Remote workers are here to stay and their numbers continue to rapidly increase worldwide. There are many reasons for this trend, from cost considerations to flexibility in childcare to saving hours in senseless commuting. Remote workers are increasingly empowered by technology solutions that makes telecommuting and remote collaboration increasingly appealing and viable.
Teams are a natural way to organize work in companies, government agencies, universities and anyplace where coordination and planning are necessary to achieve an objective. Teams can include just co-workers, or extend to include vendors, partners or contractors. It is relatively easy to get together and become productive when everyone is under the same roof, so Bob can walk over to Mary’s desk and discuss a design detail, or everyone in the Marketing department can gather in the conference room for a project update. But working remotely brings different challenges.
Teams collaborating across time zones or just across town, without the ability to carry out natural conversations, are unable to use the cues, signals, and body language that make communication more effective. For teams to excel, they must share more than just information. They must reach a level of energy and engagement that allows them to perform as one, with each member playing their part but creating something greater than a collection of individual contributions.
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Unfortunately, many companies and teams still rely on old technologies, such as email, as their primary way to share information. They get only a fraction of the value of face-to-face communication, not to mention the time wasted sorting through their inbox in search of a file, or combing through the dreaded “Reply All” to make sense of the conversation thread. According to a report published in Inc. magazine, workers in small and medium-size businesses spend half their time on email. According to the study, 14 percent of an information worker’s day is spent duplicating information (i.e., forwarding emails, or confirming that a file was received). So much for energy and engagement.
The Pitfalls of 1st Generation Collaboration
A first generation of collaboration tools emerged to address these challenges, and they were mostly single purpose products that improved one aspect of remote collaboration requirements.
Products such as Skype, Google Hangouts, and Gotomeeting have provided teams with the ability to conduct face-to-face conversations that bridge the remote communication gap. These products are communication tools that essentially replace the plain old telephone with cheaper and more effective options.
In order to avoid email overload, products such as Hipchat and Campfire have emerged to provide group chat capabilities that make a conversation much more agile and digestible in remote group settings. They are good at making conversations flow quickly, and avoid many of the pitfalls of email. Another category of products aimed at team collaboration are “object”-centric, putting a task or a document at the center of the communication flow. Products like Asana and Trello allow you to create and manage task lists and keep track of their progress. Notifications are sent via email to team members to update them on the status of a task or a project, making this type of communication focused and narrow.
In order to have better shared access to files, products like Dropbox and Google Drive allow multiple team members to keep their files in the cloud, work on them collaboratively, and sync them on their desktop or other computing devices. This category of product is very popular and provides useful functionality, but there is little additional communication around the shared files. They are largely stand alone or organized in folders, without the benefits of the context in which the files were created and edited.
A New Generation of Collaboration Tools
A new generation of team collaboration tools has been recently released that takes productivity to a new level. Tools like Slack and Glip are moving into new territory with more integrated approaches. Slack combines group messaging, file uploads and notifications, and makes all of it available on the Web, iOS, and Android –- and all easily findable through search.
Glip, on the other hand, is a Conversation Platform. It includes the same capabilities as Slack, but adds the essential productivity tools all companies and teams need to collaborate. In Glip, you can assign and manage tasks, schedule events, and manage your shared calendar, share links, and edit documents, all while staying connected and in touch with the people you work with, organized around teams, projects, or just in one-on-one chats. It also has built-in video chat and conferencing, all right in the conversation stream.
Team collaboration has come a long way, and remote teams can now operate at a level of energy and engagement that approximates that of local teams. Integrated tools that bring together the capabilities needed to get your work done while staying connected are the future, offering productivity gains with the convenience of finding the right talent right where they live.
Claudio Pinkus is founder and COO of Glip, Inc., the developer of Glip, the Conversation Platform with integrated productivity tools. He is also founder of NetStrategies, LLC, a boutique consulting and financial advisory firm based in Los Angeles. Until June 2004, Claudio was Chief Strategy Officer for Ask Jeeves, Inc.