Last reviewed 16 June 2022

Individuals and groups have always had to collaborate across a business, but Covid and the shift to working from home (WFH) have meant the tools in use have had to change. Dave Howell considers what collaboration looks like post Covid and assesses the tools we need to enable businesses to continue with their innovation strategies or asks if we need a new collaborative toolset.

Connecting teams and individuals together has always been a core component of successful and innovative companies. However, as we enter a post-pandemic business landscape, how businesses support their remote teams with robust, secure and agile collaboration tools forms a critical component of every digital transformation journey.

Deloitte succinctly stated: “Today, digital collaboration tools are an important way of getting the best out of an organisation’s talent.” Indeed, their research suggests that 20% of employees have been proactive and used third-party collaboration tools as the tools provided by their employer did not have the functionality needed to enhance their tasks, with 56% of those surveyed working in an environment with little collaboration or innovation.

Speaking to us, Johannes Wiebus, founder of the digital media production company Jynx Productions comments: “We had never heard of Zoom before the pandemic. Like millions of other companies, we were forced to figure out a way to keep the team connected and collaborative. We were early adopters of collaboration software Flow, which we’ve stuck with for over ten years.”

Wiebus continued: “We never switched to Slack, because Flow worked well as a project management tool for us. So, the team was already used to Flow when the pandemic hit. Of course, we’ve also been using the Google suite for a while now. Everything else, we had to figure out. So besides Zoom for meetings, we looked into software that could make remote editing and communication between editor and producer more seamless. We settled on Frame i.o. which is intuitive and integrates well with our existing Adobe suite.”

Hosted services had expanded their reach before the pandemic but saw a meteoric expansion as businesses scrambled to connect a sudden mass remote workforce. Since then, these tools have continued to mature and expand their features and capabilities.

And companies with the knowledge that a comprehensive collaboration suite of tools is critical to their future growth have begun to measure the ROI of the toolset they have chosen to use. “About 35% of organisations have already measured some benefit from their team collaboration investments, with the biggest gains being reduction in meetings, cost savings, and revenue increases”, concludes Metrigy in their report.

Whichever collaboration tool or tools are chosen for your business, take care to understand what is driving your choices. Consult with every user of the tools you intend to install. It’s critical to gain their insights to ensure a strong ROI on your investment, as this ultimately leads to efficient business processes.

Connecting the dots

Lily Fisher, a Senior People Partner at Omnipresent, spoke with us and began by responding to the question.

How has the pandemic shifted the use of collaboration tools?

“The pandemic disrupted organisations everywhere. Today, there remains a strong pull from employees to work in a way that suits their needs and productivity requirements. It’s one of the reasons remote and hybrid work are here to stay for knowledge workers. And with that, organisations need to make a shift from thinking remote work is a temporary solution.

“There is a general view that being in the same workplace helps teams communicate and collaborate. Team communication and collaboration require a strategic approach, regardless of where employees work or the time zones they’re in. It’s more about shifting effectively to the tools, policies and processes so they can work better.

“This all needs a long-term strategy and requires new ways to onboard, communicate and engage teams, as well as manage productivity and processes.”

What are the key challenges when choosing which collaboration tools to use?

“According to our report, 70% of fully remote workers and 57% of hybrid workers claim they lack communication and collaboration opportunities or tools to do their work effectively.

“As such, organisations and teams should be clear on what they need. Hundreds of new tools are available to help hybrid and remote teams communicate, collaborate and engage effectively, so careful selection based on organisational needs is essential.

“We use several business communication tools - our favourites (beyond Slack and Zoom) are NotionGoogle WorkspaceLoomMIRO and*. They all serve a unique purpose. For instance - centralising processes and documents, asynchronous collaboration, reducing meeting times, whiteboards and project management. There are many more out there that offer similar features and functions, so businesses need to identify the best communication apps for their specific workplace, teams and needs.

“*We don’t receive any financial gain from recommending the above services. It’s based on our independent experiences and research.”

In your view, how should small business owners approach their search for a collaboration tool that will enable them to thrive post-pandemic?

“Choose just one tool per purpose. For example, don’t use two project management tools with similar core features. Doing that is an excellent way to waste time and money. Keeping it streamlined also reduces confusion and distraction.

“Create clear guidelines to ensure everyone understands how and when to use specific communication platforms. This helps drive collaboration, productivity, and connection to set remote and hybrid teams up for long-lasting success.”

Remote working is now the norm. How can collaboration tools be used to connect dispersed workforces?

“Asynchronous collaboration is key for a distributed team. To collaborate effectively, it’s necessary to build a suite of purpose-specific tools to modernise and optimise communication methods. Done well, this helps teams not only to work together seamlessly across locations and time zones, it also increases productivity, supports engagement, creates connection and builds trust.”

New working spaces

As mass WFH becomes the norm for most businesses, this shift in workforce organisation will need a hybrid approach to support all workers. Enterprises were forced to install remote collaboration tools at speed as the pandemic deepened with little thought given to their usability, how they integrated with existing systems and the security of these applications and services.

Microsoft concluded in their report: “Seamless collaboration across disparate business functions and geographies drives business success. It makes innovation part of business as usual, with teams sharing ideas and information in real time, regardless of where they’re working.”

Emily Lin, product manager at Figma, offers these three steps to collaboration tool success.

  1. Is it easy to use? What may seem intuitive to one person may be intimidating to others. If your goal is to enable broad and inclusive collaboration across your team or company, look for a tool that feels approachable and doesn’t require a steep learning curve. Complexity can be a collaboration killer.

  2. Is it easy to access? One way to prevent people from adopting a tool is to make it challenging to start using it. Nobody wants to deal with clunky sign-up flow or download another desktop app. Instead, look out for tools that make file sharing easy. For example, web-based apps make accessing a file as simple as clicking on a URL.

  3. Is it enjoyable to use? If our years-long experiment in WFH has taught us one thing, it’s that working remotely isn’t a panacea. It’s flexible, sure, but it’s not always fun, which research suggests can fuel collaboration. It may seem silly, but don’t discount the importance of tools that bring a bit of play to your day.

Work has changed forever. Fully remote workers and those that adopt a hybrid approach all need to use a range of collaboration tools. The suite of tools in use has rapidly expanded. With so much choice, take your time to evaluate each tool on your shortlist.

Test these tools with a cross-section of your workers. Their feedback is invaluable. Your ultimate choice should deliver ease of use, seamless integration with other tools and network access and provide an engaging environment for your employees to work within.