What to Look for in a Digital Collaboration Tool

by Jon Ogden
, 6 min read
digital collaboration tool

Now more than ever, it's essential for businesses to use effective digital collaboration tools.

Have you noticed there are several times during the work week where the office just seems empty? All of the sudden, you look up from your computer and notice you are the only one there. It’s not that everyone went to lunch without you, or even that everyone is being laid off.

Increasingly, American employees are choosing to work from everywhere except their desks. The FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report found that 3.9 million U.S. employees work from home at least half of the time. That’s a 115% increase since 2005.

Remote work may foster creativity and open up opportunities for better work-life balance, but it also brings some unique challenges. How will you manage telecommuters? And how can your team work together if they’re spread all over the country? There is a way, and collaboration in the workplace doesn’t have to suffer.

Increasingly, team collaboration is happening in real-time, all the time. The rise in fast-paced cloud technology and standard business applications means employees can share information instantly, from wherever they happen to be. This opens up incredible opportunities to increase productivity while minimizing conflicts, emails, and pointless meetings.

But not all work management tools are created equal. It’s important to find an effective tool that your team will be excited to implement, and that seamlessly connects your employees. To do this, look for a work management solution that features digital collaboration tools.

Be sure that it:

1. Facilitates Real-Time Communication

Projects are finished faster and better when internal and external communication are thriving. Work problems that may take months for one person to complete can be resolved in a matter of days when employees can comment immediately on one clear, organized platform.

In the Workfront 2018–2019 State of Work survey, 56% of workers said a lack of communication is the most common source of conflict with other departments or teams. With the right collaboration tools, your team members can share all of their new, innovative ideas with anyone in the company. They can easily keep up with a project’s latest direction and priorities, and any problems that pop up will take minutes to resolve instead of days.

The State of Work report also shows emails and pointless meetings top the list of things that cripple productivity. Think of the last time you had to schedule or attend a meeting just to put out one small fire. If everyone involved could see project details in real time and share their opinions from wherever they happened to be, there would be no need for unnecessary meetings and long, confusing email chains.

2. Reduces Emails and Meetings

Only 29% of projects are usually successful—meaning they are completed on time and on budget. Loyola University Maryland now consistently achieves an 80% success rate. They implemented the Workfront work management system in 2009 and say it has helped them increase project transparency, accountability, efficiency, and collaboration.

Communicating across an entire campus comes with unique challenges. Each department has its own priorities and schedules, but with Workfront, Loyola staff and administrators have seen more efficient meetings and a 30–35% reduction in team email. Team members are able to quickly log into the cloud-based software on their desktops, or the collaboration app, and look for documents or provide feedback on various projects.

“Status updates, commenting, and online approvals definitely make us more productive,” said Gary Epstein, traffic manager for the office of marketing and communications at Loyola.

3. Integrates with Other Tools

Many companies are already using organizational tools that they like, but they’re often disjointed. An effective digital collaboration tool can maximize efficiency by integrating with the software you already have. It can streamline your processes and increase visibility for more team members.

An updated team collaboration tool can also save you time. Instead of trying to manage outdated tools, you can merge them all into one modern solution. Shortly after starting with Workfront, Loyola was able to retire Microsoft Project and Excel. Leapfrog, a performance marketing agency, reduced overall work chaos by integrating Workfront and Google Drive. Their team members can instantly edit and comment on project documents that are hosted in the cloud, improving and simplifying their work flow.

4. Organizes Work in One Location

Having one source for all project details and updates may be the most helpful capability of collaboration apps and software. It eliminates the hassle of logging into several different accounts and never knowing which one to search for a certain document. Messages won’t get lost by being posted on different portals, and you’ll never miss a notification.

This method of one-stop project organization also increases visibility and accountability. There won’t be side conversations or decisions being made without the rest of the team when all comments are visible to all participants. You won’t have to schedule a meeting just to get everyone on the same page. Your team will always have access to all project details, and can immediately provide feedback, comments, and questions.

Managers benefit from online collaboration tools as well. It is easy to go into one place to conduct weekly project reviews, see which tasks are behind, compare budgets, and hold people accountable.

“When an invoice comes into Loyola, it’s immediately entered in Workfront by our financial analyst, so our current spend is always available, in real time, for every project in the custom dashboard,” said Scott Sax, associate director of Loyola’s project management office (PMO).

The PMO regularly looks at schedules in Workfront, helping the team understand current spend and review soft dollars against costs. With the ability to check a project’s status in real time, the PMO can get ahead of and quickly resolve potential problems. Time isn’t wasted while waiting to hear back from someone, or while trying to fix an issue that someone else already resolved.

5. Fosters Innovation

According to the Workfront 2018-2019 State of Work survey, 58% of U.S. employees do not have time to innovate. If they are only spending time on their day-to-day tasks, how will they help move your business forward? Collaborative innovation is what sparks new ideas, brings in new clients and customers, and boosts revenue.

Moving your team collaboration into one streamlined online software frees up your employees to tap into their passion and creativity. With fewer emails, meetings, and time spent searching for project information, they will have time and energy to spend on new methods, ideas, or products.

6. Gets the Best Out of Each Employee

Not only will your team members have fun innovating, but they’ll also become more self-aware as they spend more time on team collaboration. Working with others helps people realize their strengths and weaknesses. It often gives them the confidence to speak up when they have new ideas, and to support team members whose ideas may be better.

Nobody expects everyone to agree all the time, but with effective communication, disagreements become valuable learning experiences. Enhanced collaboration in the workplace will help co-workers get to know each other, work better together, and know that their efforts and opinions matter.

7. Takes the Risk Out of Learning from Mistakes

There is always a level of risk associated with running a business. You’re going to succeed, fail, and learn from your mistakes. But wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to panic about making those mistakes?

Collaboration tools can provide safety nets for failure, no matter how big or small. If a project starts to go awry, everyone will know right away. No one person or manager will be left in the dark until it’s too late, and you’re left with lost profits and angry clients. You can design your team collaboration system with checks and balances, so that everyone is in it together. Employees will learn from their teammates’ mistakes, their own mistakes—and even their managers’ mistakes.

The age of digital transformation and cloud-based software is changing the game of collaboration. Team members can work from wherever they want, and still have constant access to projects, tasks, and messages. They will love the convenience of an online collaboration tool that puts an end to pointless meetings and never-ending emails. They will get things done quicker, reducing project turnaround time and improving speed to market. Once you have a happy team that works well together, you can expect customer satisfaction and profits to follow.

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