How Online Collaboration Tools Benefit Your Business

benefits of online collaboration tools

Project collaboration, workplace collaboration, and online collaboration are huge buzzwords in the workplace, and they go hand-in-hand for remote teams and organizations, as well as companies with a physical office. So what exactly is the difference between them? Well… there really isn’t a difference in today’s world.

It’s all collaboration, and these days, they all typically involve some kind of online collaboration tool. (We’ll dig into this more later.)

Let’s start by breaking down collaboration in general.

Again, all of the collaboration types mentioned can happen in the office or while working remotely, whether we’re talking project, workplace, or online collaboration.

As mentioned before, all types of collaboration typically involve collaboration tools. These can be referred to as business collaboration tools, online collaboration tools, digital collaboration tools, project collaboration tools… the list goes on and on. Regardless of what you call it, the collaboration tool or team collaboration software that you use is important. These tools empower teams to work quicker, more efficiently, and from different locations (including across the room in the same office). Let’s take a look at the advantages and benefits of online collaboration and how to successfully implement a project management strategy that drives your goals.

Why collaborate?

If you want your business to get the most out of business collaboration tools, consider the reasons why you want to collaborate in the first place. When executed in a way that works for your teams, there are many benefits that project collaboration tools can do:

  • Saved time – Time is of the essence in any industry and the more time you can save, the more productive teams can be. When employees collaborate with each other, they save your organization time by achieving the end goal quicker. Information is readily available and team members can collaborate in real-time, no matter where they are.
  • Strengthened team relationships – In many ways, your team is like a family, which makes building effective working relationships between members important. Having a business collaboration tool is an excellent way for employees to feel more comfortable working together. Collaboration connects employees to each other and your company culture, while moving projects forward.
  • Improved project management – Managing a project and team comes with challenges. Project collaboration tools are a great way to ensure your team is making the most out of their time, while communicating effectively and keeping avoidable mistakes at bay. When people work together and have the resources they need to communicate and collaborate, the chances for major setbacks dissipate immensely.
  • Enhanced organization – It’s easy for information to go missing when you’re in the middle of a project, which wastes time and takes away from progress. Every organization should strive for strong internal organization because it gives team members a structure and keeps projects on track. In many cases, team collaboration tools are the best solutions to improve internal workflows and processes because they are designed for collaboration.

The levels of collaboration in your organization.

There are different project collaboration tiers, each with their own unique benefits. Learning how to work together effectively is all about understanding which business collaboration tools and strategies accomplish your goal. Here are the most common levels of collaboration.

  • Group level – Collaboration is all about a group of individuals working together to accomplish a common goal. Often referred to as “group level collaboration,” this type of collaboration usually involves an intimate group of key members (maybe 2 or 3 people) working together on the same project. When the right tools are in place, members can rest easy knowing information, task management, and project management is centralized in one place.
  • Team level – Next on the list is team level collaboration. Team level collaboration typically involves working with a larger group, or multiple teams, to improve initiatives on a larger level. This could include customer service initiatives, updating the UI of your social space, or the development of webinars.
  • Network level – If group level collaboration is a micro approach, network level collaboration is macro. Network level takes into consideration your organization and outside individuals who are directly tied to what you do, like contractors, agencies, clients, board members, or partners. This is the major difference between team and network level collaboration: team level typically only involves internal employees, while network level collaboration involves internal and external groups.

Grow Your Business with Collaboration Tools


The elements of online collaboration tools for business.

Take a look at how modern professionals conduct business today in comparison to just a decade ago, and it’s clear how much the workplace landscape has changed.

In the past, everyone had to be in the same room to collaborate. While in-person collaboration tools have their advantages, the ability to work remotely and have actions automated with digital collaboration tools have exponentially optimized productivity.

This is why many organizations rely on virtual collaboration tools—regardless if employees are remote or in the same office.

