As companies work to improve their hybrid work models and support an increasingly more distributed workforce, they’re quickly coming to appreciate the value of workplace collaboration tools.
The way we work is changing, which means the way we collaborate and use physical spaces is changing, too. With hybrid work increasingly becoming the norm, the office is no longer the default place where things get done. But collaboration is still the default way many things get done.
Given the known benefits of face-to-face collaboration, we can expect the office to stick around. But of course we’ve all come to appreciate the benefits of working remotely, too. So how can companies embrace widely distributed work without sacrificing real-time collaboration? How can hybrid workers stay perfectly connected when they’re at home? While at the same time, they’re also being encouraged to spend more time in office?
The answer, of course, is supporting all employees with sophisticated digital workplace solutions. Solutions that use all the latest cloud-based technologies to enhance collaboration in the workplace. Even when that workplace is always in flux.
In this article we explore workplace collaboration tools. While this will include a rundown of the most useful and popular collaboration platforms, of course, we’ll also share new tools and approaches for our new ways of working.
Insights, tactics, and strategies from today’s workplace
leaders on how they’re shifting the office to better
suit employees and company goals
Perhaps obviously, workplace collaboration tools are anything companies offer employees to support connection, communication, and of course collaboration.
Traditionally, this has included the usual suspects. Popular team collaboration software (think the G Suite and Microsoft Teams), work management apps (think Slack), and perhaps a handful of well-designed collaboration spaces.
But in the past decade (and especially in the past few years), we’ve been collectively redefining what (and especially where) the ‘workplace’ actually is.
To keep pace, companies today need to think more holistically about all the tools they’re using to support team members and to foster better collaboration strategies in a changing workplace.
We know from the OfficeSpace 2023 Workplace Strategy Report that the majority of today’s workplace leaders see great value in the physical office. This is specifically because of the role it plays in enhancing collaboration and culture.
But as the dust settles on the return to the office, office use remains sporadic. Office use is also typically less than leadership was hoping for. And if you go to the office hoping for face-to-face collaboration, then you need other people to show up on the same day, too.
Like one commuter famously told Vox, “if I go into the office and there are people but none of them are on my team, I don’t gain anything besides a commute. Instead of sitting at my own desk, I’m sitting at a desk in Roseland.”
Given these realities, it’s not surprising that the 2023 Report also found that leaders are split on whether or not to mandate office use.
Yes, a mandate might simplify the ‘who’s in the office today’ question.
But true flexible working is critical to both talent attraction and retention. And given its outsized impact on workplace wellbeing and creating a more inclusive company culture, too, many leaders are hesitant to create such strict mandates.
Like Colleen McCreary, chief people officer at Credit Karma tells CNBC, “if my kid has soccer on Thursdays and I have to be in the office all day on Thursday and can’t get him there, that may be hybrid, but it’s not flexible and isn’t working for me.”
In the long run, developing an optimized hybrid workplace change strategy in this context will require companies to test and iterate a variety of different approaches and setups. This should include working closely with employees and other stakeholders to ensure any changes are in line with their overarching goals and company culture.
Specifically, companies need to adopt team collaboration tools that simultaneously accommodate two groups of people. Those who are in-office, and those who are remote (noting that who is in-office and who is remote can shift daily).
These tools need to not only help everyone brainstorm and share information, regardless of location. They also need to help them navigate and wayfind in an increasingly dynamic workplace.
We’ll explore the forms these tools can take next.
Companies have long relied on simple tools like Gantt charts, kanban boards, time tracking, and to-do lists to keep everyone on the same page. The following tools take these capabilities to the cloud, helping to create a digital workspace that enhances more global collaboration.
Like we’ve covered, work collaboration tools are anything that allows people to interact and collaborate with each other. They encompass everything from communication and video conferencing to all the elements of a hybrid meeting room, and much more.
Generally, these tools will fall under one of five categories:
Not everyone can’t hover over the same desk or gather around the same screen to work together on a shared project. So they’ll need software that lets them approach shared projects in the same collaborative spirit.
