In recent years, the word “collaboration” has been thrown around more than ever before, especially in marketing and other, similar areas of the professional sector. Collaboration tools are indeed one of the most important aspects of any successful business strategy, and the fact is, collaboration means something different for every organization. This depends heavily upon products and services rendered, overarching goals, and more. At its core, collaboration occurs when two or more members of a team work together to solve problems and achieve a common goal.
If you want your business to get the most out of collaboration tools, consider the reasons why you want to introduce collaboration in the first place. There are many benefits that come along with collaboration when successfully pulled-off, including the following:
- Saved time – Time is of the essence in any industry, and the more you can save, the better. When employees collaborate with each other, they’re saving your organization time by achieving the end goal in a much quicker fashion. Time is money, after all, and the more you can save by embracing collaboration tools, the better.
- Strengthened team relationships – In many ways, your team is like a family unit. Building effective working relationships between members, then, is important. Collaboration tools are an excellent way for team members to become more comfortable with the concept of working together to reach a common goal. In this way, it serves a dual purpose that can benefit your business.
- Improved project management – Managing a project or team can be more difficult a process than many people give it credit for. Collaboration tools are a great way to ensure you’re getting the most out of your team, as they improve communication and keep easily avoidable mistakes at bay. When people work together, the chances that things will fall through the cracks dissipate immensely.
- Better organization – It’s easy for things to go missing when you’re in the middle of a project, which can result in headaches and wasted time. Better organization is something that every company should strive for, even if things are already going well. In many cases, collaboration tools are the best medicine when you’re trying to improve organization.
The levels of collaboration in your organization.
As you might expect, there are a few different levels of collaboration, each of which has unique effects on your business. Learning how to collaborate effectively is all about understanding how to go about the process. While there are countless “sub-levels” of organization to consider, it can be helpful to internalize aspects of the three most common options.
- Team level – At it’s core, collaboration is about a small group of individuals (usually between two and ten) working together to solve a problem. This is often referred to as “team level collaboration,” which tends to be the most intense, as well as the most effective. When a team collaborates on a project, members can rest easy knowing they’re part of a small group and only have to focus on what’s going on inside of it.
- Community level – Once you start moving past team level collaboration, you’ll typically find yourself operating at the community level. In modern businesses, this typically involves working with others in your social community to improve things on a larger level. This could include customer service, the UI of your social space, or content creation strategies. While a community is typically larger than a team, it’s one step below the network level of collaboration.
- Network level – If team level collaboration is viewed as a micro approach, network level collaboration is macro. Network level takes into consideration not only your organization, but the outside individuals who are directly tied into what you do — clients and customers, for example. The major difference between community and network level collaboration is that the former typically involves only internal employees, while the latter serves both internal and external audiences.
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 just how much has changed.
In the past, collaborating with others on a project typically meant being in the same room as everyone else. While in-person collaboration tools certainly have their advantages, they come with logistical issues that often make things more difficult than is necessary, especially for companies who work with remote employees.
Today’s solution to this issue is known as online collaboration tools, and they’re one of the biggest game-changers to come along in years.
What is online collaboration?
To put it simply…
Online collaboration is a collection of processes and tools that allow colleagues to interact with each other (as well as with partners and customers) via web-based systems to share information and work towards a common goal.
Online collaboration tools for business are one of the best ways for companies with remote employees to streamline workflow, and it’s catching on rather quickly in the business community at large.
Effective at improving efficiency, productivity, and innovation, online collaboration combines aspects of social media, traditional business, and crowdsourcing to create an experience unlike anything else.
What does online collaboration do for business?
If online collaboration is catching on for any reason, it’s because of the business benefits in many different industries.
For one, it allows remote workers to communicate and work together in a streamlined manner. This not only improves efficiency, but also lets employees get to know each other, work in harmony, and build relationships.
Online collaboration is progressive in nature, making it an ideal platform for forward-thinking businesses.
It fosters the creation of ideas that might not otherwise come to fruition, nips potential issues in the bud, and generally creates a more enjoyable, stress-free work environment.
For businesses that operate outside of a centralized location, online collaboration tools are a dream come true.
The 3 crucial elements of online collaboration.
As you might expect, online collaboration relies on a variety of factors to work at peak performance. While there are many viewpoints on what goes into effective online collaboration, it’s helpful to look at things in terms of three crucial elements — people, processes, and technology.
Element 1: People.
The first, most crucial element of online collaboration to take into consideration is people. Without people, the entire concept of online collaboration would fall apart on every level. The people involved in a particular project are the true source of innovation, fueling collaboration with ideas and knowledge.
There are a few constants associated with this particular element. Among the greater category of people, it’s typical for the following pieces of the puzzle to be in place —
- A skilled leader – Just as every ship needs a captain, online collaboration doesn’t work efficiently without having a skilled leader around. Leadership usually comes in the form of a single person or a small managerial team who exhibit the skills necessary to guide a team through a project. While leadership skills are essential, they’re not enough. An effective leader will have at least some experience with online collaboration tools, perhaps having worked as part of a team via social intranet software at one point or another.