What is online collaboration?

project management

Team collaboration tools are one of the best ways for companies with large staff sizes and remote employees to streamline workflows. Designed to facilitate and improve efficiency, productivity, and innovation, online collaboration combines social media, traditional business, and crowdsourcing to create an experience unlike anything else.

What does online collaboration do for business?

Regardless of industry, company size, or culture, the majority of organizations need strong digital collaboration tools to manage goals.

For one, it allows remote workers to communicate and work together in a streamlined manner. This not only improves efficiency, but also lets employees work closely together as if they’re in the same room, while also building relationships.

Collaboration is also progressive in nature, making it an ideal platform for forward-thinking businesses because it nurtures innovation, reduces potential issues, and generally creates a more enjoyable, less stressful work environment.

For businesses that operate outside of a centralized location, remote collaboration tools are a dream come true.

The 3 crucial elements of online collaboration.

Online collaboration relies on a couple key factors for peak performance. We narrowed it down to three essential components: people, processes, and technology.

Element 1: People.

team collaboration - people directory

The first and most crucial element of team collaboration is people. The people involved in a project are the source of innovation and fuel collaboration with ideas and knowledge.

Whether a project team is a few people or many, here’s the typical key players involved:

  • A skilled leader – Just like every ship needs a captain, collaboration doesn’t work efficiently without a skilled leader. Leadership is usually a single person or a small managerial team who have the skills and responsibility to guide everyone. While leadership skills are essential, they’re not enough. An effective leader will also have experience with team collaboration tools, like modern intranet platforms that streamline collaboration, communication, and knowledge.
  • A competent team – Having a solid leader around is important, but it doesn’t end there. A competent team is comprised of employees who have the ability to adapt their style of work without issue, and are also contributing ideas and information to move a project forward. All team members should exhibit strong communication skills and the ability to work well with others. In many ways, choosing the right team for online collaboration is similiar to staffing new hires, although the technological element means managers need to be even more discerning in who they allow on their team.
  • A shared goal – One of the most crucial aspects of quality online collaboration is that everyone needs to be working toward a common goal. This is what drives people to be engaged and contribute meaningfully. Whatever the goal is, it’s important that it be outlined ahead of time so everyone involved can remain aligned. A goal is only achievable if it’s clear and present.
  • Trust – Trust is the thread that binds everything together in collaboration. Many instances cause team players to rely on each other, especially with specific tasks. Building trust can be difficult when in-person communication isn’t always an option, which is why remote collaboration tools are so important. Remote collaboration tools empower team members to chat with one another in personable ways. This builds trust, working relationships, and supports the entire process of collaborating.

Element 2: Process.

Process, the second element of online collaboration, is less tangible than the first. Process pertains to the workflow that team members will follow, taking into consideration all of the factors that a socially collaborative environment requires. In general, people who are used to a typical business model will have to adjust their process slightly by relying less on email and more on project collaboration tools, especially when the project is facilitated through a portal or digital workspace.

When adjusting one’s process, there are a few factors that need to be considered. Hitting on all of the following will ensure that you’re getting the most out of online collaboration:

  • Strategy – The first thing to think about when adjusting your process is strategy. Strategy directly affects how you reach your goal, and it’s especially pertinent when working with others. Having a solid plan that you can refer back to when necessary will assure you not only stay on track, but don’t run into issues along the way. Typically, strategy is outlined by whomever is leading a team.
  • Priorities – Once a strategy is finalized, priorities need to be outlined. Each person that’s a part of the team will likely have their own unique set of priorities, although it’s not uncommon for tasks to coincide with each other. A solid strategy and properly outlined priorities will keep all team members aligned and on track.
  • Data sharing policies – No one wants to police members, but it’s important to implement data sharing policies when working with people in a collaborative space. In many cases, rigid guidelines won’t be necessary. When you’re dealing with sensitive information, setting clear policies around data sharing can be an integral part of seeing a project through in the most secure manner possible.

Grow Your Business with Collaboration Tools


Element 3: Technology.

