The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of remote working, later normalized into intelligent working, which consists of various forms of remote collaboration which require specific collaboration tools accessible via the internet, capable of allowing teams to communicate and interact with each other.
In addition to becoming increasingly popular, software platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and Cisco Webex have enabled billions of people to continue working, studying and communicating socially, even in the most challenging days of our history. So let’s see what collaboration tools are, what they consist of and what the leading benefits companies can obtain by implementing them consciously in their work processes.
Collaboration Tools: What They Are
Team collaboration platforms are increasingly central to the organization of corporate work. They include integrated tools, which allow you to plan and carry out work tasks and manage communications and all aspects of project management, starting with the organization of files and documents.
Modern team collaboration platforms are designed modularly to integrate useful functions for meeting business needs, favoring operations through various parts, ranging from intranet support to communication with customers and external suppliers. Nothing is precluded; the collaboration tools allow you to do practically everything you can imagine.
It is a matter of identifying the most effective configuration, using messaging tools, text chats, video conferences, webinars, training/learning applications, interactive screen sharing, virtual whiteboards, video conferences, calendar management, email management, file sharing, with the possibility of making use of advanced technologies, which exploit artificial intelligence to transcribe conversations and translate them, as well as implementing increasingly realistic and engaging in conversation with a man.
The collaboration platforms also make it possible to centralize various aspects relating to the authentication and authorizations of users and devices that access corporate information systems, implementing the policies about privacy and data protection, in addition to the behavioral provisions aimed at guaranteeing an aware IT hygiene by employees.
Team collaboration platforms integrate virtual workspace activities with the hardware and software of the corporate IT infrastructure, also acting as a front-end for data storage and archiving resources, with the ability to monitor any activity performed on corporate data, documented through a rigorous logging procedure, a fundamental resource for all security systems capable of analyzing traffic data in real-time. This is the case with the increasingly popular SIEM (Security Information and Event Management).
Collaboration tools allow you to acquire and organize data with a bidirectional integration level with other company systems, such as ERP and CRM, favoring a shared workflow on a single database to break down traditional data silos, which limit the visibility of available information and the synergy between the various business lines of the organization.
Whatever the task involved, safety, efficiency and performance are the primary objectives of a modern team collaboration platform to make available to company employees and external collaborators a series of collaboration tools capable of simplifying their work, making accessible data and applications at any time and from anywhere, through the mere availability of a web browser and an internet connection.
There are various team collaboration platforms on the market today. Some assume a generalist character, capable of virtualizing essentially all the functions performed by the business lines of an enterprise organization. Other collaboration tools are instead more vertical in their functional approach, allowing you to focus mainly on one or a few closely interconnected areas of activity.
The Benefits Of Online Collaboration Tools
Smart working has favored the diffusion of native cloud applications, available 24/7 remotely through the “anytime anywhere” logic typical of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), which exploits the centrality of cloud resources to allow any duly authenticated user and device to access it through a login from a web browser, which gives access to the main interface of the software and to all the tools that are made available.
This is, therefore, the first and fundamental advantage of a team collaboration platform: the fact of being able to make available to all stakeholders the necessary tools so that they can work and achieve their objectives, regardless of whether they find themselves working in the office or their operations from various remote locations, such as may be from home or a customer/supplier location.
The leading online collaboration platforms have subscription plans based on the “as a service” model of the applications available in the cloud. The most widespread model is equivalent to freemium, which makes the software available free of charge within certain limits of use, possibly limiting the ability to manage a certain number of projects simultaneously.
When thresholds are exceeded, the software becomes available through subscriptions with per-user pricing or other specific methods. According to the results of the Workplace Collaboration: 2021-22 research, carried out by Metrigy Research, the advantages of using collaboration tools in various business processes would be evident above all under five fundamental aspects:
- Reduced email usage (23.2% average)
- Reduction in the number of meetings (average of 31.8%)
- Increased productivity (average of 22.2%)
- Cost reduction (up to 23% annually)
- Revenue increase (up to 15% year-over-year)
Management Of Online Collaboration Tools
As easily foreseeable, the generic advantages object of the previous summary are generalist and equivalent to what is possible to obtain thanks to a conscious implementation of the collaboration tools in company processes.
