leaving.
Microsoft 365 Business Basic and Standard includes Teams, so if you are already using Microsoft Office, you already have Teams. The Standard version also provides webinar hosting for presentations and training and the ability to manage customer appointments.
You can create Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents from the Teams interface. They can then be shared immediately and will become collaborative documents. This eliminates most “versioning” issues where somebody accidentally erases your work because they pulled up an older file version.
Teams come with a mobile app you can use from anywhere, including traveling.
For organizations for whom Teams is too basic, Microsoft offers SharePoint. SharePoint also allows you to create websites from within the interface, meaning everyone can collaborate on the website and put out the right shared message.
You should consider SharePoint if you need a high level of customization, including customization of the site and UI for each department. It allows you to share your files, data, news, and other resources. It provides a fully collaborative work environment with a searchable internet, lists and libraries, and access to Power Automate and Power Apps. This makes for a much more powerful way to develop workflows.
SharePoint integrates with Yammer for chat and video chat. Because SharePoint is so powerful, they also offer training on how to use it and access the various development tools.
It’s reasonably priced on its own or as part of Office 365 E3, which also includes Teams. Many companies find SharePoint helpful in sharing resources, but Teams is better for planning meetings.
The third of Microsoft’s major collaboration tools is Yammer. Yammer is an internal social media network that allows larger organizations to build communities, accept feedback and propagate news.
Yammer allows for town halls, company meetings, and training.
One advantage of Yammer is that it works for external collaboration with contractors, vendors, sister companies, etc. For highly public-facing companies, this is a strong advantage. Customers can use Yammer instead of Facebook, which helps ensure that your conversations and collaboration remain private, not sold to advertisers.
Docs, photos, and videos can be tagged onto conversations or threads, helping them stay in context. Office 365 E3 includes Yammer. However, Yammer is often poorly adopted. If you choose to use it, it is important that leaders and managers become active on the platform and set an example for how team members can use it.
There are other collaboration environments you can use, but Microsoft has the advantage of being tied into the apps you and your employees use every day and understand.
The Future of Collaboration Technology
The abrupt pivot to working from home in March of 2020 helped push integrated solutions over the ad hoc ones often used before and accelerated the development of collaboration technology. With companies forced to think and innovate on the fly, they developed new solutions.
But what of the future?
Remote and hybrid work is undoubtedly here to stay. While some employees have returned to the office, many others have not.
Companies will likely invest less in physical real estate and more in cloud costs. Physical offices are being redesigned. Hybrid work allows for more hot-desking, where two or three employees share an office on different days, reducing the amount of space needed.
Combined with fear of infection, this will likely result in a significant reduction in the infamous cubicle. Meanwhile, newer offices are getting huddle rooms designed to allow small groups to work together.
The next step is to move towards more hybrid meetings. Currently, it is a challenge to, for example, have three members of a panel in one room and the fourth in another country. However, that is likely to change.
The Future of the Future: Holoportation
Ultimately, the technology currently being developed by NASA for communications with the space station, namely holoportation, will allow the fourth presenter to “sit” with the others seamlessly. (Incidentally, Microsoft is now working on a solution for this). Holoportation works by scanning the person, compressing the data, and transmitting the resulting 3D model into the meeting space.
This is only one example of how virtual and augmented reality might change collaboration in the future.
The other transforming influence is AI. For example, AI meeting transcriptions and captions are moving from a near joke to usable systems. This improves accessibility and helps people by providing transcripts to refer back to.
Algorithms could eventually send people customized minutes. AI data mining of collaboration tools can help managers understand exactly how their remote employees work together, who is talking to who, and how employee networks form and support (or interfere with) business.
Collaboration Technology, the new Digital Transformation
Right now, however, the collaboration tools we already have are vital to employee productivity. As work becomes ever more remote and distributed, as meetings move through virtual and hybrid spaces, having a proper collaborative work environment moves from a luxury to a necessity.
If you need improved online collaboration tools, contact IncWorx today. We can help you select, set up, and train on the Microsoft collaboration tools that are right for you and your company and take advantage of the massive advantages in productivity, security, and cost reduction that come with them.