The third and final element of virtual collaboration is technology. One component that often gets overlooked is the importance of technology to modern collaboration. Without it, collaborating with colleagues in far away places would be impossible. Remote collaboration tools can can sound daunting, but with social media tactics merging with workplaces, project management tools will likely feel familiar.

There are a few technological platforms that can foster online collaboration, including:

  • Intranet software – Without intranet software, online collaboration wouldn’t be nearly as streamlined as it is today. Company intranet software serves as a portal that allows employees to build discussions, share documents, schedule meetings and perform a variety of other essential tasks.

    team collaboration software

  • Video conferencing / chat apps / VoIP – Intranet, or collaboration software, may be one of the best online collaboration tools, but it’s not the only element that can be employed. Video conferencing via chat apps, a VoIP phone system, or other audio and video tools involving screen sharing are a great way for people who are working together to actually have a face-to-face conversation without having to be in the same room.

    instant messaging - Communifire chat app

    Most businesses use audio and video calls to some extent, and some wouldn’t be able to get by without it. When combined with virtual collaboration tools, video conferencing tools can be quite powerful.

  • Integration with existing systems – Integrating online collaboration tools and teleconferencing tools with systems that already exist in your workplace is important. Sales, inventory, and other existing systems can get lost in the shuffle when transitioning to an online collaborative environment. More often than not, it comes down to choosing the right type of modern intranet software, as not all options allow you to consolidate everything into one spot.

Online collaboration tools for business in the modern age: The ultimate digital workspace.

best collaboration tools

Team collaboration has always played an important role for innovation. In the past, team members had to work in the same office in order to collaborate. Phone and email certainly made things easier for remote employees, but these were not enough. As technology advanced, digital workplace and intranet software with online collaboration tools made its way to the forefront.

Intranets comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes, but the cornerstone of just about every option is increased collaboration abilities. With an intranet’s team collaboration tools on your side, you can ensure that everyone on your team is able to work together without running into various boundaries, even if they’re located across the world. While no two intranet platforms are exactly alike, there are a number of common features that are standard among most, including:

  • Document sharing – The ability to share documents in a streamlined manner is important for those who are attempting to collaborate.

    collaboration features - document management

    Most intranet platforms feature robust document management systems, ensuring that you and the rest of your team can share essential files with ease.

  • Internal communication system – Your team needs to be able to communicate in as efficient a manner as possible to stay on task and avoid overlooking important aspects of a project.

    communication tools

    Well-designed intranet platforms can replace email and other commonly used internal communication channels, and since everything is located in one central place, finding archived conversations is a breeze.

  • Content creation platform – There are many reasons why you might consider publishing content both internally and externally – inbound marketing comes to mind.

    collaboration features - intranet blogs

    Great intranets come along with a content creation platform that allows you to publish attractive blogs and wikis with a few simple clicks, effectively bringing in a new audience and increase your organization’s presence on the web.

  • Robust search – Looking for an old document, conversation or blog post that has seemingly gone missing? It’s scenarios such as this when a robust internal search feature can make or break your experience.

    collaboration features - intranet search engine

    Using tags and other variables, online collaboration software allows you to find what you’re looking for in a quick and efficient manner.

  • Personal and group calendars – Sometimes the most difficult aspect of the workday is keeping track of meetings and other events that require your attention.

    user friendly management tool - google calendar

    Personal and group calendars are inherent features in most intranet platforms, and they can make all the difference in the world with your ability to stay present and involved at all times.

How to tell if your business is ready for online collaboration tools.

The big question today is, ‘are you ready for online collaboration tools?’ The adoption and widespread use of team collaboration tools as part of the sales funnel is well documented. For larger companies, these platforms are helping save millions of dollars in improved productivity and efficiency. Virtual collaboration tools are also a growing need for many small businesses.

How though can you tell if your business is ready for digital collaboration tools?

Here are 5 telltale signs.

You already have a socially collaborative culture.

