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Collaboration in the Workplace

9 Must-Have Features for Effective Online Collaboration

Online collaboration tools are some of the most underutilized yet most powerful tools a business can have to improve workplace productivity.

To solve today’s complex business problems, you need input from people with different skill sets and perspectives. This is why collaboration across teams (and even with clients) has become more important than ever. Advanced digital technologies have facilitated group work, making it easier for employees to connect, communicate, and create from anywhere, anytime.

In this article, we explore several aspects of online collaboration, including key components and features you should look for in collaboration tools to improve productivity.

First, let us understand the components of online collaboration.

1. Components of Online Collaboration

People are at the core of collaboration.

Establishing and entrenching any culture or behavior in an organization must start from the top.

If management does not appreciate the benefits of digital collaboration, it is highly unlikely that lower-level employees will adopt it.

Management must develop workflows and establish practices that ensure all employees can stay in sync even remotely. You must ensure everyone is communicating appropriately so they’re not producing unnecessary work or duplicating their efforts. Business managers need to facilitate remote working with online collaboration tools to minimize disruption to normal working practices.

Collaboration tools are understandably critical to the digital collaboration equation. Although there are many tools and systems available to foster collaboration, it is not a one-size-fits-all. Different organizations may have varying needs when it comes to collaboration tools.

Devices are also key players because they are the instruments we use to connect to collaboration software. Devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops are often an afterthought. However, they are important components of digital collaboration as they too are useful for employees who are always on-the-go.

Other components of digital collaboration are communication, support, and motivation. Without these, it becomes difficult to experience successful interactions among our teams and employees.

2. Online Collaboration Solutions: Must-Have Features

i. New file/document creation

Regardless of your line of business, you or someone in your organization will likely have to deal with documents frequently. Choose a digital collaboration tool that makes it possible to create new files. This should be at the very least, text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Bonus points if it can convert your files to PDF format too.

ii. Compatibility with popular file formats

Choosing team collaboration software that supports popular file formats is imperative. You do not want a situation where you create a document but cannot view, edit, or access it once you extract it from the collaboration platform to send to a client.

And vice versa. You also do not want to have important files on your laptop or received in your email that you cannot share or edit on the collaboration platform. Choose a solution that is compatible with common file formats available on popular smart devices too – Windows, Android, iOS. Some common formats to consider are: docx, xlsx, pptx, odt, ods, odp, doc, xls, ppt, pdf, txt, rtf, html, epub, csv, and OOXML formats.

iii. Document co-authoring capabilities

Another key feature is co-authoring capabilities. A good document collaboration tool should support co-authoring because the very essence of collaboration is getting people to work together on a common platform to achieve a common goal.

Co-authoring allows you to forget those email chains filled with attachments and confusing edits. Co-authoring allows real-time document collaboration. Two or more users can work on the same file/document (text document, presentation, spreadsheet, notes) simultaneously. In most collaboration tools, when two or more users edit a document simultaneously, they get to see each other’s changes as they happen – live.

Co-authoring abilities speed up the feedback process and reduce email chain and confusion. With online collaboration, team members working out of different offices can still edit documents together simultaneously. Cloud computing cuts down on lag time and helps everyone easily contribute to a project.  

For example, an ad agency may be working on a pitch that requires lots of brainstorming, editing, and revision. Storing the pitch online and working on it together means that they can see what everyone’s doing, track suggested changes, and work with instantaneous feedback. 

iv. Cloud Storage

A team collaboration software should allow for the uploading of files and other media onto it. It should be possible to keep documents or media for a reasonable period on the platform for others in the team to access as needed.

Storing a project or document in the cloud is the easiest way to know that everyone who needs it has access to it at all times, from anywhere in the world. The advantage is real-time collaboration, but it also means everyone can jump online at the drop of a hat, find a specific version, and read or make changes or add comments to it.

Cloud storage keeps things in a central location for easy access. This can dramatically improve productivity in any environment. When interacting together is uncomplicated, it is easier to build rapport, leading to better outcomes for all.

v. Instant Messaging or Office Chat

Select a collaboration tool that supports both one-on-one messaging as well as group messaging.

Sometimes, just firing off a quick question and getting a prompt response to one person or even a group is genuinely useful. With instant messaging tools built for your office, employees can check-in and problem-solve quickly. Office chat is useful as it reduces endless email chains, speeds up communication, and ultimately leads to quicker signoffs.

Teams should be able to chat with each other from anywhere, anytime.

Bonus points if the tool also allows saving of chat history. This helps to hold onto the thinking that went into a decision.

vi. Video or audio calls/Video conferencing facilities

Video conferencing is a way to get all the benefits of meeting face-to-face without the expense and hassle of planning one. 

One-on-one video or audio calls can also be used in place of one-on-one physical meetings and telephone calls.

Their aim of these facilities is to give employees and teams the ability to share ideas, share data, document, and presentations in real-time either on a one-to-one basis or in groups – as in virtual meetings and conference calls. Video/audio calls and conferencing build better relationships in remote teams, save on travel expenses, and enable cost savings by minimizing the need to make local and international business calls.

vii. Ability to set access privileges

An online collaboration solution should let you set access privileges because no one needs access to everything. Choose a solution that allows you to set access privileges either by individuals and/or to groups, e.g., accounts, sales, project X, and so on.

Some enterprise-level solutions also allow setting privileges to allow file sharing with people outside of your organization because collaboration sometimes demands blurring of lines between internal and external parties.

viii. Audit trails

Auditability is another key feature of an online collaboration tool. Whether for general security or compliance reasons, it is important that your chosen solution keep track of what files and other resources users have been added, accessed, edited and when (date and time stamps).

ix. Data security

Just as with email, data security on team collaboration software cannot be over-emphasized. Online collaboration solutions must use industry-leading data security standards to ensure that company data is secure in storage and transit – as this is essentially a cloud-based storage solution. There needs to be sufficient evidence of protocols in place to ensure that the risk of business data getting into the wrong hands is minimal to none.

BONUS – Version Control

Bonus points if your digital document collaboration tool has automatic version control so that there is no confusion on which is the latest version of a document. This means that any time changes to a document are made, it is possible to tell which the most recent version of the document is. This also means if necessary, you can revert to an older version of the document (before changes were made).

And finally, for true enterprise collaboration, look for a solution with approval workflows. For instance, some will lock a file while a manager is reviewing it. Your manager can then mark the file as approved and unlock it once done.

MailSafi Collaboration unlocks the modern ways of working. Whether your employees are working from home or in a different geographical location, you can have the peace of mind that they have the tools to work effectively wherever they are. Whether using a laptop or your mobile device, you can easily attend meetings online, share documents, co-author in real-time, chat, and be productive from anywhere. Contact us today to register for our service!

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