Advancing technology has helped businesses streamline their workflows and maximize output in an innumerable number of ways. Yet, is too much of a good thing a bad thing? Today’s digital marketplace is enough to overwhelm even the savviest of users. There are applications and online collaboration tools available for just about any business need. And, this is especially true of programs designed to enhance collaboration amongst teams. These team collaboration tools encompass a wide range of functionalities, from file sharing and video conferencing to instant messaging and remote access.
Each of these online collaboration solutions promises to boost efficiency and reduce endless back-and-forth cycling, but, in practice, the results are not always so straightforward. In fact, the overabundance of online collaboration tools can often hinder effectiveness and stall workflow. One study revealed that 69% of workers surveyed spent up to 60 minutes per day switching between apps. In this article, we will explore the potential trappings of collaboration tool overload—why these tools can sometimes impede communication and productivity. We’ll also tackle the best course of action to avoid these pitfalls and enable meaningful, collaborative work.
What Are Collaboration Tools?
Team collaboration tools empower two or more individuals to work together to accomplish a common objective or achieve a desired result. For businesses, they can be roughly broken down into three categories: communication, project management, and file management. Tools for communicating allow for instant feedback and approvals, while project and file management tools work with tracking, task ownership, and data sharing. Online collaboration tools that leverage cloud computing enable teams to access shared platforms from any location, at any time, exponentially increasing the speed of work processes.
When Do Online Collaboration Tools Fail?
These tools can miss the mark for many reasons. Employees will have individual working methods that they prefer and, as such, not all tools selected for teams will be universally liked. While this is commonplace and not the reason tools might prove ineffective, it is a reminder to embrace employee feedback.
A common road bump is the adoption of “best of breed” applications that continue to introduce and integrate updates and new features that do not serve the needs of employees. Having a sound and broadly-communicated strategy for team collaboration tools is of the utmost importance. Without it, a collaboration tool might be utilized differently by different team members, which leads to gaps in information and misalignment. A lack of agreed-upon best practices and disregarded feedback can see departments using different versions of the same tools or turning to free versions of other tools to better suit their needs. And, beyond internal usage, a poorly defined online collaborative tools strategy might leave employees to prioritize programs that integrate better with those of their clients or vendors.
This can result in desktops and work phones littered with dozens of disparate apps, designed to afford time-savings and convenience but accomplishing quite the opposite. Time spent navigating between apps, updating, and migrating files from one to the other can quickly become burdensome. Not to mention, potential security issues that might be lurking in the dark corners of an increasingly complex and cluttered toolbox. At the end of the day, simplicity, in the sense of fewer tools, is key for security.
How To Pick Team Collaboration Tools
You can avoid technology fatigue by keeping a few steps in mind:
Step One: Understand Workflow, Identify Needs
While it is tempting to be lured by the latest features and snazziest user interface graphics, the best strategy is to focus first on the business problem and second on the technology that helps solve it. Assessing team needs begins by mapping workflow to familiarize yourself with precisely how objectives are met—What is the challenge you face? What kind of data is needed to solve it? And, who are the people who will use this data to find a solution? These questions can help you drill down to your collaboration tool strategy and identify its future users.
While interviewing every future-user of a collaboration tool might not be logistically possible nor recommended, it is smart to get buy-in from key team members. They can provide insight before moving on to tool selection and also mitigate potential dissatisfaction post-implementation as a ‘champion’ or ‘ambassador’ for the tool. It can also help establish the best collaboration tool for the job. Your team may already work well together, in which case a solution will need to fit the overall working dynamic while helping to expedite particular established steps in the workflow—file sharing for review, task tracking for project management, etc. In other scenarios, teams have established pain points where bottlenecks or misalignments occur. This requires a different approach when selecting a tool. Instead of finding one that fits into an existing, functional pattern the team might be better served with a more holistic solution that establishes the kind of workflow you would like to see.
Step Two: Assess Your Current Toolbox
The next step, once establishing use cases and goals for collaboration is to understand how existing tools map onto these needs. In some instances, gaps that have been previously patched over with non-integrated tools that disrupt workflow become apparent. For example, internal messaging systems that do not allow for or severely limit file sharing. This means team members might need to rely on email to send or share files pertinent to a conversation happening over a chat tool. Not only is toggling between the two applications disruptive to workflow, but splintering the conversation and relevant materials across multiple applications will make it difficult to track in the future and, therefore, inhibit knowledge-sharing. In other cases, you might find that you already implement multiple solutions that cover the same functionalities. Again, fragmenting projects and data, which should be housed under one roof.
Multiple applications, large file transfers, and data incompatibility are issues easily resolved by the implementation of a cloud-based CAE platform. SimScale’s Team plan allows customers in any location to instantly access, edit, and collaborate on projects all within a single, shared dashboard.
For engineers working within the design simulation phase, this means the end of copying projects and beginning from scratch. Multiple team members can work within a single project, boosting efficiency and timeliness within team workflows. Team access to the platform also enables organizations to scale knowledge-sharing quickly, with simulation expertise easily demonstrated through previous project examples. And, while work on SimScale always remains confidential, the cloud collaboration functionality allows for SimScale’s team of support engineers to provide tailored assistance for the quickest route back to simulating. These collaboration features make SimScale a software solution with a meaningful, measurable impact on business processes and timelines.
In the same ways you set KPIs for employees, you can set benchmarks to ensure the tools you’re using accomplish their stated objective. If a company-wide project management software was implemented to increase productivity, pull the data, and compare how many completed projects have crossed the finish line compared to before. Even if existing tools were not rolled out with specific objectives or benchmarks, teams can always retroactively analyze data and observe the change impact, if any.
Step Three: Consolidate or Replace
Having a clear understanding of current team workflow and available tools is crucial before enacting decisions around new tool implementation. The idea is to reduce or eliminate collaboration tool fatigue altogether. A sound understanding of steps one and two might very well reveal that the best choice is to scale back current tools or offer adequate training and best-practice alignment on existing applications.
If needs are best met with the introduction of a new tool, keep integration top of mind. It is important to understand how a new solution will interact with other applications and software like CRM, CMS, etc. For engineering teams that rely on computer programs for various steps in their design process, ease of collaboration between integrated CAD and CAE software can help iterate and validate designs more efficiently.
Based on these three steps, a shortlist of suitable tools will help you quickly compare functionality, delivery options (buy vs. lease vs. subscription model), quality of customer support, etc. As the moment of decision approaches, set clear objectives for new solutions, how they fit within your collaboration tool strategy, and commit to a method of measuring its impact.
Conclusion: Online Collaboration Tools Consensus
Selecting the best-integrated application for your team to reduce technology fatigue and enhance collaboration requires careful assessment and consideration, but is worth the upfront time investment. After rolling out the chosen tool, continue to monitor company-wide use and effectiveness in order to adjust utility or best practices to better fit the working style and challenges of the team. Put an end to overwhelming your organization with too many, non-integrated apps that distract with excess notifications leading to a workflow. Meaningful research into business needs, available technology, and collaboration strategy will empower teams to tackle problems with the best tool for the job.
Additional Resources on Team Collaboration Tools From SimScale:
- The Evolution of Engineering Teams and How They Stay Competitive
- Cloud Migration in 2020: The New Digital Workplace
- 3 Things to Consider as Your Engineering Team Grows