Online collaboration is quickly becoming embedded in the workplace, and its benefits are tangible. See what the current landscape looks like and what the future holds for collaboration tools and the future of work.
Whether in the form of working from home, teaming up with long distance partners or simply exchanging emails with an out-of-town coworker, virtual collaboration is becoming a part of our everyday professional lives. A mere decade ago, seamless real-time interactions over such distances were possible only through voice. Today, video conferencing, screen sharing and even a physical “telepresence” can be used to collaborate with high efficiency. In fact, studies have shown that brainstorming via online collaboration tools is actually more effective than doing so face-to-face¹.
Online collaboration offers many benefits, including:
Synchronicity - The ability to maintain fluid productivity across entire companies with instantaneous, complex interactions.
Momentum - The always-on nature of virtual collaboration tools and the freedom to cross time zones allows for projects to maintain momentum and for production cycles to keep moving around the clock.
Mobility - Through use of phones and tablets, these tools sit ready for use at all times so that work can be done while on the bus, waiting on an appointment or traveling around the world.
Transparency - Ease of access to shared items and living documents means a clearer picture of progress across an organization as well as the ability for edits, suggestions and comments to be delivered with speed and ease.
The Current Collaboration Paradigm
While some people worry that the shift towards virtual collaboration may result in a decrease of spontaneous personal interactions and real-world rapport building, it would be difficult to overstate just how much efficiency has been gained through the use of these tools.
Today’s heavyweight in this regard—not just in the workplace, but in academia as well as our personal lives—is the Google App suite and all of its highly versatile tools: Gmail, Drive, Docs, Hangouts, Calendar, and so on. These cloud-based tools offer a host of invaluable services that have created a reliable, fluid and highly accessible collaborative landscape. However, it is easy to forget that outside of the Googlesphere there are countless other groundbreaking tools with similarly impressive capabilities—a few of which are described below.
When it comes to project management, there are numerous tools available that showcase different strengths and capabilities to suit all types of projects and company structures.
JIRA - Software development focused project management tool that integrates seamlessly with the entire Atlassian suite of products, GitHub and more.
Wrike - Typically used by marketing agencies and places a strong emphasis on interaction, planning and personalization. Offers freemium membership.
Nutcache - Packed with features, combining project management, time management and invoicing. Also offers freemium membership.
One of the most fundamentally necessary services for online collaboration. Cloud-based file sharing has capably taken the place of the fax machines, post offices and thumb-drives that we once relied on to deliver our documents and media.
Google Drive - Integrates seamlessly with the other apps in the Google suite and offers 30 GB of free storage space.
Dropbox - A stripped down, reliable file sharing service that’s said to be faster than Google Drive. It offers 2 GB of free storage space and opportunities to earn additional space at no charge.
Box - Primarily used by enterprise-level companies. Offers many useful features such as the ability to set permissions, create groups and sync with your desktop. Offers 10 GB of free storage.
We all know that dropping a line into a chat room can be more efficient than getting up to walk across the office, but most online communication tools now offer many conveniences beyond just instant messaging.
Hipchat - Integrates into the Atlassian suite and features 106 different tools to allow for interaction with third party services in designated chat rooms.
Slack - Offers public, private and direct chatting, file sharing and the ability to integrate alerts from all social platforms.
eXo Platform - Open source social collaboration platform that provides a customized social intranet to meet your specific needs.
Tracking social media trends, engaging with the public and posting relevant content has never been easier thanks to the many handy tools that work to extract value from the noisy and evolving social media landscape.
Post Planner - Locate industry specific content and schedule it to be posted across Facebook and Twitter. Also offers status update suggestions and other features.
Buffer - Enables you to post across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest and provides detailed user engagement analytics.
Mention - A social media monitoring tool that scours all social platforms in order to provide detailed statistics and analyses specific to your company’s interests.
The Future of Collaboration
The future of virtual collaboration can be witnessed in its infancy in various pockets of the technology industry. Many companies aim to bring distant employees closer together through use of various “telepresence” technologies. Some offices have even deployed physical avatars such as the Beam Pro—a physical avatar in the form of a monitor and camera mounted on two wheels, made famous when Edward Snowden used one to present a TED Talk. It is strange to think that we may soon be familiarizing ourselves with office robot etiquette in order to coexist with the avatars of our off-site coworkers. As to how tomorrow’s workplace will look compared to today’s? It’s hard to say. With augmented and virtual reality technologies just now catching the attention of entrepreneurs and the masses at large, it is reasonable to wonder if the concept of a stationary office will soon be completely outdated.
Having seen how quickly smartphones ushered in the age of always-on collaboration tools, we now watch excitedly as wearables such as the Google Glass and smartwatches compete to take the torch and run with it. However, the Google Glass redesign currently underway is a reminder that these gadgets that aim to change the collaborative landscape will have to work hard to be adopted by consumers for everyday use. Ultimately, it will be up to those of us occupying the offices to decide which features of our workplace are invaluable and which are in need of an upgrade.