Working in virtual teams may be convenient, but definitely not easy. There is a need for collaborative tools that are not only integrated in the company’s work culture, but are also user-friendly.

It’s no secret that the success of teams operating remotely or virtually results from timely and unimpeded flow of communication. For this, several businesses allow employees to bring their own communication devices to work, but that doesn’t mean all employees are doing so, which can hamper communication resulting in delays and confusion. What can help here are effective collaborative tools.

Achieving proper collaboration wherein employees work jointly towards achieving the end goal can be challenging. They have to put their egos aside, trust each other and share their knowledge and expertise willingly. In a virtual workplace, collaborating can be more difficult, especially when team members aren’t familiar with each other and hail from different cultural and professional backgrounds.

Project Management and Collaboration

Project management and collaboration skills have a huge impact on the outcome of a project. They are particularly important in small businesses, which require flexibility and the work depends on a handful of people who have to communicate and develop/improve business processes and operations.

Globalization has brought the world closer and made collaboration even more crucial since several modern startups and small businesses do not have a permanent address and they tend to work with people in different locations.

A majority of small and medium size business owners turn to web-based project management and collaboration tools to maximize productivity and have all the project-related information handy effortlessly. Such tools are extremely helpful in monitoring the progress of the project, managing employees, setting goals and objectives, organizing tasks, uploading files and syncing various devices.

Here are a few aspects that effective and real-time collaboration tools cover.

  1. Communication

One of the most important elements leading to the success of a virtual team is effective communication. Being able to discuss things openly and thoroughly will only increase the team’s effectiveness and keep miscommunications at bay. It is, therefore, necessary that you pick a collaboration tool that supports all methods of communication.

Look for integrated messaging features. Many a time, a document created by one team member may need to be reviewed by another member. The messaging feature can come in handy here. Users viewing a file should be able to leave messages privately or within a group.

Your online collaboration tool should enable two people to work together and have an interactive conversation either through audio, video or online chats. This can go a long way in saving time and increasing productivity.

Your tool should also have an online conferencing option. You should ascertain as to how many people can be on call simultaneously and the fees applicable in case you want to include additional participants.

Apart from that, you will also need to figure out the requirements if you want to hold video chats. Chat participants often have to manage screen sharing and tackle quality issues as video conferencing can be heavy on the network. If you tend to have frequent video chats, you should go for a network with ample bandwidth for a glitch-free experience.

Further, make sure your collaboration application can store all exchanges about a particular project stored in a central location.

  1. Ease of Use

Bringing in new tools into the company systems does not guarantee efficacy. Familiarizing your employees with these tools is extremely necessary as that puts an end to the impending confusion. In order to encourage the adoption of your collaborative tool, you will need to ensure that it is user-friendly; else you may not get the expected results.

You can do this by ensuring that you pick a product with a simple and an intuitive user interface. Ideally, it should be supportive of each user’s style of work. Because effective collaboration has a deep impact on the workflow of an organization, your online application should be equipped enough to automate and manage it.

For best results, go for a collaboration tool that allows you to bring everyone together on a virtual whiteboard, and supports brainstorming sessions. After all, you don’t want to miss out all the extraordinary ideas from such sessions.

With the advent of smartphones and tablets, people can work at their convenience even when away from their computer. Hence, you will do well to consider the type of mobile support available for your tool.

Apart from that, your collaboration tool should be able to perform on multiple platforms. Not everyone you collaborate with may work on the same platform. It is best to ensure that your tool is capable of operating seamlessly across them all to facilitate uninterrupted collaboration.

  1. Scheduling

You need to make sure that your collaborative tool has ample scheduling features to keep your projects on the right track. This should help you meet deadlines, which in turn, will ensure that the project is completed and delivered on time. Plus, you will also be able to stay abreast of the latest developments at every stage of the project.

Apart from that, your tool should also be able to create a comprehensive task list wherein you should be able to analyze the project’s deliverables and assign tasks ownership, sub-tasks and due dates accordingly. Your tool should enable you to monitor the status of the tasks and project milestones, and send out automated reminders/alerts to team members when a deadline approaches or when they’re running behind schedule.

Almost all project managers rely heavily on Gantt charts to identify potential hindrances to the project’s progress. You should, therefore, get an application that supports Gantt charts so that you can know whether or not tasks are being completed on time. At the same time, also check if the tool integrates with your calendar apps such as Google, Outlook or iCal and automatically updates your appointments and meetings.

  1. File Sharing

Online collaboration entails that a team works on multiple types of files such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF, JPG and PNG, and Google Docs. Your tool should have the ability to store all the project-related files in one place from where they can be easily accessed and edited by team members.

Where sharing comes into the picture, security becomes a priority. Hence, it is imperative that your collaborative tool’s security features comply with the IT standards of your organization.

Conclusion

The importance of collaboration in the modern globalized world cannot be stressed upon enough. Progressive businesses would definitely want to adopt and make the most of the collaborative tools that are available today. All they need to do is pick the one which resonates with their business needs the most. The above list may be small, but the applications mentioned are competent and empowering, and if adopted, they should help steer your business in the right direction.

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