It takes approximately 3 years for a business to be considered socially optimized. This means a 3-year journey is essential before your business is capable of measuring the impact of social from the time you start using social media services like Facebook. If your business has been actively monitoring re-tweets, Likes, Shares and other social metrics across the web this long, you are likely familiar with the whole social business culture.

To gain even more business value with social, the best online collaboration tools offer to take the game to a whole new level. Familiar features like activity streams, real-time messaging, and collaboration workspaces are now integrated with your CRM, ERP, and other systems already in place.

workflow managment - activity stream

Introducing social into existing business systems improves efficiency since it gets employees involved and enthusiast.

The need for content aggregation is rising.

Faced with the decision of whether to maintain independent standalone applications or integrate all the systems together, most businesses opt to go with the second option. It saves time, resources, and dramatically improves speed of delivery.

If you are in the knowledge business, the need for aggregating files, folders, and archives has never been as challenging as it is today. Every day, your archive of valuable information increases and the need to locate it whenever the need arises helps your business remain competitive. Chat apps, instant messaging, wikis, blogs, and discussion forums are valuable knowledge management tools and most employees use them to store literally everything they need.

content creation

Being able to search content authored by the internal team is key to improving productivity. The best collaboration tools are well-suited to deliver this capability.

Innovation is stalling.

At a time when innovative companies are challenging paradigms that have existed for decades, you can’t afford to play the catch-up game. Encouraging innovation from within is one way to stay ahead of the pack. For innovation to take place, you need a platform that encourages idea sharing and collaboration software is key to achieving this.

Most companies have decades of experience tucked away among workers. Some of these workers may have been with the company for years or decades. Their experience and knowledge is invaluable in helping you craft the next phase of your business. How do you tap into this vast resource of knowledge and encourage the sharing of ideas?

Social platforms where employees engage and interact can help monitor, collect, and act on conversations taking place across a company intranet.

disucssion forums and group chat

Experienced employees know what customer care tactics work, what competitors are doing, and what has worked in the past… or potential ideas that could transform a company. This knowledge cannot be collected in board rooms. It takes time and requires continuous engagement before they can feel free to express their ideas and views.

You have high employee turnover.

Most young employees are highly disloyal and will jump ship as soon as they get bored or a bigger, better deal falls on their laps. Despite all the perks you may provide, employee turnover, especially among the young, remains high.

Could online collaboration tools help cut down your turnover rate?

With so many young people spending massive amounts of time on social networks, they are well familiar with these platforms and enjoy interacting and engaging with others. Imagine bringing the same kind of interaction and engagement into the workplace. While it is not a guarantee that team collaboration software like Communifire could potentially reduce employee turnover, there is also a high chance that it could encourage sharing and interactions, all of which ultimately boost job satisfaction.

employee engagement - badges gamification

A lack of employee engagement has also been shown to contribute to a high churn rate. An engagement environment helps employees develop job satisfaction, it offers recognition for one’s contributions, and provides an opportunity to perform under challenging work. A proactive approach such as introducing an intranet platform with the best collaboration tools into the workplace will encourage users to engage and collaborate.

Project management is a headache.

Balancing the elements of a project can be challenging. Time, money, scope, and people need to be properly monitored and controlled for projects to be completed successfully. When working with teams, team members may not always have the needed competencies and access to information. A lack of accountability can result in finger-pointing and blame which are all unproductive. Poor communication may also result in project failure in some cases.

The digital collaboration tools found in Communifire can greatly enhance a project’s speed of delivery and communication.

task management

You can keep and monitor all your documents, tasks, and conversations together and have everyone on the same page with activity stream updates. Sharing among team members is also much more seamless, and locating information from blogs, forums, wikis has never been easier.

Tips for implementing online collaboration tools into your business.

For the most part, the concept of online collaboration makes perfect sense. Implementing it into a business that hasn’t used it in the past, however, sometimes comes along with an adjustment period.

