Online collaboration refers to methods of connecting people so they can work together from different locations, and even at different times, using the internet. There is no single perfect method or solution – typically organisations will use a combination of different tools depending on their requirements. The important thing is to determine what works best for your team to help you achieve your business goals. In this article, we’ll look at some of the options available and give you advice on getting started with online collaboration.
Staying in touch with your team
With lockdown and social distancing breaking up typical office environments, companies have had to adapt and use new methods of communication and collaboration to deliver their services. To some extent, these trends were already gaining momentum in many sectors. Many organisations were already using things like online communication, e-commerce, and automation to improve efficiency, but the pandemic has forced the widespread adoption of these processes in order for business to continue.
When it comes to choosing the right communication tool you will need to consider what you will use it for and who will be using it. In other words, functionality and ease-of-use. And of course, cost. Chat platforms like Slack and Discord (other chat platforms are available…) are handy for everyday communication and offer free versions. They allow you to do things like create custom channels for different groups or projects so conversations are organised and stay relevant. If you use other tools as well, then Slack might be more appropriate as it has a wide variety of integrations available such as Google Calendar and Dropbox. Discord, on the other hand, provides channels for audio and video calls alongside text chat. Another option is Microsoft Teams which enables chat between individuals, teams, and even support for large group meetings with additional functions such as scheduling assistance, audio conferencing and screen-sharing. Teams may be appropriate if you need to communicate on a larger scale and favour other Microsoft services.
Setting up a structured process and uniform approach to online communication and collaboration is key to keeping everyone on the same page and also allows organisations to operate without the need for permanent physical space. If you are interested, here’s a link to our previous article on organisations adapting to remote working as a result of the pandemic.
Sharing files and working together
File sharing platforms have been widely used for years and are crucial for most organisations nowadays. When deciding on a platform for your team and possibly clients, you should think about the type of information being shared and with whom. Consider things like file size – amount of storage you need, security – how sensitive the information is, access levels – who can access what information, and reliability – service uptime and backups. And of course, cost. The availability of cloud storage solutions has removed the need for most organisations to have their own physical servers for data storage, which can be time and cost intensive to run.
Cloud storage allows you to easily access files and information from different devices, wherever you are. Services that focus primarily on storage, for example Dropbox, typically have tiered pricing based on the amount of storage you need. Because cloud storage is getting cheaper and cheaper, providers have started differentiating by adding extra features like automated backups and recovery, enhanced security measures and even content creation and productivity tools. On the other hand, storage is included with more feature-rich productivity suites like Google Workspace or Microsoft Office 365, however these might not be suitable for all types of organisations.
If you ever decide to switch platforms, bear in mind that it will take time to transfer content over. In any case, keeping folders and files organised in a way that everyone understands and can navigate is highly beneficial. Stating the obvious, but if you know where something is, then it’s easy to find when you need it.
Video conferencing and webinars
Video-conferencing and webinars have become an integral part of how organisations operate, especially in light of recent global events. They are used for team meetings, to pitch to clients, and to collaborate on tasks live with colleagues. Many organisations now also depend on webinars, online workshops and web-conferences for marketing and revenue generation purposes.
From a team collaboration perspective, video-calling is essential if you don’t meet in person on a regular basis. When picking a solution, think about your requirements – the number of participants per session you need, how easy it is to learn and then use regularly, and what other features it offers like scheduling, chat, and integrations. Zoom is one of the most popular platforms offering a free tier of up to 100 participants with a 40 minute time limit per meeting. GoToMeeting offers similar functionality but starts with free tier of 150 participants and no time limit. At the paid tiers, participant limits go into the thousands and incorporate advanced features like mouse-sharing and drawing tools.
Once you have your chosen solution, you should decide as a team how and when to make use of it. Video meetings help teams feel more connected when working remotely and are vital in many cases, but they can also easily be overused. The number of video-based meetings has increased rapidly during the pandemic, which Harvard Business Review suggested is leading to increased “individual career derailment, burnout, and declines in physical and mental well-being” (Cross, Benson, Kostal, and Milnor, 2021). For more advice on this ‘Webinar Fatigue’ and how to properly manage it, have a look at our article on the subject. Video calls aren’t always necessary and there are many other ways to collaborate effectively in between meetings. For example, Communities is a customisable, private social network that allows teams to communicate and share resources either side of video calls, all from one secure place.
Hopefully, we’ve given you a few things to think about when considering solutions to support online collaboration. Remember to talk through your options with your team and discuss how they’re going to be used. In the ‘Further Reading’ section below you’ll find links to some other great articles. As ever, feel free to contact us if you have any questions, we’re always happy to help.