The rise of remote work and asynchronous business models have increased the demand for flexible collaboration software tools to support project management across a distributed workforce.
The most robust options try to replicate the in-office experience by facilitating both structured and spontaneous communications. Many collaboration tools also provide industry specific services, such as customer or client management, KPI tracking, or lab notebook software for managing research teams.
While the ideal combination of collaboration software functions depends on a company’s size and needs, there are a few features that are universally viewed as essential.
Cross Platform Access
Unless a company issues standard hardware to all of its employees, chances are that distributed teams will access the collaboration software using a variety of devices and operating systems. A single worker may use a laptop, mobile phone, and tablet concurrently as part of their workflow.
This is why hardware compatibility is such an important feature for collaborative software. This removes the financial burden from the company for buying IT hardware, while giving employees more flexibility in the devices they use throughout their workday. It also reduces barriers to hiring globally, as device availability often differs by region.
Similarly, collaboration software should ideally accommodate multiple time zones and adjust settings accordingly.
Any team or department will need to have an overview of all the tasks in the project to determine if they are within their timeframe and budget. Collaboration tools can support this by providing project creation and status tracking features.
For example, many project management tools give users the ability to create and schedule recurring tasks and assign them to team members. Within each task, team members can include more details, such as due dates, files, and checklists.
All of this information can be analyzed through a project overview dashboard that can display important metrics, such as employee workloads, status updates, and average time on tasks. These dashboards can be used to identify process bottlenecks or redistribute assignments more equitably.
Teamwork is impossible without communication. The best collaborative tools offer in-platform messaging options that allow users to share private and public messages. Chat features allow team members to collaborate in real-time. Messaging systems can work as an internal email system to asynchronously share updates and information.
Many companies also use messaging channels to foster relationship building amongst employees. For example, many companies set aside “water-cooler” communication threads where employees can talk about non-work related topics.
File and data storage can be a tricky area for distributed teams, as all documents must be accessible by team members no matter where they are. Collaborative tools can solve this issue if they offer cloud storage within the platform.
For example, some software allows users to upload files, images, and videos directly into tasks. Anyone who can access the task can also download the shared file. Users can set restrictions to prevent sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands.
Three out of every four American employees use their phone to perform some aspect of their work. For this reason, companies should consider using collaborative tools that also offer app versions.
While app versions are often less robust than their web-based counterparts, they are designed specifically for mobile devices. They may allow users to complete certain functions offline, which minimizes the risk of a project delay due to a problem with internet connection.
Planning and scheduling meetings is an important aspect of project management. Many collaboration platforms feature calendars or meeting setting systems that will automatically detect and schedule all attendees availability and suggest viable meeting times.
These platforms can also be used to schedule and assign shifts. Hourly workers can also track their time directly in the system. Some collaborative tools can pull time tracking information to produce client invoices.
Even the best collaboration software will not include every possible feature a business may need. Integrations are the perfect way to create a tailored solution without the hassle and expense of creating a bespoke system.
Nearly all collaboration tools integrate with Google Workspace and Microsoft Office applications. Many industry specific tools will offer integrations with more general project management software, such as Basecamp, Asana, or Trello.
Visual design and ease of use are possibly the two most important features any collaboration tool can offer. Employees are more likely to use software that is intuitive, has a short learning curve, and well-designed.
Ideally, collaboration software should include navigation features that are easily recognizable, such as tabs and buttons. Since people like to view information differently, collaboration tools should also offer different ways to view tasks, such as by timeline, calendar, or by status. Any generated dashboards should be easy to understand and void of unnecessary data.