If you’re able to internalize the following tips, you should be able to get on track with minimal interruption should a problem occur –

  • Start slow, but start now – Transitioning to an entirely new type of work environment can be a jarring process, especially for team members who have never used a business collaboration tool in the past. Starting slow allows you and your team to dip your toes into the water rather than dive in head first, which typically results in less stress and associated issues. If your team is overly confused, productivity is only going to fall.
  • Choose the right online collaboration software – With so many different options to choose from, finding a collaboration tool that is right for your company can be a trying experience. Look for that which allows you to communicate via posts/messaging with others in your space, share documents without issue, create wiki pages and blogs, and pitch ideas to the entire community (as well as smaller groups within the community). Avoid one-size-fits-all software, which cannot be tailored specifically to the needs of your organization.
  • Work with a collaboration expert – For some people, online collaboration is not only a new and exciting concept, but something to base a career on. Collaboration experts are out there, many of which have developed their own proprietary software and know the ins and outs of working in a socially collaborative environment. Having someone on-hand for at least a short period of time is one of the best ways to get a team up to speed with online collaboration and will keep potential issues from popping up.

Online collaboration can be a complex concept, involving a variety of different aspects that can take a while to understand fully. When properly used, however, it can be a beautiful thing. If you’re aware of the elements that make online collaboration what it is, you’re one step closer to getting the most out of it.

Grow Your Business with Collaboration Tools


Tips for getting the most out of online collaboration tools for business.

At this point, it should be clear just how much your business can benefit from focusing on team collaboration tools. Even if you have the best collaboration software, the right mindset, and a talented group of employees on your side, online collaboration is not without its struggles. There are plenty of ways you can improve collaboration within your organization. Here are a few examples:

  • Focus on open communication – In order for collaboration to truly work, communication has to be placed at the forefront of every project. Your team should always feel comfortable communicating about concerns or questions they may have, as well as whatever other input might push a project in a forward direction. Team leaders should do whatever they can to foster a more open environment for communication whenever possible.
  • Schedule training sessions – Learning how to use a modern intranet platform is typically an easy process, although training your team can make things even simpler. Training sessions can be completed within a physical office or remotely via teleconferencing, and they don’t have to be time-consuming. Go over the basics, and if your employees are receptive to it, schedule more detailed sessions to cover every aspect of your platform in as thorough a manner as possible.
  • Identify key employees – In every organization, there are a handful of employees who set the bar for productivity, ingenuity, and work ethic.

    team collaboration software - employee profiles

    Identifying those who are most likely to steer your company in the right direction… and giving them leadership roles… can be a great way to improve collaboration, especially if they have the skills it takes to lead a team.

  • Hold daily status meetings – Collaboration software is an excellent tool for ensuring your entire team is on the same page throughout the course of a project… but it doesn’t end there. Daily status meetings can be exceptionally helpful, as they allow employees to voice questions, comments, and concerns before the day gets going. The end result is fewer hurdles and a more effective approach to the workday, especially when there are many projects being handled at the same time.
  • Set a clear outline – No matter what project you’re taking on, you’ll always have a better chance of success if you set a clear outline for yourself and your team. Outlines ensure you don’t stray off track, and throwing one together doesn’t have to take as much time and effort as you might think. Even if it’s basic, an outline will no doubt keep you and your team moving in the right direction.

As time progresses and technology continues to influence the modern business landscape, the best online collaboration tools will only increase in both popularity and necessity. Get started now, and you won’t have to worry about your organization falling behind.

“Should I adopt a collaboration tool or just go with the public social network platforms?”

There is no doubt that public social network platforms have created a collaborative culture. People now feel the need and understand the value of online collaboration in everything they do.

On the good side, this has given birth to the social collaboration tool, as employees and customers demand the same experience at work.

On the flip side, some organizations have adopted public facing platforms like Facebook for internal collaboration, challenging IT demands for privacy, security, and compliance.

The decision of whether to adopt a collaborative intranet platform or a public platform (like Facebook) is of concern especially when an organization is limited by finances, time, and skill sets. While public platforms generally come with little to no overhead costs, are easy to implement, and pervasive, an intranet solution is built as a tru collaboration tool and goes beyond the basic online collaboration offered by public social networks.