Shared projects are therefore best managed with a combination of cloud-based collaboration tools, such as:
When choosing collaboration tools, it’s critical to ensure everyone has access to the same documents despite being in varied locations. And don’t forget that access is just the first step. In order to make them most effective, employees will also need to know how to actually use all these tools. Not to mention, they should have any necessary permissions required before introducing them.
Similarly, when you can’t gather around a watercooler or poke your head above a neighbor’s cubicle, then good mobile apps and other communication tools can help you connect and share ideas just as easily. And since virtually all work is now definitively online, even traditional offices with strictly in-office workers will likely need good communication tools.
Typically, companies will need two types of communication tools.
First, they’ll need a messaging system. Slack and Microsoft Teams tend to be the most popular. Other options include Google Chat, Chanty, Flock, and Discord.
Second, they’ll need a company intranet or other source where people can access announcements, org charts, holiday calendars, etc. Note that having good options in both categories can help improve communication and employee engagement, making them a necessity in any office.
Helping employees have good meetings used to be a simple process. You just set up a few spaces with the right meeting room setup style and called it a day.
Today, of course, meetings often have to accommodate participants in many different locations. This is why hybrid meetings and video calls demand some of the best online collaboration tools going.
Specifically, companies today need Zoom (with hopefully Zoom meeting calendar integration), or some other video conferencing software (Webex, GoTo Meeting, and Skype for Business are all popular options). They may also want or need webinar software such as GoTo Webinar or Zoho Meeting.
It’s also important to remember that hybrid meeting rooms themselves may also require special equipment. They’ll typically need good cameras and audiovisual equipment, along with wifi, laptop hookups, and perhaps a digital whiteboard. Many companies are also experimenting with huddle rooms and other smaller conference room spaces. These are designed expressly with hybrid meetings in mind.
It’s also critical to note that remote employees will also need good equipment and wifi. This is, of course, to ensure they’re always able to connect remotely. This is one of the reasons many companies now offer stipends to remote team members.
Finally, developing the right mix of collaboration spaces can be tricky (to say the least) in a hybrid office which sees big swings in attendance rates. As we’ll cover further below, collecting data on meeting use can also help boost collaboration in the long term.
Whether or not employees are working remotely, everyone benefits from tools that streamline project and task management. But of course, with a distributed workforce, it’s much harder to keep track of who’s doing what and what progress is being made.
Beyond basic file storage and spreadsheets, more and more companies are turning to project management software like Asana, Trello, ProofHub, and Wimi to help automate these critical processes. Note taking apps like Evernote are also popular.
Last but definitely not least, the right workplace management system has always been critical to managing well maintained offices and ensuring cost-effective corporate real estate. Today, the right workplace management tools today should also be replete with collaboration features.
Specifically, to maximize face-to-face collaboration in the workplace, companies should offer the following workplace management tools to everyone:
“Visual Directory® is incredibly helpful for our employees navigating the office, and for visitors and new hires who need to familiarize themselves with the office layout.”Celeste Candela, Workspace Experience Manager, Harry’s
“Visual Directory® is incredibly helpful for our employees navigating the office, and for visitors and new hires who need to familiarize themselves with the office layout.”
Despite the many benefits of adding new technology in the workplace, there are some risks as well. Namely, it’s critical to avoid tech sprawl, where companies keep adding more cloud storage and new software, none of which works together. Employees are left scrambling to figure out when and how they should log in to what—and that’s assuming they don’t just stop bothering all together.
The best way to combat tech sprawl is to ensure that any new collaboration tools can integrate with existing software. This way, employees can seamlessly jump in from day one. So, for example, choosing new flexible working software with workplace Slack and Teams integration can ensure both work without interruptions.
This is why ease of use was the primary factor that OfficeSpace client Joe Puchalski, SiriusXM Director of Facilities, considered when searching for a new room and desk booking tool for his employees.
“The platform needed to be intuitive enough that I didn’t have to spend hours and hours training people,” he says.
Whether companies realize it or not, the most popular workplace collaboration tool is actually the workplace itself. Assuming it’s well-optimized for the people using it, the office itself can be the most important tool in your tool box.