The fundamental added value derives from knowing how to integrate the most suitable functions to solve the actual needs that each company presents, optimize processes and increase overall performance, and carry out those remote collaboration activities that would otherwise be impossible to satisfy.
Virtual collaboration, expressed instrumentally in the various elements that make up the digital workplace, cannot be resolved with the simple purchase of software. Choosing your collaboration platform is only the first step. Individual teams must dialogue with the IT department to clearly and in detail express their needs in collaboration based on their actual operations.
By progressively optimizing the integration between team collaboration platforms and company systems, it will be possible to equip employees with effectively functional tools capable of generating added value in daily activities.
A fundamental moment is characterized by the training of employees, to whom not only the functions of the individual tools must be illustrated but, above all, the logic with which they contribute to making the processes linked to collaboration more effective, exploiting all the possibilities that the cloud and the digital today let you get.
We start from the morning login, where they will find a single and convenient interface that summarizes a series of notifications relating to activities in progress: progress of projects, meetings scheduled for the day, emails, training activities, etc. With a simple glance, employees can know what to do and use the collaboration platform to directly access the applications they need.
The IT department must therefore be able to properly configure the platform tools so that they are functional in satisfying the workloads without unnecessary and costly oversizing. Also, in this case, the continuous dialogue with the individual company business lines is invaluable for solving, through simple plug-ins available on the marketplaces, needs that traditionally would have required the development of complex and demanding applications if explicitly made.
The management and implementation of online collaboration platforms are laborious in the initial stages. Still, it produces evident advantages in all the processes involved once fully operational. Beyond the technical aspects, the key to success lies in the involvement of business users and their motivation to make concrete use of the tools at their disposal.
The Security Of Online Collaboration Platforms
An increasingly topical issue is related to computer security. Smart working, considerably increasing the traffic on the network and the consequent attack surface at the mercy of cybercriminals.
Environments related to team collaboration are essential for guaranteeing remote work but expose considerable security risks because they are exposed to many human errors, such as theft of access credentials and sharing data and information in places on the net where they should never end up
It is, therefore, essential to act on at least two fronts. On the one hand, it defines access and authentication policies capable of excluding unauthorized users and devices, frequently changing passwords and resorting to multi-factor authentication systems (MFA).
Users and devices unable to provide the system with adequate guarantees must be marginalized in areas of the network where the availability of resources is minimal and, above all, there is no possibility of accessing the most critical areas of the network, where it is assumed to keep the most sensitive data.
Modern single sign-on systems greatly facilitate this security process, as they guarantee single access to a multitude of collaboration tools, which traditionally would have required multiple authentication procedures.
However, the centralization of access definition and control has significantly progressed thanks to SaaS. In that case, employee training remains fundamental: mobile system vulnerabilities, phishing, data leaks and regulatory violations of various kinds.
These are just some of the most common causes of IT security incidents, from which economic and reputational damages capable of bringing the company’s fortunes to its knees, seriously jeopardizing the business’s survival, can now derive. Ransomware and DDoS attacks are now so commonplace that they are almost out of the news.
These are why personnel training in IT hygiene, net of any technical solution undertaken, remains one of the wisest forms of investment and must no longer be interpreted as a simple cost item but as a real moment for a company that intends to face its digital transformation consciously.
The 14 Most Popular And Best Collaboration Tools For Smart Working
At present, there are several dozen online collaboration tools and platforms.
Having effectively replaced Skype on corporate systems, Teams natively integrates with Microsoft 365 solutions, offering companies an end-to-end solution to manage communication, collaboration and productivity. Equipped with a very extensive marketplace, Teams, and an online communication platform that can be functionally extended thanks to the Power Platform tools.
Whose low code / no code interfaces also allow simple employees to develop what they need to automate specific tasks, making use in addition to advanced artificial intelligence functions. Microsoft has also acquired a corporate social networking platform: Yammer, available stand-alone and included in Office 365 enterprise plans.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Zoom has become a widely used online collaboration platform designed specifically for this purpose, especially for remote business meetings and video conferencing. Incredibly simple to use, to the point that it is also frequently used for personal video calls in addition to corporate use. It has a freemium solution that allows unlimited calls of up to 40 minutes and 100 connected users.