The risks of adopting public platforms for business collaboration.

Most public social network platforms like Facebook are built with one thing in mind: to onboard as many people as possible and make money through advertising.

The idea is to share everything with everybody and only restrict when absolutely necessary. As a result, any privacy settings on such platforms are set up with the assumption that users want to share everything with the world.

The issue of privacy across social networks has been well documented. Accidental sharing and the risks of information being shared with advertisers are very real on such platforms. Privacy terms keep on being reviewed to fit the networks’ advertising models. For organizations handling client information, the issue of compliance also comes into play. It is much more difficult to implement SLAs when communication is done across social networks than within a firewalled platform.

Intranet software with built in collaboration tools are much more than Facebook.

best online collaboration tools for business - knowledge management software

Intranet software is built to provide a social layer between employees and the business. It is more versatile and includes a variety of online collaboration tools like instant messaging, document management, calendars, task management, and more. These platforms impact business in a number of ways by changing employee behavior.

Think of the improved engagement with partners and consumers that a dedicated platform affords your business. Intranet software makes it much easier to mobilize experts and stakeholders with the ability to customize and personalize public relations messages. The ability to integrate your ERP and CRM into your collaboration software will increase productivity dramatically rather than having to work with siloed systems that offer little value as standalones.

Transforming a company culture and improving specific business processes strategically is also much easier when you have a firewalled social system in place. A social approach in the workplace can help break down bureaucracy and hierarchy that hinder progress. Employees feel empowered when they are able to take action. All this is achievable when companies approach social networks as a way to build relationships in the workplace and not as a technology trend.

User expectations now demand online collaboration tools for business.

mobile apps - intranet ipad

The proliferation of personal devices, mobile apps, and different means of communications has created a new breed of users, employees, and customers with new expectations. The demand for flexible work patterns has demanded innovative approaches to improving workplace productivity.

Employee expectations.

Employees’ expectations are now a notch higher than a decade or even five years ago. They now own a range of devices with powerful applications. They expect their work and home environments to be more seamless.

Customer expectations.

Customer expectations have changed dramatically as well. They want more personalized services and they want them now. Providing instant responses to customer queries is one of the main things helping organizations stay competitive. While public platforms no doubt enable quick responses, queries quickly become unmanageable when you have to respond to an ever growing list of customers, employees, and partners.

Personalizing or customizing a public social network like Facebook is difficult … ahem … impossible. As a mass consumer product, there is little you can do in how you organize your documents and how you interact with your coworkers and teams. Search capabilities are thinly spread, and tracking down conversations becomes a headache when you have to go back to a conversation you had months or years ago. These platforms are great when you have an instant need to connect, but fail hard when you need a document management system that keeps an organized archive of your activity.

Employee engagement in the age of social media.

Employee engagement has always been a hard nut to crack. While social media may often be considered the marketing department’s foster child, it affects the entire organization and has the potential to deliver immediate solutions when implemented right. The familiarity of Twitter and Facebook makes social collaboration software friendly and easy to use. These platforms are also significant to how employees learn and interact.

Placing an ROI on adoption and user engagement is difficult and challenging, but the productivity rewards are very real. The true potential of online collaboration tools is yet to be fully realized as the question of whether an intranet solution is better than a public platform continues to perplex many organizations.

For brands and businesses, everything starts with investing in an employee culture that embodies the organization’s vision and collaboration software is well positioned to do exactly that.

Conclusion

Online collaboration tools transform work from being a place to being about access. With a computer and a browser, you are still plugged in and are able to collaborate and post updates as if you were in the office.

Your business has likely started to feel the pressure from social media. Employees may subtly demand collaboration tools in the workplace. It’s just a matter of time before your needs and demands cross paths. The online collaboration tools present in an intranet platform are well positioned to meet the needs of both worlds and get to the next phase of project management and project collaboration.

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Written by

Tim Eisenhauer is a co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.

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