- A competent team – Having a solid leader around is surely important, but it’s not enough. A competent team is essential to getting the most out of online collaboration tools, comprised of employees who have the ability to adapt their style of work without issue, and are also able to contribute ideas and information to move a project forward. All team members should exhibit strong communication skills as well as the ability to work well with others. In many ways, choosing the right team for online collaboration is not unlike staffing a traditional business, 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 give it their all and truly add to the conversation. Whatever the goal is, it’s important that it be outlined ahead of time so everyone involved can remind themselves of what they’re working for. A goal is only achievable if it’s clear and present.
- Trust – Trust is the thread that binds everything together in online collaboration. Many instances cause the people involved to rely on each other to a certain degree, especially with specific tasks. Building trust can be difficult when in-person communication isn’t always an option, which is why it’s so important to focus and never neglect aspects of fun/personalization with online collaboration.
Element 2: Process.
Process, the second element of online collaboration, is a bit less tangible than the first, but not exactly more difficult to understand. In many ways, process describes workflow, taking into consideration everything that comes with working in a socially collaborative environment. In general, those who are used to a typical business model will have to change their process slightly to facilitate collaboration, especially when the majority of which is done online.
When adjusting one’s process, there are a few things that need to be kept in mind. Hitting on all of the following will ensure that you’re getting the most out of online collaboration, all the while not having to think too hard about it —
- 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 set in place, priorities need to be outlined. Each person who is part of a team will likely have their own unique set of priorities, although it’s not uncommon for certain individuals to handle similar tasks. As with having a solid strategy to follow, properly outlined priorities will keep you from straying from the path you set for yourself.
- Data sharing policies – No one wants to police members of their team, but it’s always important to remember 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.
Element 3: Technology.
The third and final element of online collaboration is technology. One thing that often gets overlooked is the importance of technology to modern collaboration. Without it, collaborating with colleagues on the other side of the planet would be next to impossible. Online collaboration tools can be a bit daunting at first, but if you’ve ever used a social media network, you’ll likely have no difficulty diving in.
There are a few different technological platforms that can foster online collaboration, including —
- Social intranet software – Without social 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.
Online collaboration tools are becoming more and more commonplace as time goes on and is a natural evolution from the forums, information silos, and other platforms that came before it.
- Teleconferencing / chat apps / VoIP – Social intranet software may be the jumping-off point for online collaboration, but it’s not the only element that can be employed. Teleconferencing via chat apps, a VoIP phone system, or other tools is 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.
Most businesses use these platforms to some extent, and some wouldn’t be able to get by without it. When combined with online collaboration tools, teleconferencing tools can be quite powerful.
- Integration with existing systems – Integrating online collaboration tools and teleconferencing tools with systems that already exist in your business is important. Sales, inventory, and other existing systems can sometimes get lost in the shuffle when transitioning to an online collaborative environment, but they don’t have to. More often than not, it comes down to choosing the right type of social intranet software, as not all options allow you to consolidate everything into one spot.
Online collaboration tools for business in the modern age: Social intranet software.
Collaboration has always served an important role in professional settings. In the past, employees were typically required to work within the same office in order to collaborate. Phone and email certainly made things easier for remote employees, but these were not enough. As technology progressed, a more effective group of solutions quickly made its way to the forefront — social intranet software with online collaboration tools.
Social intranet software comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes, but the cornerstone of just about every option is increased collaboration abilities. With a social intranet’s online 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 social intranet software 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.
Most social intranet software 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.
Well-designed social intranet software can replace email and other commonly used vehicles for communication, 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.
Great social intranet software comes 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.
Using tags and other variables, social intranet 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.
Personal and group calendars are inherent features in most social intranet software 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 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. Online collaboration tools are also a growing need for many small businesses.
How though can you tell if your business is ready for online 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, 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.
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, wikis, blogs, and discussion forums are a valuable knowledge base and most employees use them to store literally everything they need.
Being able to search content authored by the internal team is key to improving productivity. Online 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 online collaboration tools are 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.
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 social intranet 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.
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 social intranet software with online 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 collaboration tools found in Communifire can greatly enhance a project’s speed of delivery and communication.
You can keep and monitor all your documents, tasks, and conversations together and have everyone on the same page with activity stream updates. Sharing 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 online collaboration tools 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 social intranet software – With so many different options to choose from, finding social intranet software 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.
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 collaboration tools. Even if you have the best social intranet 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 social intranet software 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.
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 – Social intranet 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, 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 intranet software with collaboration tools 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 social intranet software with collaboration tools, 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 for true collaboration 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 collaboration tools is much more than Facebook.
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 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 platforms 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.
The proliferation of personal devices 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.
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 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 intranet software with collaboration tools 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 social intranet software is well positioned to do exactly that.
Online collaboration tools transform work from being a place to being about access. With a computer and a browser, including mobile devices like the iPad, you are still plugged in and are able to receive and post updates.
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 in social intranet software are well positioned to meet the needs of both worlds and get to the next phase of workplace collaboration.