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Online Collaboration Tools for the Mobile Workforce

Activity-based work environments
are ideal for encouraging collaboration

Ian Morely

By Ian Morley

Today’s workforce is increasingly mobile: working from home, working on the go, and moving around in a large corporate workplace. That’s especially true in an agile environment. At the same time, enterprises are recognizing the need to break down silos and increase collaboration in order to boost creative thinking and innovation. What’s the solution to this seeming paradox? Choosing effective online collaboration tools and pairing them with a well-designed workplace.

Start with a collaborative workplace environment

Agile and activity-based work environments are ideal for encouraging collaboration, because they are designed to bring people together who might not have the opportunity to work together otherwise. In these new flexible work spaces, people choose their seat each day (and throughout the day) based on the work they need to do or who they need to work with, rather than sitting at an assigned desk. The changing environment creates more interaction, and workplace includes more casual meeting areas designed for impromptu group work sessions.

Designing effective activity-based workspaces, however, is not a simple matter of throwing in cushy chairs and a café. It requires a deep understanding of your workforce and how people use space, and that intelligence must extend down to the team level. How do you get that information? By implementing utilization tracking technology combined with intelligent workplace management tools. Only then can you create spaces that effectively encourage collaboration, since they are designed for the way each team works most effectively.

Learn more:
8 Tips to Encourage Collaboration in the Agile Workplace
Managing Workplace Utilization

Once you have created the right environments for your business teams, then you need the right online collaboration tools so they can work together within a large corporate campus, as well as with remote team members.

Online collaboration tools can take many forms. They range from enterprise-wide social media networks to tools for specialized tasks such as design collaboration or content management. Here we will focus on some of the common needs that just about every large organization has when it comes to enabling collaboration among a mobile workforce: managing communication, project management, and video chat.

Online collaboration tools for managing communication

Slack or HipChat

When you need real-time communication between team members to keep everyone on the same page, choose online collaboration tools like Slack or HipChat.

According to Atlassian, business people receive 304 emails each week, check their email 36 times in an hour, and spend 16 minutes refocusing after handling email. That’s a serious drain on productivity. Online collaboration tools like Slack and HipChat make it simpler and easier for team members to chat and stay up to speed in real time.

According to PC Magazine, “Many organizations of all sizes have turned to online collaboration tools to get their employees off email and back to work. In fact, one company that deployed a suite of collaboration tools and made a concerted effort decreased email by 60 percent over three years.”

However, these online collaboration tools do much more than exchange text messages. They store messages in an organized system that makes it easy to find prior conversations for reference. You can tag keywords in a message and also tag team members who might not be in the conversation so they get notified.

The tool for you depends on your needs: Slack integrates with many other tools to automate actions. HipChat provides functionality for screen sharing and video calls, and includes some useful plug-ins.

Online collaboration tools for project management

Trello or Asana

For a large organization with remote employees working together, managing projects and staying on top of progress can be a daunting task. That problem is magnified when projects are fast-paced and when employees are frequently shifted to different teams to meet changing business needs.

Online collaboration tools such as Trello and Asana help remote teams organize and track the progress of projects down to the task level.

For those teams who tend to have sticky notes all over their desks and cover whiteboards with them in brainstorming sessions, Trello may be a great fit. This tool uses a simple card-based system to keep track of individual items. Each “card” can be assigned to customized categories, assigned to a person, and given a due date.

If your organization has large, complex projects involving many people and tasks, Asana might be a great project management tool for you. Employees can see all the projects they are assigned to, as well as the tasks assigned to them sorted by priority.

The best part? Both of these online collaboration tools have excellent apps for the mobile workforce to keep track of project tasks.

Online collaboration tools for video chat

Appear.in OR Google Hangouts

Sometimes seeing people’s faces can really enhance communication. Emojis can only go so far to communicate the subtleties of body language. When you need to talk face-to-face with remote staff, as well as third-party consultants or other contributing team members located elsewhere, you need online collaboration tools for video chat.

Of course you know about Skype. But there are other great options you may not have considered, including Appear.in and Google Hangouts.

Appear.in is an amazingly simple app that lets you video chat with up to 8 people at a time (12 with the paid version). People don’t have to register or download anything. And you can even screenshare.

For bigger teams, Google Hangouts beats Skype, since it allows you to video conference with up to 100 people at the same time! And of course it integrates with Gmail.

One more handy collaboration tool: wayfinding apps

In a large corporate facility, the sheer size and complexity of the place can be a hindrance to collaboration all by itself. Finding appropriate meeting spaces, and finding colleagues to collaborate with, is a big time-waster.

In an agile environment with smart utilization tracking technology in place, you can implement another smart collaboration tool: wayfinding systems. These online collaboration tools are powered by real-time utilization data, so your workforce can easily find an available room or where a colleague is located. Best of all? They can do so in seconds using a mobile app. Talk about a better employee experience!

To see how it works, watch this wayfinding video demo.

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Creating an Activity Based Working Strategy

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