As we trade in the industrial age for the information age, the idea of the solitary worker is coming to an end. Problems require teams, not individuals, to solve. At the same time, meetings and face-to-face discussions can be time consuming, or worse, they can interrupt workplace flow. Add to that the fact that, increasingly, talented professionals choose to work from home, or from afar, and we start to recognize the need for collaborative software.
Scientific experiments have shown that computer mediated interfaces actually lead to more innovative work than brainstorming sessions or solo work. While there’s no doubt that phone calls and face to face communication have their place for urgent and in depth conversations, it’s becoming increasingly clear that computer interfaces are actually more effective for many forms of collaboration.
Recognizing this fact, we’ve collected 3 important workplace tools that have been shown to boost productivity and creativity in the modern workplace.
Lync is essentially an instant messenger for business professionals, but it incorporates several other elements that make it more useful. Crucially, it adds in voice and video calls. The group chat feature allows you to hold meetings with workers who may be in another state or country.
Very useful is the status feature. Lync tells you whether an employee is busy, in a meeting, or out of the office.
Conferences can either be held on the fly, or scheduled in advance. Users can share audio, video, their desktops, slideshows, and white boards. The desktop and presentation sharing capabilities have proven especially useful. You can also use it to send documents.
HD video is available, although this feature is most useful for high speed connections in the office, not from mobile devices. The virtual meetings allow you to see up to five other participants.
Lync also connects with Skype, so that you can use it to connect with clients or customers, who you wouldn’t expect to have Lync. Meetings can be accessed from a browser for outsiders who don’t have Lync. The new version is compatible with any major browser.
All in all, Lync is a useful collaboration tool, and in many ways it is superior to the much more cluttered world of Microsoft SharePoint. It’s much more useful and versatile than email, and makes it obsolete for most purposes.
WorkZone is a project management tool for non-project managers, and is in many ways a more versatile alternative to Basecamp. The simple interface offers users to-do lists, and the ability to submit their own project requests, as well as easy access to files which can be easily searched. (It is one of few in this class to offer full text search.) Management will be happy to know that it comes with the cross-project view, Gantt charts, task dependencies, and subtasks that aren’t available with Basecamp.
To-do lists are available for full projects, as well as for specific users. The project dashboard gives managers an easy to understand overview of the status of projects. When the projects approach their deadline or fall behind schedule, the relevant workers are sent automatic emails to remind them of their status.
Users are free to leave comments on project tasks as well as documents. They can also add notes directly to image files, which is perfect for ad agencies and other creative firms. File versioning and full text search make this one of the more useful document sharing platforms out there. File sharing permissions are flexible and secure.
Workload reports allow managers to track the number of hours assigned to teams or individuals for each time period. Time tracking capabilities allow you to track the amount of time spent on projects, by task and user. You can easily compare the budgeted hours with the actual time spent, and use this knowledge to adjust your planning in the future. Various other reports are available, twenty in all.
A group calendar keeps employees up to date, and you can easily combine calendars together to create a “master” calendar.
One of the better “features” of WorkZone is the ability to easily turn off unwanted features to keep the interface as simple as possible.
While Yammer should only appeal to certain niches of the business world, it can’t be ignored as an important tool for collaboration in the workplace. It functions as a social network for your intranet, and borrows features from Facebook and Twitter that young people entering the workforce should already be very familiar with.
Yammer appeals most heavily to startups consisting primarily of millennials and tech savvy professionals who are accustomed to social networking. The interface looks almost exactly like Facebook, all the way down to the Likes. The most important messages show up in the Newsfeed, and users can send private messages and other notifications to one another through secondary interfaces.
Adding to this functionality, Yammer allows the creation of groups, so that irrelevant messages don’t get thrown into one big pile for everybody to sort through. If the scope of the discussion becomes more broad, it is possible to share it with a specific person or another entire group via instant messages.
Taking a cue from Twitter, Yammer also offers hashtags. These are useful when you need to search for messages relevant to a specific project or subject. Of course, these are only useful if the workforce has been trained to label their posts with them, and knows which hashtags to search for.
Yammer also offers file sharing capabilities, mobile platforms, and an open API for incorporation with other software.
Yammer claims that its clients use 40 percent less email, making it a potential time saver.
As with any tool, Yammer has the potential to become more of a distraction than a boon for business. The workforce must be trained to take advantage of the private messaging, grouping, and hashtags appropriately, so that irrelevant messages are kept out of people’s newsfeeds.
Leveraging Collaborative Tools
While it’s clear that the modern workplace can benefit from collaborative tools, it’s important that they be used wisely. While the above tools were chosen for their simplicity and ease of use, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they will naturally be used for the right purposes.
An effective workforce is trained, not in the specifics of any particular interface, but in the art of collaboration itself. Workers must understand how to collaborate without creating noise. They must know how to stay in touch without distracting one another. They must communicate enough to feel like a team and to stay up to date on what is happening with the latest project, but these discussions shouldn’t give way to idle chit-chat.
We’ve shared these specific tools because we feel they are the best at what they do. That said, never expect a tool to do your job for you.
Images: ”Portrait of mature businessman attending video conference /Shutterstock.com“
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