Remote work, sometimes referred to as telecommuting, has been gaining popularity for the past few years as more of the workforce has begun working outside the office for at least part of the week. As COVID-19 has forced a significant amount of the population into self-isolation, remote work has changed from a perk to a necessity — and it may even become the new norm.
One survey of CFOs and other finance leaders revealed that 74% of respondents planned to permanently transition 5% or more of their employees to remote positions. As we move toward a world with more and more remote work, office collaboration tools will be front and center for businesses looking to succeed in this new landscape.
What Are Online Collaboration Tools?
Remote collaboration is the process of getting employees to work together and building team rapport regardless of geographic separation. With remote collaboration, teams spread all over the world can work together cohesively and productively through the use of collaboration tools made for businesses.
Online collaboration tools are applications that leverage the internet to provide services essential to remote teamwork. These tools offer teams a way to share documents and other data, communicate instantaneously and easily find the information they need to succeed.
How Do You Collaborate With a Remote Team?
A lot goes into managing a remote team, and it can be difficult to find the right starting point. Here are three key tips to consider when investigating how to improve remote collaboration:
1. Coordinate Timing
Staying on the same page in terms of timing is one of the biggest challenges of managing a remote workforce. Without a clear plan, workers may start adopting odd, inconsistent hours that make smooth communication a challenge. To help set expectations, these are the questions you will need to address for better virtual team collaboration:
- Is everyone working in the same time zone?
- What hours are each employee expected to keep, and how can you create an optimal overlap for those working from different time zones?
- How will workers communicate when they are taking a vacation or a trip?
- Are there any time periods that should be designated as “do not disturb” hours?
- How long should it take for team members to respond to communication, and will it vary by channel?
2. Choose Appropriate Channels
There are multiple formats you can choose to deliver communications virtually. The channel you choose should be related to the urgency of the message, and team members should all have an understanding of the hierarchy. The most common example of channel delineation is direct versus general messaging.
For instance, in Slack, sending someone a direct message is typically an indicator that the communication needs a response as soon as possible. Posting a message in a general channel, on the other hand, could mean it doesn’t need a response right away. Draw up clear expectations of how long team members have to respond to certain channels, so important messages don’t get overlooked, pushed back or forgotten.
3. Increase Communication Rates
With virtual team collaboration, over-communication is the best policy. Whenever any decision is made that affects more than one team member, the whole team should hear about it to ensure everyone stays on the same page. Not every decision needs a whole staff meeting, but at the least, you should have a central place where updates are visible to all appropriate parties.
The Best Remote Collaboration Tools for Businesses
What are the best collaboration tools for remote teams? How can you determine which solutions best fit your needs? Here are seven of the top remote collaboration tools to consider:
Zoom is an affordable option for businesses large and small that offers all the basics you need in a collaboration tool. Your team can take advantage of videoconferencing, instant messaging across platforms and the ability to share files. Zoom allows you to conduct:
- One-on-one video chats
- Town hall meetings
- Marketing events
2. Microsoft Teams
The Teams offering from Microsoft is ideal if you already use Office 365, as it integrates with the productivity suite for easy file retrieval. Extensions are also available if you need to integrate Teams with non-Microsoft products.
3. Cisco WebEx
If your business relies on frequent meetings to get things done, WebEx is a smart option. The high definition videoconferencing capabilities allow teams to conduct meetings of all kinds, from sales demos to remote tech support. Additionally, WebEx is compatible with mobile devices to increase its versatility.
Slack is a lightweight communication channel with robust features. Its primary purpose is instant messaging, allowing the creation of multiple channels for multiple teams. Slack also allows users to share files and supports video calls.
If your business is heavy on project management, Asana can help you stay organized and on track. Its capabilities include Gantt chart planning, portfolios of project milestones and the ability to monitor each team member’s workload to ensure optimal efficiency. Asana also integrates with other tools like Slack, Office 365 and Adobe Creative Cloud.
6. ZoHo Project Management
If you are interested in packing as many useful features as possible into your office collaboration tools, ZoHo can satisfy your needs. In addition to remote working tools, like videoconferencing, chat and email integration, ZoHo offers CRM tools and a help desk. Its project management tools keep key members updated about the status of projects and can help with planning, tracking and bug testing. ZoHo also integrates with G Suite.
Basecamp has the appealing advantage of its paid service being completely unlimited. If your team or workload is rapidly expanding, you won’t have to worry about running out of user accounts or project slots. Basecamp provides messaging boards, to-do lists, scheduling, file storage and group chat, among other features. Its third-party integration capabilities make it a flexible solution for a wide variety of remote teams.
Contact Merlin Communications to Improve Your Remote Collaboration Today
There is no time to waste when it comes to making your team infrastructure remote work-ready. However, the above options are just a few of the collaboration tools for business, and it may be a challenge to find the one that works best for you.
Merlin Communications is ready to help you select the right conferencing and collaboration tools at the right price point for your Central PA or Northern MD business. If you’re ready to bring your business up to speed with virtual collaboration tools, contact us and get a quote today.