Effective collaboration is important in any workplace; the more efficient the collaboration, the greater the productivity, and the bigger the returns. Workplace collaboration tools have been around since before the invention of the telephone, and today there are many tools that make it easy to share information and ideas, from email to video conferencing. Understanding how to master these workplace collaboration tools for your customers will go a long way to demonstrating your true value as a reseller.
It’s been proven that video conferencing increases productivity. According to Frost & Sullivan, “utilizing next generation tools, such as video conferencing, enterprises can expect to bolster the bottom line, cut down on decision periods, reduce costs and boost productivity.” Similarly, research findings from the Mobile Work Exchange revealed that federal workers increased productivity 3.5 hours per week with video conferencing, and saved $4.95 billion in annual travel costs.
But video conferencing is only one workplace collaboration tool. Other collaboration tools operate in tandem to improve efficiency, and save time and money. Workplace collaboration tools can be divided into two general categories: collaboration tools that promote information sharing and streamline workflow, and real-time collaboration tools that facilitate ideation and decision-making. Here are five such workplace collaboration tools that you should master.
Promoting Collaborative Workflow
Sharing information and documents such as budgets, marketing plans, product development plans, schematics, blueprints, etc., is a routine part of doing business. Workplace collaborative tools are needed to facilitate workflow by exchanging information and documents in an orderly way. There are a number of workflow tools that enable data sharing, so we will pick three of the most popular:
Email – Like it or not, email has become the principal workplace collaboration tool. Email is fast, convenient, and cheap. And it allows you to share information, create conversation threads, and exchange documents quickly and efficiently.
However, email isn’t as cheap as you might think. According to a study by the Radicati Group, employees spent at least 26 percent of their time managing email in 2006 and that was expected to climb to more than 41 percent. Email is disruptive, does not promote efficient decision-making, and allows employees to hand off decisions and responsibility. Email will remain a primary workplace collaboration, which means you should master it, but it is not the most efficient collaboration tool.
Social business – Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google Plus have proven the power of social media for sharing information. Corporations have expanded on social media with their own, internal social business approach. Tools such as Yammer adapt the social media model to share information, offer chat, and promote ongoing collaboration.
The social business model offers the advantages of creating a conversation thread, sharing documents, and communicating with colleagues. Social business also promotes the concept of workplace as community, but it still fails to promote decision-making and “getting things done.” However, the social business model continues to evolve and offer value, and it should be one of the collaborative tools you master.
Project Management – A more formal approach to collaborative workflow is project management. Tools such as Microsoft SharePoint, Jive, and IBM Notes take the social business model one step further, providing document sharing, discussion boards, calendaring, wikis, portals, and other collaborative features in a more structured workflow.
All these tools share the ability to share information, and have contributors add to the information flow at each step which is incredibly valuable. However, they do not promote real-time collaboration. To make immediate decisions and move business processes along faster you need real-time workplace collaboration tools.
Real-time Collaboration Tools
Much as we all hate meetings, they are necessary. Meetings are where people exchange ideas, develop strategies, assign responsibilities, and discuss deliverables and deadlines. These real-time decisions are then supported by the collaborative workflow tools like email. However, meetings aren’t the only way to reach real-time decisions. There are other real-time workplace collaboration tools that you can master that deliver real value:
Unified Communications – Integrating telephony, video, and data sharing into a single unified communications (UC) infrastructure is becoming more popular for one-to-one collaboration. With UC, you can start with an email or instant messaging exchange, move to a real-time data exchange, and then escalate to a video phone call so you can speak with the other party face-to-face.
This kind of real-time collaboration tool is gaining in popularity because it allows multichannel communications across a distributed enterprise network. Forrester Research notes that mobile users and video are driving UC adoption, and that one-third of global companies have already implemented UC, and another third are planning to add UC in the near future.
While UC is a terrific workplace collaboration tool, it is better suited to one-to-one collaboration. You can set up a UC conference call, but most UC conversations are conducted over a small computer screen or handheld device, making it difficult to collaborate beyond a few connections.
Video conferencing – Using video conferences for real-time collaboration provides the richest and most effective form of group collaboration. Video conferencing offers the intimacy of a face-to-face meeting, allowing you to see the participants, read their faces and their body language, and interact with them just as if you were in the same room. However, you don’t have the added costs of travel, hotel accommodations, time lost out of the office, etc.
And video conferencing offers many of the benefits you get with all the other workplace collaboration tools. At the same time you see the participants you can share electronic white boards, exchange files, and share information to promote real collaboration and expedite decision-making.
No single workplace collaboration tool will meet all your collaboration needs. Each tool has specific applications and offers unique value. Understanding how to integrate these workplace collaboration tools into a single environment will make you a master of collaboration, and an invaluable resource to your customers.
How are you promoting your collaboration expertise? Are you focusing on email, UC, video conferencing, or some other aspect of workplace collaboration? We’d like to know.