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What to Look for When Choosing Online Collaboration Tools for Your Business

It’s a whole new world for 21st-century businesses. Now it’s just as common to have team members scattered throughout the country—or even the world—as it is to have everyone working from one centralized location. It’s truly a globalized workforce.

This has been largely beneficial, thanks to the opportunities created and the ease with which you can secure top talent from all over the world. But at the same time, having a worldwide workforce creates a new set of challenges in coordinating the activities of team members in different locations, across multiple time zones.

According to a Salesforce study, 86 percent of respondents cite a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication as being responsible for workplace failures. To combat these challenges, more and more companies are turning to online collaboration tools with many seeing amazing results.

If your business is ready to make the move, there are many elements you’ll need to review to ensure you choose the right platform. Here are a few things to look for:

A Simple and Intuitive Interface

You could argue that a tool is only effective if your team members actually buy into it. Even if it has the potential to greatly streamline projects and increase productivity dramatically, the impact will be marginalized if your employees battle it every step of the way. So above all else, you’ll want a product that’s intuitive and easy to use.

A learning curve is inevitable. But if a product is so complex that team members want to abandon it out of sheer frustration, it’s likely to do more harm than good.

Why do you think tools like Google Drive and Slack have been so successful? They’re insanely user-friendly.

Before committing to a particular online collaboration tool and going to all of the trouble of teaching your team how to use it, see if it makes the grade in terms of simplicity by testing the demo version.

Efficient Workflow Management

A workflow system provides your company with a framework where you can assign tasks and monitor their progress until completion—from beginning to end. This ultimately gives you a bird’s-eye view every step of the way to ensure that each team member stays on track.

Of course, the workflow management capabilities can vary considerably from product to product. Some specific features to look for include:

  • Role assignment – This allows you to easily assign tasks and set deadlines.
  • Notifications – These provide employees with friendly reminders that a deadline is coming up soon.
  • Approval mechanisms – An admin must give approval before key changes are made to reduce critical errors.
  • Reporting features – Comprehensive workflow analytics help you understand the performance of individuals and your collective team.

Adjustable Privacy Settings

For some tasks, you’ll want your entire team to be plugged in so everyone can stay updated and provide feedback. For others, you may only want two individuals to be in communication because a particular task is irrelevant to the rest of the group.

That’s why you’ll want to choose online collaboration tools that offer adjustable privacy settings. This feature lets you specify exactly who’s part of a task and allows you to make adjustments as needed. In turn, everyone has access to the information they truly need—no less, no more.

Integrations

Odds are your company uses at least a few different types of apps and other tools. For instance, developers might use Jira for planning, tracking and releasing software, Slack for holding digital conversations and Salesforce for handling customer relationship management.  

So naturally, you’ll want to look for online collaboration tools with adequate integrations so that you can connect seamlessly with these platforms. Otherwise, your efficiency is likely to take a hit.

We suggest making a list of all the apps and tools you’re currently using and check to see that a prospective collaboration tool is capable of integrating with them before getting in too deep. Don’t sign on the dotted line of a collaboration program’s contract before ensuring it integrates appropriately with tools that are critical to your workflows and processes.

Activity Logging

This is important for two main reasons. First, it provides a record of every single change that’s ever made within a platform. So if a team member completes a task that might modify your end product, you’ll have documentation of when and what happened. In the event that an error is made, you can quickly go back and check on the details.

Second, it ensures a certain level of accountability. Because everyone’s actions are traceable and kept as a public record, it tends to serve as an effective deterrent to any unscrupulous activity. Say for example someone was considering injecting malicious code into your database. Knowing that their activities will be logged could dissuade them from doing so.

The level of transparency that stems from activity logging really kills two birds with one stone, which brings us to our next point…

Robust Security

When you consider the amount of data—and often sensitive data—that’s being exchanged on a daily basis, it’s obvious that security concerns are paramount. Any vulnerabilities could result in the leaking of sensitive data, which can quickly open a can of worms.

Considering that nearly a third (29 percent) of U.S. businesses have already experienced a data breach, it’s clear that you’ll only want to utilize online collaboration tools with high-security standards.

Ask the following questions:

 

  • What type of admin controls does a tool have?
  • Does it offer multi-factor authentication? (as opposed to single-factor authentication, e.g. simply entering a password)
  • Does the chat tool offer end-to-end encryption?
  • Is there a data erasure feature in the event that a mobile device is lost or stolen?

These are some of the main questions you’ll want to ask when examining various products.

Adequate Data Capacity

The data capacity of different platforms can vary significantly. Therefore, you’ll want to see how much storage is allotted and what the limitations are in every alternative you evaluate.

For instance, some products will max out a 5GB per user, while others will provide up to 20GB. Others have no limits, and the only restriction is the size of a file you can upload.

Keep in mind that you may only need a limited amount of storage initially if you have a small team. However, that may change in the future as you bring more team members on board and work on new projects. Plan enough flexibility to account for your growing needs.

Reliable Data Backup

What would happen in the event of major data loss? What would happen to your company and its ability to carry out projects?

In many cases, the impact could be quite devastating, bringing your projects to a grinding halt. That’s why you’ll want to pay close attention to how a collaboration tool approaches data backup. Your best bet is to choose a platform that backs your data up in the cloud. Because there are multiple servers involved, your data should still be retrievable in the event that one server goes down.

It’s also wise to look into their policies regarding employee access and file security, as well as physical security. With proprietary information and intellectual property often at stake, don’t commit to a company that’s lax about backing up your data.

Scalability

Today’s businesses aren’t static entities. They’re dynamic and continually advancing—and that’s a good thing. Therefore, you’ll want to go with an online collaboration tool that’s capable of evolving along with you.

Scalability is key.

So another thing to look into is the different packages that are available. Ideally, you’ll be able to switch from a more basic to a more advanced (potentially enterprise level) package with minimal friction. Or if you need to scale down, you should be able to do so without any unnecessary hassles.

Top of the Line Customer Support

Glitches are inevitable. The last thing you want to deal with when you encounter an issue is sluggish, unresponsive customer support. Every minute of delay cuts into your productivity and hinders your team’s ability to get a project done.

Check into a platform’s customer support to see how professional/reliable it is. See if you have access to 24/7 support or if it’s limited to certain hours of the day.

One of the best ways to get unbiased feedback on a tool’s customer support is to search for “x company customer support reviews.” The experiences of other users can be illuminating

Finding the Perfect Fit

Not all online collaboration tools are created equal, and the specific needs of organizations can vary dramatically. That said, the points mentioned here should provide you with a basic overview of what constitutes a quality platform.

Remember that the end goal is to seamlessly manage your projects and campaigns from a central system and keep everyone on the same page at all times.

Keeping that in mind and examining the critical criteria described above greatly increases your chances of finding the right platform for your business.

Which aspects of the team collaboration process are most important for your company? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below:

Image Credits
Featured image: StartupStockPhotos / Pixabay
In-post image 1: heladodementa / Pixabay
In-post image 2: bruce mars / Pexels

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