Trending Now

Choosing the Right Collaboration Tools

In Part 1 of this series on collaboration, we discussed the history and evolution of collaboration. Now let’s turn to how to choose the right tools so that you can collaborate effectively.

The PC era brought about an unprecedented transformation in the world of work, but it mostly empowered individual employees to run their own productivity apps. But with the work-from-home challenges brought about from the COVID-19 pandemic, workers must to figure out how to collaborate together. It’s now a business imperative, and it isn’t a new problem, but it’s an increasingly complex challenge not because of a lack of tools, but because we have too many to choose from.

The best collaboration tool doesn’t need to be onboarded, pre-configured, pre-trained, or have IT spend months testing out various products to figure out a corporate standard. The ideal tool should get out of your way so a group can get started and work together. You need the right mix of functionality and ease of use, like Ford’s speakerphone.

We are now blessed with email, real-time instant messaging apps, team discussion workspaces, video conferencing and group real-time document editing. Email is actually a collaborator’s worst enemy: it isn’t instant, threaded replies get quickly overwhelmed and sending documents as email attachments among multiple authors can be incredibly unproductive. One startup vendor, FrontApp.com, is trying to make email more collaborative: we’ll see how that pans out.

Many corporations have chosen multiple standard collaboration tools, such as running Microsoft Teams and Slack channels side-by-side. Or using multiple calendar/scheduling tools: that can result in lots of conflicts.

As a professional writer, I have experienced numerous times how not to do real-time group document editing. Better to collect comments offline and appoint one person in charge of that process. Yes, there is a time and place for real-time line editing, but only when a team is used to working this way and everyone knows each other really well.

Part of picking the right tool is understanding the transportation of ideas from one staffer to another, and the workflows involved. This means everyone should have a role in idea creation – something proven by how the comedy group Monty Python worked. The entire team wrote their skits before they cast them, as Eric Idle told Marc Maron on his podcast. This meant no one would be personally invested in an idea before the group could fine-tune it before its actual performance. But you also want to get away from a serial workflow, where one person has to wait on someone else to complete a task before starting theirs. With Monty Python, they were all present in the “writer’s room” – sitting around a table throwing out ideas. But they were used to working in this fashion.

Now that more of us are working from home, how can we have a virtual experience that will work? Often the loudest voice in the virtual room dominates over lesser ones that could have important points to make. It takes more practice and skill to finesse a virtual meeting, because you don’t have the obvious visual clues that someone is being neglected. This is not a technical problem, but a cultural one.

Also part of choosing the right tool is understanding the role of your potential collaborators. Doodle did this survey a while back that triaged meeting participants into three types: initiators, herders, and loners. It is worth reviewing their study to see how it can apply to your particular team, and whether that mix of personalities will be a boon or spell doom for your collaboration.

So keep in mind these considerations when you choose your ideal collaboration tool: take into consideration the right cultural and functional mix for your team; standardize on tools where it makes sense and figure out the group dynamics ahead of time.

David Strom

David Strom

David Strom is one of the leading experts on network and Internet technologies and has written and spoken extensively on topics such as IT security, VOIP, convergence, email, cloud computing, network management, Internet applications, wireless and Web services for more than 30 years. He has held several editorial management positions, including Editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, Digital Landing.com, and Tom's Hardware.com. He currently writes for IBM's SecurityIntelligence.com, HPE's Enterprise.Nxt, blogs for RSA and Kaspersky and CSOonline.com and has contributed opinion columns, reviews, feature stories and analyses to ITworld.com, TechTarget.com, Internet.com, Network World, Infoworld, Computerworld, Small Business Computing, c|net and news.com, eWeek, Baseline Magazine, PC Week, PC World, PC Magazine and more. David has created numerous print and web publications, built several hands-on IT test labs, curated various email newsletters, blogged extensively about a wide variety of IT business topics, spoken at IT business conferences, written thousands of magazine articles and published two books on computer networking. He is the author of two books: Internet Messaging, which he co-authored with Marshall T. Rose and Home Networking Survival Guide. David also publishes Web Informant and is the creator of an innovative series of video screencast product reviews of enterprise IT products that can be found on Webinformant.tv and syndicated to various other Web sites. He has also appeared on the Fox TV News Network, NPR's Science Friday radio program, ABC-TV's World News Tonight and CBS-TV's Up to the Minute news broadcasts.

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top