Slack is a messaging application widely used among computer developers thanks to a channel structure suited to project organization. Its operation supports real-time communication and traditional offline messaging, with the possibility of file sharing and other collaborative functions explicitly designed for team working.
Previously known as G Suite, the current Google Workspace is a complete platform which includes all of Big G’s solutions for the digital workspace. At the time of writing, Google Workspace includes tools such as Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Chat and above all that, Meet, which allows remote meetings and video conferences free of charge for anyone with a Gmail account. The full version is available for trial, followed by several commercial options.
Meta Workplace is the end-to-end business communication platform previously known under the Facebook brand. And it is organized based on a social network designed specifically for the needs of companies, with logic similar to the consumer Facebook.
Meta Workplace has chat, video and collaboration tools designed explicitly for a corporate intranet. Meta also offers immersive solutions such as Meta Horizon Workrooms, capable of exploiting virtual reality applications in the orbit of metaverse applications, which we will hear more and more about over the next few years.
Cisco Webex is one of the market-leading solutions for business collaboration and intelligent working. It is an end-to-end cloud-based platform with many tools for calls, meetings, messaging, surveys and online events. Cisco Webex also has a specific solution for distance learning, accessible through a simple web browser. Its logic provides the same tools for business users, external customers, and suppliers, simply varying the permissions granted to each type of account.
In online platforms, some solutions extend the collaboration and communication functions of systems such as CRMs (Customer Relationship Management), above all to allow marketing, sales and customer care teams to better interact with corporate customers, as well as to carry out the classic internal communications.
Salesforce Chatter dates back to 2010, when it was introduced for this purpose, with an openly mobile-oriented soul. Free for Salesforce CRM users, Chatter is also available stand-alone with a dedicated commercial offering.
Online collaboration platform designed for project management, the foundations of which date back to 2008, a date that makes it a true pioneer in this particular sector. Easy and intuitive, thanks to its visual tools, Asana allows companies to trace the activity of processes related to all projects, starting from their planning and assignment to individual users.
With simple steps, anyone can manage a project through to-do lists, reminders on ongoing activities and the definition of mandatory deadlines given intermediate and final deliveries. Each task can be commented on and documented in detail by the stakeholders involved in the project. Therefore, Asana’s goal is to make collaboration in project management simple.
Trello is another online collaboration platform specially designed for project management and suitable for companies of any size, from freelancers to large enterprises. Also available via a web browser or local app, it allows you to organize and track the progress of each project.
Trello also stands out for its high availability in terms of integrations with third-party applications, such as GitHub, Slack, Evernote and many others. Available in freemium mode, which allows you to evaluate its qualities before extending them to large corporate numbers.
Miro’s interface recalls the blackboard with post-it notes that is very used in design thinking processes and is the most used collaborative whiteboard on the market. His vocation is therefore aimed at brainstorming and conceptual collaboration on projects, particularly for their start-up phases and revision processes.
Thanks to Miro’s collaborative tools, teams can carry out traditional face-to-face brainstorming sessions remotely, with the advantage of being able to work both in real-time and offline, asynchronously on work sessions.
Application designed for project management with a modern and intuitive interface, one of the best and most popular in its category. Todoist can work smoothly online and offline and comes with many collaborative features.
Podio is a complete online collaboration platform for project management and communications between the various corporate teams, complete with tools for sharing resources and carrying out ongoing activities, following every detail with the possibility of comments and annotations, facilitated from a simple and intuitive user interface. Podio has local apps specifically designed for mobile systems and can integrate with many applications, such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Zendesk.
The river is a messaging application quite similar in logic to Slack, especially as regards project management for channels and workgroups, which have all the tools necessary for work chats—equipped with a modern interface, with a newsfeed system that closely resembles that of social media. Equipped with modern workflow automation features with advanced management and single sign-on systems.
An All-in-one solution for collaboration and business communication that includes the usual tools such as chat, message board, to-do list, and calendars stands out for the aspects related to document management and for its particular pricing plan.
Unlike recurring commercial offers, which provide an entry-level fee followed by an amount calculated based on the number of users, Basecamp offers a permanent license of $99.99 per year for unlimited users.