Team Collaboration 101
Your Guide to Team Collaboration Tools
Team collaboration is one of the most common concerns in the modern business environment. Every day, teams face complex problems that require them to communicate and collaborate effectively. However, in today’s digitally-enhanced and globally-dispersed workforce, creating a cohesive unit isn’t just a process of bringing people together in a shared meeting room.
As employees become more dispersed, cloud-based tools are now the best way for employers to bring teams together regardless of device, platform or location. The McKinsey Global study found that 45% of today’s employees consider social technology to be crucial to their everyday performance.
Collaboration has quickly become less about in-person teamwork, and more about digital tools that can help to keep your employees connected no matter what your business environment looks like.
What is Team Collaboration, How Does it Work?
Team collaboration is simply the process of working alongside other people to support the realization of a company vision. Many people still assume that communication and collaboration are the same things. However, while communication is the process of sharing ideas and discussing projects, collaboration helps to bring action to those discussions.
For instance, while calling someone to discuss an issue over a VoIP telephone is communication, if you then decide to work together to solve the issue using screen sharing tools, you would be collaborating.
Team collaboration software is the tools and platforms that today’s communication vendors have introduced to support the changing marketplace. Tools for team collaboration may include:
- Video, web and audio conferencing
- Screen and file sharing
- Instant messaging or SMS
- Presence information
- Workforce management or optimisation software
- Calendaring and scheduling tools
- Task management tools
With team collaboration solutions, companies can ensure that staff members always have the tools they need to work effectively together, regardless of where they are, or what kind of devices they might be using.
What Are the Benefits of Team Collaboration?
Effective team collaboration has always been part of running a successful business environment. However, as the nature of the modern team continues to change, we’re beginning to discover just how crucial it is to keep everyone connected in a productive and meaningful way. One survey found that 96% of modern executives consider lack of collaboration or limited communication to be the cause of most of their workplace failures.
Team collaboration is all about bringing people together in a unified and productive environment. Here are just some of the benefits that companies can access by investing in the right team collaboration software.
- Higher productivity: The team that works together, succeeds together. Team collaboration tools have begun to transform the way that we work in the modern business environment. According to IDC, the cost of being unable to access the right information at the right time measures out at around $3,300 per employee. Collaboration tools help to eliminate the silos in the workforce by ensuring that everyone’s working together on the same platform.
- Improved customer experience: Collaboration software helps your business to run more smoothly. A cohesive and well-structured business can also assist with enhancing customer experience. For instance, if someone calls your team to ask about a problem that an agent can’t answer, they can use their collaboration tools to track down the person with the right information using presence details.
- Easier to track and manage projects: Collaboration tools make it much easier to monitor and manage projects over time. Often, when the only way for dispersed team members to work together on a project is over email, documents and versions can end up getting lost in transit. Collaboration tools help to eliminate the concerns caused by information silos.
- Unite employees: Team collaboration tools help to bring your people together in an environment that allows for greater creativity and performance. The result isn’t just higher profit margins, but also a better company culture, improved employee satisfaction, and the ability to connect with experts all over the world.
Top Team Collaboration Vendors
The market for team collaboration tools grows a little more each day, with an average CAGR of around 13% up to the year of 2024. Already, countless vendors have begun to take advantage of the growing collaboration environment, including:
Trends in Team Collaboration
Collaboration technology is growing just as rapidly as the communication sector overall. Driven by trends like remote working and cloud technology, team collaboration tools are becoming less of a “nice to have” feature in the modern workforce, and more of a fundamental business tool. As more collaboration solutions enter the marketplace, we’ll begin to see even more innovative solutions like:
- Team applications: Chat applications or enterprise team collaboration tools have become increasingly popular in recent years. Almost every vendor with a significant UC offering also has a collaboration solution, including 8×8, RingCentral, Microsoft, Avaya, and many more.
- New realities: As collaboration vendors look for new ways to make the conversation between dispersed employees more immersive, concepts like mixed reality, augmented reality, and virtual reality have begun to enter the marketplace. Companies like Cisco are already starting to experiment with the idea of AR and VR in the meeting room as a way of making you feel as though you’re sitting next to a team member, even when they’re miles away.
- Collaboration kits: Driven by the rise of huddle rooms and more immersive conferencing environments, collaboration tools are beginning to discover their own hardware and endpoints, ideal for improving cross-border teamwork. For instance, room kits that include interactive whiteboards are a great way for the modern business to take collaboration to the next level.
Team collaboration is one of the hottest trends in business IT and telecoms. As new apps and platforms spring up left, right and centre, adoption rates are soaring.
Comparing the Team Apps Marketplace
Why all the hype? The big attraction of team collaboration software can be put down to any or all of the following:
- The blend of UC and productivity tools contained within team collaboration suites is a powerful cocktail, helping to transform better communication into higher output
- Hosted in the Cloud, most team collaboration solutions are highly flexible, scalable and cost-effective and work on any device.
- They allow people to keep working together over distance or on the move, providing a platform for modern distributed, remote and mobile workforces
- Many collaboration services tap into the style and feel of popular consumer messaging and social apps, offering the intuitive usability employees favour
If these and other arguments have convinced you that your business will benefit from team collaboration, the next question is – which solution do I choose? This guide is intended to help our readers navigate their way through the sea of team collaboration choice, and highlights some of the key things to consider when making a purchasing decision.
