Concrete Ways to use Online Collaboration Software

By James Brown posted 04-02-2013 06:49


The talk that surrounds online collaboration can get a bit abstract, with a penchant for buzzwords. For every press release or blog post that says we need to revolutionize our position as thought leaders through synergistic culture building, there's another business that signs up for online collaboration software with no real idea what they're doing. So I'd like to take some time today to talk about more concrete reasons why online collaboration software is a better choice than the alternatives.

Secure File Sharing

This is one of the most obvious needs met by collaboration tools, but why use a tool, rather than just tossing things back and forth through email, or using Google Docs?

Let's start with email. The biggest issue here is one of security. One unintentional “Reply All” click will send a proprietary document to your entire contact list. Less obvious is the fact that, according to the Huffington Post, the “Reply All” button costs companies millions of dollars each year. Five percent of emails people receive are “Reply All.” The average office worker spends 15 percent of their work day dealing with email. This works out to be a huge amount of time spent on frivolous, irrelevant messages.

As for free tools like Google Docs, they work well enough, but they aren't really designed with project management in mind. It can be a good way to share a document, but it's next to impossible to track which documents are being used for which projects. Searching and finding the right document isn't an easy task, and the conversation around the document needs to be recorded elsewhere.

Appropriately designed online collaborative tools make it easy to manage permissions, so it's clear who has access to which documents. It's simple to organize them according to projects and teams, and the documents are “versioned” so that you can see previous versions of the document, and who made the changes. The right tool will also search the full text of a document for keywords, so that files don't get lost and forgotten.

And while a tool like Google Docs may allow you to edit documents, it doesn't allow you to easily markup images with suggestions and feedback.

Shared Discussions

You already have email and telephone calls, so why do you need to add digital discussions to the mix?

The phone is great for one-on-one communications, but not one-to-many or many-to-one communications. Put simply, it's not built for team dynamics. If everybody in your team needs to know something, calling them one by one is going to be a massive waste of time. The telephone can also be a bad choice for collecting feedback from your team, especially when the numbers are large.

Email is certainly preferable, but again, email conversations are not organized by project or team. Yes, you can set up segmented email lists, and yes, you can try to keep your email organized through best practices, but the reality is that things rarely end up working out this way. Email is simple to use, but it's not simple to use as a project or team-based tool.

Online collaboration software lets you handle many-to-one and one-to-many communications easily, and in a way that is more organized and useful to business teams than email.

To Clarify Tasks

Finally, one of the most common ways that businesses waste time is through task confusion. Workers who don't know what project or task they're supposed to be working on will resort to habits that may feel productive, but actually waste time.

One thing that nearly every employee needs is a to-do list. This allows them to focus on one thing at a time so that they don't get pulled in multiple directions at the same time. A to-do list that is closely tied to project management, and that gets updated with task-dependencies any time something goes over schedule, can help reduce stress and wasted time in the workplace.

Remember, digital collaboration is supposed to make project management easier. Use it to accomplish what it's meant to accomplish, not just as a substitute for email and phone calls.

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