How can collaboration tools make us more productive?

Teamwork Cogs


If your business relies on teamwork then you should be looking for better ways to work together.

The term collaboration has become another one of those Web 2.0 buzzwords, but it simply revolves around the age-old concept of working effectively as a team. In the internet age, collaboration combines online communications with powerful tools that let us see what others are doing and even work together on documents.

The communications aspect of collaboration is often referred to as Unified Communications. It combines email, instant messaging, voice and video into the one platform, making it easy for staff to jump between them depending on which is the best tool for the job. The instantaneous nature of voice and video is best for some conversations, but other times the asynchronous nature of instant messaging and email is more practical. For instance, Unified Communications allows one employee to send a message through email, and the recipient employee to access that message via voice mail, text, or other medium. Unified Communications can also take advantage of Voice over IP (such as Skype) to let your business leverage the flexibility and cost savings of VoIP compared to traditional phone calls.

Another advantage of Unified Communications is the ability for staff see when team members are available, a concept known as presence. The “buddy” lists used by instant messaging services such as Skype, Google Talk and Microsoft Messenger are examples of presence—letting you know whether your friends are offline, busy or available to talk.

Presence is also an incredibly useful tool for business teams. Once staff can see the presence status of key people within your organisation, they can reduce the time they waste playing phone and email tag. Presence is particularly useful when staff are located across different offices and time zones, or if some people tend to work at home or on the road. Unified Communications makes it easy for teams to stay in contact and work effectively, while offering flexibility for those times when it’s not practical to pick up the phone.

These collaboration tools can also streamline internal decision-making processes, helping businesses stay nimble. The ability to communicate via instant messaging, voice or video can be a lot more efficient than bouncing around Reply All emails. Unified Communications also makes it easy to bring other staff members into conference calls via text, voice or video to get their input and quickly move the project forward. Some Unified Communications platforms also integrate with the traditional phone service, so you can combine mobile, fixed-line and VoIP calls in the one conference call.

As well as communicating with team members across the world, collaboration tools such as Google Docs can also let your staff simultaneously edit documents. This can offer a major productivity boost for businesses which currently email documents between staff, or share them around on USB sticks, and then struggle to keep track of the changes.

Collaboration tools often store documents on a central server and then make full or read-only access available to appropriate staff. People editing a document can see other people’s changes in real time, and Unified Communications tools are often integrated into the system so they can discuss changes. It’s also possible to track changes and easily roll back to earlier versions of the document. Storing a master copy of documents on a central server rather than on individual computers also makes life easier for staff who tend to jump between computers and other mobile devices during the day.

If your business relies on teamwork, then this new generation of online collaboration tools can help your staff spend less time on the sidelines and more time kicking goals.