Today’s workspaces are more flexible than ever before. It is not uncommon for professionals to work in co-working and shared office spaces, rather than private offices and many are even able to work from their homes, running their companies virtually.
Granted, you have to be a fairly reliable person to manage working remotely, but the true secret behind making this feasible is technology. Online collaboration tools have made it possible for teams to work effectively with each other and other companies from anywhere in the world.
Not sure what online collaboration tools are? Basically, they are internet-based tools (software) that help people communicate with each other efficiently. Sounds kind of simple, but these tools have a lot of horsepower behind them. They can really improve the flow of organization in a company. And they aren’t just being used by virtual offices; any company can benefit from using online collaboration tools.
Let’s take a look at some benefits of using online collaboration tools:
- Communicate with other professionals anywhere in the world.
While occasional in-person meetings are still utilized, it has become common practice to conduct business meetings through online video chats and web conferencing. The convenience of this is obvious. Professionals can save time and travel expenses by simply using their computers at the location of their choice.
As with all of the tools we are mentioning here, there are a lot of choices available to use. Some are free, some are pricier. It all depends on your need and purpose. If you manage a company with team members who work remotely from various locations and you want a simple tool to connect with them daily, you could try using Skype. Skype is a free tool that allows for audio and video calls. Up to 25 people can be on the same group audio call and up to 10 people on a video call. If you need to accommodate more people, you can get Skype for Business, which starts at a very low $2 per user/month. Skype also integrates screen sharing, so participants can view one another’s computer screens.
If you think you would benefit from a more robust tool with extra add-ons, you could try something like Onstream™™ Media or Unified Meeting® 5. These two tools and others like them offer the same as Skype and more. Members can share screens, desktops, and documents to allow for seamless interaction and information sharing, and make live, real-time annotations. Another benefit to video conferencing tools like these are that you can find one with the option of recording the meeting. These can then be used for later reference or as recording training videos and tutorials for clients or employees.
- Access shared documents anytime, anywhere.
Paper documents are becoming a rarity for a lot of businesses. Uploading documents to the cloud allows for all parties involved to have constant access -again, from anywhere in the world. All they need is internet access. Of course, this can be done through email, but when you’re working with multiple team members or extensive projects, email is not convenient at all. Imagine trying to send a 52 page document through email or 100 photos for an editing team. You’d have to send them in several separate emails since most providers have size limits on email attachments.
Online tools like Dropbox and Slack are great for sharing with team members, clients, or anyone really. You can upload and download documents, PDFs, images, presentations – you name it. Docs can be categorized into different folders or “channels” to keep teams and projects organized. You can also leave comments on files for reference or other viewers. Depending on which tool you use, you may also have the ability to send real-time instant messages. Most document sharing tools online offer free versions. You will likely have a limit on storage size, but if needed, you can upgrade to paid packages.
- Track and manage projects.
Other types of collaboration tools are great for project management. These tools can be a life-saver, even for the one-person business! Already have a project manager at your company? Well they should probably be using one of these to assist with their job. Project management tool’s features can vary greatly, but you will likely at least want the following to get the most out of it:
- Create, add, and edit new projects and tasks within that project
- Set and track timelines and budgets per project
- Assign tasks to team members
- Prioritized to-do list
- Upload and download shared documents
- Share notes and send messages on individual tasks
- Track, export, and email invoices
- Track, edit, and add contacts, clients, and team members
- View and export reports
So rather than relying on memory or paper tracking, you can use these tools to group and store all of your company’s projects. Team members can all be on the same page and held accountable for their individual tasks in the project. And tracking time spent and budget allocated and used is easy peasy. Not to mention, it is all there for as long as you want to keep it there. You decide whether to archive or discard past projects.
Basically, what you are gaining from this type of tool is the ability to manage a task from start to finish. If you’re looking for something super simple, Trello is a free card-based system (like Pinterest) that provides the basics. More extensive tools like Asana or ProWorkflow will offer more of the features listed above.
Consider how online collaboration tools could help your company. Maybe you’ve been eager to hire a field expert, but the perfect person for the job lives in London. These tools make what would otherwise be a hopeless situation, completely feasible. Unless your business requires daily in-person interaction, you can easily manage this relationship with video conferencing and cloud document sharing. Don’t let distance come between your dream team!
These tools are really a new way of running business. Many of them offer free trial versions, so try some out and find the ones that work best for your company’s needs. Not everyone wants to adapt to new technology, but these tools make running your business smoother, and to many professionals, that is worth the learning curve.
*we are not endorsed or paid to mention any of the companies listed above. They are simply there as a starting point for your own research!