Like we’ve covered, the OfficeSpace 2023 Workplace Strategy Report found two key reasons why most leaders want employees to use the office more frequently. To improve collaboration and to reinforce company culture.
To help accomplish these goals, the report also finds that companies have lots of plans to make the office more conducive to collaboration, such as:
Of course, the office is really only a collaboration tool if it’s engaging. I.e.: people need to want to be there. And they need to be met with the right collaborative spaces when they’re there. Gray walls and rows and rows of cubicles won’t cut it anymore.
So assuming they’re also adopting the right hybrid workplace technology, companies can use their workplace itself as an overarching collaboration tool if it’s the right space for the right work
Collaboration is so important in the workplace because it’s what drives both culture and productivity. In other words, it’s tied in to just about any other goal a company might have.
Many companies are hoping that hybrid working will be the silver bullet, helping to improve collaboration, culture, and even cut the costs associated with their real estate portfolios.
And yes, hybrid can certainly do all those things. But it’s not a silver bullet—because getting hybrid right isn’t a straight shot. It requires patience, employee input, workplace agility, and lots and lots of workplace data.
Yes, we know from the 2023 Workplace Strategy that workplace leaders want to use the office to support collaboration. But we also know that one in five of these leaders don’t have actual targets for the office. Or metrics to understand what they’re seeing.
Meanwhile, hybrid work demands those targets and metrics. The only way to find a hybrid solution that works for a company’s unique needs and culture will be to experiment, by testing (and retesting) multiple configurations and strategies. And the only way to know if those experiments are actually working is to collect workplace data analytics.
Today, the best collaboration tool is the office itself. When companies commit to making data-driven and engaging spaces, collaboration will naturally flow.
Otherwise, when assessing new workplace collaboration tools, companies will need to understand and value how employees actually want to collaborate. When considering a new tool, of course pricing matters. But the right tools will ultimately be those that integrate with existing systems to meet and support employees where they are.
Companies can use a variety of tools to enhance workplace collaboration. These usually fall under one of five categories:
1. Collaboration-specific tools (like Google Workspace)2. Communication tools (like Slack and email)3. Meeting tools (like Zoom, as well as meeting spaces and audiovisual equipment)4. Project management tools (like Asana)5. Workplace management tools (like OfficeSpace Software)
These tools make it easier for hybrid employees to access desks and collaboration spaces (among other benefits). In a hybrid working environment, the office itself can also be considered a collaboration tool. This is, of course, assuming it is expressly optimized for collaboration.
Four ways to build collaboration in an office include:
1. Adopting collaboration tools that enhance communication, cooperation, project management, and collaborative office use2. Creating goals for collaboration, and then determine which metrics will help you track whether you’re meeting those goals3. Continually collecting data around those metrics4. Using that data, along with employee surveys, to test and iterate new spaces, to see if they’re helping (or hindering) your collaboration goals.
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for effective team communication and collaboration. Each company will need to create their own strategies, depending on their unique goals and culture. To do this, they need to solicit employee feedback. This is in addition to collecting workplace data they can use to make more informed decisions for future space planning.
Some of the most popular and useful strategies for effective teamwork include activity based working, agile working, and neighborhood workspaces. Ultimately, a good strategy is simply to collect advanced workplace analytics, and let the data drive future plans. Companies can also adopt workplace collaboration tools to enhance cooperation and collaboration.
Businesses use collaboration tools to help employees connect and communicate, whether they’re in the same space or not. These tools are often cloud-based. They can help distributed workers easily work on shared projects and/or communicate in real-time or asynchronously. They may also use collaboration tools to allow employees to book desks and meeting spaces. This can help them use the physical office more collaboratively, too.
Not only can collaboration tools lead to more productivity and innovation in the workplace. They can also help enhance employee experience and engagement. This in turn offers a host of downstream benefits… Including better talent retention and attraction, employee empowerment, and a more employee centric culture.
Companies adopt collaboration tools to simplify project management and help employees communicate and collaborate better, both in real-time and asynchronously. Any company that uses any amount of hybrid remote work will also need collaboration tools simply to allow for work to happen.
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