One of the key arguments put forward for signing up to a team collaboration service is that many employees are already using tools which perform the core functions without any kind of oversight from either IT departments or management.
So-called ‘shadow-IT’ has arisen because there are a lot of very handy, very useful software tools out there which people come across in their daily lives. Chat apps for instant, fluid communication, file sharing platforms for sending, swapping and even co-authoring pictures, videos and documents have become very common, and many are free.
If users feel there is an app which can help them talk to colleagues who work elsewhere in the organisation, or share and collaborate on work more effectively, they will simply download it.
One of the key principles behind choosing a team collaboration solution is therefore this – choose something which will give employees everything they need so they stop downloading their own apps. This creates all sorts of headaches for a business, from security to oversight to the messy web of different apps that end up being used across an organisation.
Team collaboration has to offer the same solutions – the easy, instant communication, the accessible cloud file sharing – and deliver it in a form which beats downloading your own apps. It has to meet the needs of end users and the overall business.
Many team collaboration solutions are built around a main IM engine, for example RingCentral’s Glip with other tools and functions added as options around a main messaging interface. RingCentral is even marketed as specifically a team messaging product.
The concept of team messaging is a direct challenge to the role of email in business communications. Not only does IM have a much higher read and response rate than email, it also makes it much easier to create and follow conversation threads, especially between groups of people. The high number of messaging apps downloaded as part of shadow IT infrastructure is widely attributed to growing user frustration with email, knowing there is something better out there.
If you compare team apps like ALE Rainbow, Cisco Webex Teams, Fuze, RingCentral Glip and Unify Circuit they all offer convenience and simple to use user interfaces (UI) to users. Combined with instant file sharing, and the ability for a group of people to view and discuss a document as part of the conversation thread, you also have an alternative to the process of endlessly bouncing files back and forth over email, waiting for a response before you can make your next move.
All in one place
As stated above, one of the drawbacks of shadow IT is that it quickly gets messy. People end up using half a dozen apps for different tasks – one app for messaging, one for file sharing, one for making video and conference calls, another for scheduling meetings, and so on.
Nobody really benefits from this. Constantly clicking from one app to another is both inefficient and annoying, not to mention distracting. And it isn’t just something which happens as a result of people downloading their own tools, either. Separation between standard business software and UC tools creates the same issues.
The best team collaboration solutions provide an answer to this. As single-pane-of-glass solutions, they offer multiple tools in a single interface, often with simple one-click navigation from one function to another. In Glip, for example, from the main IM platform, users can choose to send a file, share a calendar, allocate a task or launch a voice or video call to whoever they are chatting to more or less instantly.
Look for solutions which offer the biggest range of features possible. Fuze, for example, does not make any distinction between team collaboration and other UC tools and solutions. Instead it provides a single platform offering a wide choice of voice, video, conferencing, messaging, calendar, sharing and contact centre tools, all from a single integrated platform. Clients simply pick and choose those most relevant to themselves.
Another factor to consider is how the platform you choose to support collaboration in the virtual sphere ties in with what people do in the actual, physical real world. It is easy to forget when thinking about team collaboration that people do still meet in person and work together face to face rather than via a screen. Cisco Webex Teams is an example of a product which acknowledges this and aims to provide a complete end-to-end solution for all types of collaboration, no matter how and where it happens.
For example, as well as comprising a full suite of cloud-based messaging, meeting and voice communication tools, the Spark range also includes the Spark Board, an interactive whiteboard for meeting rooms. The Spark Board integrates directly with the whiteboard tool built into the Spark suite. Whether colleagues jot down and sketch out ideas together in the meeting room or remotely via the Spark app, everything is stored in the same place.
Shaping business, shaping workflow
The right team collaboration solution is not just one which fits in with employees’ tastes and preferences. Looking like a social platform is all well and good, but how exactly does it benefit your business.
One of the more obvious benefits of team collaboration software is its ability to improve productivity by allowing people to talk and work on the move. As a cloud-based solution, good collaboration platforms should work equally well on desktop and mobile, allowing people to discuss, share and schedule wherever they have an internet connection.
Some of the latest team collaboration solutions, for example Unify’s Circuit, take this a step further by supporting browser-based access to their tools and features. Using the WebRTC protocol, Circuit allows users to make voice calls, enter a video conference or share their desktop direct from a web browser, meaning they can work from any device without the need for any downloads.
There is also the question of how team collaboration fits in with wider communications across the business. The telephone is still the primary mode of communication for the overwhelming majority of businesses. Team collaboration solutions like Circuit and Fuze appreciate this, and offer full compatibility with PBX and phone management systems. By offering the choice of making and managing calls from within the collaboration platform, these solutions further help to streamline processes.
Another product which offers PBX integration is ALE’s Rainbow. Rainbow takes an even broader approach to supporting how businesses can use team collaboration to shape and manage communication and workflow. Unlike most software-based, UCaaS team collaboration solutions, Rainbow is a CPaaS solution. Instead of apps, Rainbow provides access to a set of tools on an open-source platform, meaning they can be plugged into other applications and systems as required. The focus is therefore on integration, on making collaboration part and parcel of the bigger picture, and allowing clients to shape workflow to the way which best suits the needs of their business and their employees.