Cloud-based collaboration tools are vital enablers of remote work, and it’s safe to say they’ve redefined the way we work. The best online collaboration software makes it easy for teams to share files, schedule and hold remote meetings, and even co-author documents in real time. For smaller businesses and startups, they also provide the scalability and agility needed to grow and adapt to constantly evolving markets.
That said, while there’s no denying the benefit of cloud-hosted software, choosing the right tools can be complicated. Businesses are now using an average of 110 cloud apps from ever-expanding portfolios of vendors. Also, many of these products don’t work well together, making interdepartmental collaboration unnecessarily complicated and operational risk more difficult to mitigate. That’s why it’s important to choose cloud software carefully to maximise efficiency and productivity.
In this blog, we’ll look at some of the essential collaboration and communication features and functions that small businesses need, and provide recommendations for proven solutions.
Communication is the cornerstone of any effective distributed workforce. While email used to be the gold standard for business communications, that’s no longer the case when it comes to team collaboration. Email is too slow, and inboxes are usually already overflowing with mail already. Instant messaging and video conferencing have become the new standards, and they provide the next best alternatives to face-to-face meetings in an era when work is no longer restricted to the traditional office.
Slack is perhaps the best-known name in instant messaging for businesses, and it provides integrated file-sharing capabilities, group conversations, direct messaging, and topic-based threading. Organizations can also create workspaces for different departments and projects. Slack supports voice and video calling natively too, but you can also integrate a third-party calling app of your choice.
After Slack, the next most popular business communication platform is Microsoft SharePoint, which goes even further to allow companies to set up team pages that work in a similar way to the corporate intranets of old. For Microsoft 365 users, SharePoint is the obvious choice, as is Microsoft Teams for voice and video conferencing. Furthermore, all of Microsoft’s tools work well together, complete with OneDrive integration and document co-authoring.
Other popular business communication tools have a much narrower scope, which might be a good thing if you only need a few specific features. For example, tools like GoToMeeting and Zoom are dedicated entirely to video conferencing.
The days when email offered the only accessible way to share documents are thankfully long gone. Today’s cloud file-sharing platforms provide administrative oversight and uniformity on how file-sharing works in your organization. With a secure, cloud-based file repository, teams can instantly access the documents and data they need to do their jobs and ensure they’re accessing the most recent versions of said files. Furthermore, since everything is stored in the cloud, you can scale your available storage space with demand.
Most online storage services charge per gigabyte of storage, with many vendors also offering a free tier. Market leaders include Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive, but there are many more to choose from, some of which provide additional tools to make it easier for teams to share and co-author documents. For example, Google Docs and Google Drive work together to allow teams to work on the same documents in real-time purely through a browser. Microsoft 365, thanks to its web-based versions of popular desktop productivity apps Word and Excel, provides similar functionality.
When choosing a file-sharing and online storage platform for your business, by far the most important consideration is security, since you’ll no doubt be using it to share confidential and proprietary company information. The aforementioned examples are all hosted in the public cloud – in other words major data centres operated by companies like Microsoft and Google. Therefore, it is imperative that you have the means to protect your data beneath multiple layers of security, including AES-256 encryption and multifactor authentication. Enterprise-ready file-sharing solutions may also provide granular access controls so that team members can only ever access the documents they need to perform their roles. C-EFSS, part of the ContinuSys integrated business management software, goes even further by maintaining complete audit trails of all access requests, so you always know who’s accessing what and when.
For startups and small businesses, the best project management tools are those which offer speed, flexibility, and straightforward collaboration. Many platforms have free tiers as well, so they’re ideal for startups, since they can easily scale up to paid tiers as their teams grow and their projects become more complex.
Project management tools are essential for collaboration, because they help ensure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities, especially for complex projects involving multiple teams and stakeholders. Project management helps maximize productivity and efficiency by keeping everyone on the same page while simplifying planning and management of budgets and human resources. Most project management tools integrate with popular file-sharing and communications apps to prevent team members from having to rely on email and attachments.
Popular project management tools include Asana, Trello, Jira, and Monday. That said, they’re all geared towards slightly different audiences. Trello, for example, follows the Kanban project management methodology, which is popular among software developers. Asana, however, is better suited to larger teams, in which members can be tagged and automatically receive notifications on project progress.
Why choose an integrated collaboration platform?
The key to efficiently managing remote workforces is an integrated collaboration environment. However, such an environment consists of many working components. For example, you may use Slack for instant messaging, Microsoft Teams for video conferencing, and Google Docs for co-authoring documents. While these are individually all decent tools, things quickly get complicated when relying on so many different vendors. For startups and small businesses, which are heavily focused on growth and cost-efficiency, working across such a large software portfolio quickly becomes time-consuming, expensive, and frustrating.
A truly integrated collaboration environment incorporates all the fundamental features needed to support virtual teams. These include video conferencing, instant messaging, file-sharing, project management, document versioning and tracking, and unparalleled security. In other words, if you can use a single integrated software suite to handle everything, you’ll be able to achieve greater productivity, efficiency, and morale – all while better managing operational risk.
C-WORK is a secure collaboration platform supporting video conferencing, file-sharing, and real-time chat. It is part of the ContinuSys integrated business management system. Request your demo today to see how it works.