Not long ago, when co-workers needed to work together on a project, they reserved a meeting room and brought their tools and information in carefully labeled file folders. Though few realized it back then, this type of collaboration wasted absurd amounts of time: in walking back and forth to shared spaces, in reading and reviewing others’ hardcopy notes, and even in personally inviting the right (and wrong) teammates to get the job done.
That brings us to today, when workplaces look almost nothing like they did even a decade ago. Across the globe, offices are filled with a diverse smattering of devices, many of which are personal machines brought to work by employees. Many workers never even venture into a shared office space, and a growing percentage of the employed even lack an employer, preferring home-based freelancing and contract work instead. The way we collaborate in our work has changed – and that is entirely due to the recent spectacular changes in collaboration tech.
The Evolution of Collaboration Tech
Language, itself must be celebrated as the original collaboration tool, but since then people have developed technologies that augment language to facilitate collaboration. Modern collaboration tech generally has its roots in email, which was developed in the ’60s and has been widely used by businesses since the ‘80s. From the beginning, email has seemed advantageous: It allows near-instant communication with co-workers near and far without consuming resources like paper and ink. As a result, a worker can send millions of emails a day and get work done faster and cheaper.
Unfortunately, current research shows that email is actually a significant time-waster, giving workers the sense of being productive without helping them take real steps toward accomplishing a goal. Several times an hour, a worker might check his or her inbox and respond to bland comments or queries, but those seemingly short minutes add up to full days of uncompleted work. Therefore, most companies have been looking for a different way to share information and enable cooperation without distractions.
In recent years, dozens of collaboration technologies have responded to that need. Some offer employee networking, providing an inclusive messaging service to allow instantaneous chat. Others accelerate idea development with digital drawing boards, concept collages, and more. The best software provides all kinds of collaboration solutions in-one, like Cisco Spark available from local distributors. Still, low-budget startups can cherry-pick services with free or cheap (albeit more limited) online tools, like Google Drive, Wizehive, Basecamp, or others.
How to Develop a Tech-Savvy Collaborative Workplace
Yet, despite the wealth of tech-based collaboration opportunities, many businesses continue to struggle to maximize efficiency within their teams. Typically, the problem comes from a failure to train employees in collaboration tech and mandate their use. As with any technological change, employees must be granted time to understand the functionality of collaboration services and adapt their use to their everyday work. Even so, after years of doing their work a certain way, many workers will resist such a drastic change, even if it makes their jobs easier and faster. Therefore, policies should change to include use of the tech, so any workers who fail to conform must change or find another workplace at which to slow progress.
Of course, a properly trained and incentivized workforce that continues to avoid collaboration tech may do so because the tech chosen for them is not actually beneficial. In this case, leaders should make use of free trials or demo versions of collaboration software, allowing employees to test-drive the services and provide feedback before the company invests in an expensive business membership or software suite. In fact, leaders might consider asking employees to provide suggestions on collaboration tech that would benefit them, so the transition can be especially smooth.
It is impossible to predict what types of collaboration software will be right for individual teams. However, because there is a vast and diverse supply of collaboration technologies available, it is almost certain that any business or self-employed worker can make good use of at least one. Some of the most popular collaboration services include instant messaging, video conferencing, file sharing, task management, and project documentation. A team that would benefit from two or more should consider a more powerful collaboration system than the tools found free online.