Work From Anywhere: Social Collaboration Tools For Business
Companies these days are increasingly global; incorporating workers from all over the world, telecommuting employees, and even business partners from another continent. How do you keep everyone on task, communicating, and organised? Welcome to the new Social Collaboration Office.
Social collaboration borrows from the best of social media (real time, conversational) and enterprise communication software (e-mail, message threading, to-do lists.) These tools can help your teams keep track of every step of a project, stay in touch regularly and on-the-fly, and keep tight version control over documents.
The benefits of integrating social collaboration tools into your workflow are:
• Anyone on your team can access it anywhere in the world, at any time
• You can increase your team’s productivity by eliminating duplicate e-mails, wasteful meetings, and endless conference calls
• Instead of a disjointed “e-mail trail” for projects, you have a complete picture of timelines, deliverables, and commentary as projects progress, helping you to plan future projects
It’s not always obvious which tool you might benefit from. It’s best to start with your immediate needs (if you have a team of fewer than 5 people, you probably don’t need a robust project management system, but you most likely could benefit from corporate chat programs).
Here are some great tools to get your team started with social collaboration:
To Dos and Task Delegation: Asana and Do.com
Most tasks in any office are group tasks, and the deliverables need to be articulated and met. There are many great apps that allow teams to get very granular with tasks, and assign them to stakeholders. You can assign deadlines and even see at-a-glance whether certain tasks are in danger of missing deadlines, or are dependent upon a team member’s work. This is especially useful for launches where precision and accountability are paramount. If you’re still using e-mail and MS Project to manage tasks, you’re not getting the whole story.
At every stage, there is an opportunity to comment on a project. This is very useful for projects that repeat or which are tied to other projects. By eliminating duplication of mistakes, you increase your productivity.
Asana is free for teams up to 30 members, and starts at $100/month above that.
Do.com is $50 a month for up to 10 members, but offers some additional features (including CRM and guest management)
Office Chat or War Room Communications: Yammer
Everyone you know is on some form of chat for their personal communications because we value real-time communication, and sometimes, it’s the fastest way to solve an issue.
Using your personal accounts for work communication is a bad idea on many levels, and though many enterprise email systems have some form of instant communication, it’s limited in features and rarely used.
Enter Yammer, the enterprise chat system. Yammer is set up at a company level and can be used by anyone with your company’s e-mail address. What’s great about its product vs. MSN Messenger or GTalk is that you can set up groups you can broadcast to, and you can have private chats with just those groups. You can also bulk message groups publicly, which is great when you’re in a war room situation.
There is a free version of Yammer available, and the full feature set is $3 per user.
Project Management Powerhouse: 37signals suite (Basecamp, Highrise, Campfire)
If you have a multidisciplinary team, or one that is scattered geographically, you might want to consider a suite of software that can track most of your business dealings from day to day. Basecamp by 37signals appears to be the best cloud-based project management collaboration app available.
Basecamp allows you to track and manage projects, assign deadlines and stakeholders, and collaborate easily through the app or simply by answering e-mails (which get threaded into conversations on the app).
Highrise is a CRM and contact management app for teams. You can see only contacts you or your team have access to, securely share contacts, and show where leads fall in a funnel. Highrise is fully compatible with Basecamp, allowing you to move information seamlessly between the two.
Campfire is a warehouse for all information pertaining to your projects. If Basecamp is the “Who/What/Where/When” of project management, Campfire is the “How”: warehousing all of your images, files, a calendar, and even a whiteboard for collaborators to save concept work.
All products in the 37signals suite have a free tier, and individual pricing is as follows:
Document Version Control and Real-time Collaborative Editing: Google Documents
If you’ve ever worked on brand communications such as corporate backgrounders and presentation decks, you will have undoubtedly wished that you could have kept the email chain to a minimum and been able to track all changes to a document as they happened.
Google Documents can do all of that, plus your whole team can log on to the same document and edit it together in real time. You can see who is making which edit, and you have a record of every edit made, tied to the editor.
Google Documents: Free. For large companies, other pricing is available.
Larger Scale Solutions
If you need a large amount of storage, a robust database, and thousands of users, you might consider a custom option: an intranet. You can build one in-house or have one built for you. Beware: It is VERY expensive to build and maintain an intranet; making changes to it is an even bigger endeavour, and may result in you having to take the intranet down for maintenance at regular intervals.
The out-of-the-box option for intranets is Sharepoint by Microsoft. You will need to buy servers and pay someone to install and configure the intranet instance. You will also need to take stock of every potential user of this system, and assign different security protocols to each person.
Sharepoint Licensing alone is nearly $7000.00 and servers can be $1000+ each depending on specifications.
Most companies can benefit from incorporating social collaboration tools. With the exception of the large-scale solutions, many of these tools can be incorporated quickly, easily, and inexpensively.