Small businesses are fast overtaking large firms as competitive sources of commercial innovation. The success of these businesses is reflective of the benefits of intentionally-smaller operations – they have reflexive teams that can easily react to new trends and changes in client expectations, and have a unique ability to be innovative.
However smaller businesses often have smaller budgets, especially in their early days, and expensive office rents may mean that small businesses find themselves spread over large geographic areas. The trend towards remote working is not all bad news, and a broad range of collaborative tools are coming onto the market to make spread-out teams more efficient in how they work together.
This blog’s content has been created by sifting through the extremely large range of collaborative software solutions available in Britain. We’ve pulled out some of the most-referenced and most-popular pieces of software, and have compiled them into a number of categories. Depending on your business’ field of work, you may find any one of them useful – please let us know which you find useful, and why!
All the software listed here are communication tools of some kind, designed first-and-foremost to replace (or augment) office conversations. They are digital water coolers, so to speak.
Slack is the best primarily-text-based communication application available for businesses. It helps remote employees in a fast way – of course, it’s much easier to communicate in text while doing other work, than it is to speak face-to-face (camera-to-camera). The point of the application is to minimise email exchange, although it wouldn’t replace email, and it integrates well with Dropbox, Google Docs and Box, making it a good document-sharing tool.
GoToMeeting gives you a video edge, which isn’t a prominent feature on Slack- this lets you use essential non-verbal communication which is vital in workplaces. You can also share screens – awesome for work involving visual data and design. Plus, for really dispersed teams, video communication can help dispel remote employee loneliness. With GoToMeeting, you can also record conversations if you are happy to go through them a second or third time around.
Yammer is essentially Facebook for business and is the closest thing to a social media specifically designed for workplaces – letting you post updates, communicate privately or in groups, and share documents. Very large organisations have put Yammer to work – including international agencies in the United Nations. Before trying out Yammer, consider how susceptible you are to Facebook addiction and proceed accordingly.
‘Tracked changes’ are old, tedious and frustrating, as is version control – thankfully the internet has come to the rescue. Products that have most grabbed my attention include Quip, Podio and Proofhub. These three all have a lot in common, in that they allow for the easy altering and updating of various documentation types stored in the cloud.
For the most part, the choice between these software options appears to be one about how much one is willing to pay for simplicity and ease-of-use – naturally, what these qualities mean will vary from person to person. That said, the below appear to be the software’s defining characteristics:
Tools for visual thinkers For lots of businesses, distance communication requires looking at the faces of your team members and communicating with them in real time and also seeing their ideas laid out in a visual form, rather than just describing orally.
Mural and Cage are two products that serve as digital whiteboards – interactive spaces where ideas can be expressed, exchanged, and commented on, helping involve remote staff in decision-making processes. Again, both these tools have similar functions, the differences being their costs and styles of operation – again, businesses could try them out and then decide which one meets their needs better.
Cage is a great tool for graphic artists and visual creators who want to share their work with clients. As such, it is a strong collaborative tool and one that creates essential barriers between creatives and clients. Concept Inbox allows clients to collaborate with each other, allowing for interactive prototypes to be tested out. If your business is not focused on visual design, but you still need to engage closely with clients, Booking Live will be a great option.
Last but not least, there is software dedicated entirely to project management. Beyond being just a communication too, they help keep different teams correlated and coordinated with each-other.
Trello is a set of digital notecards, which allow for the detailed planning of projects. Integrated with Google Calendar, Outlooks and I Calendar, it helps establish integrating tasks and project milestones. It also assists teams in sharing files and organising deadlines, and it provides a real-time newsfeed.
Wrike allows likewise helps with managing and collaborating project teams and is particularly good for sharing files and work, organising deadlines, and providing real-time newsfeed. It offers integrated project management solutions, but as with Trello, learning how to get the most out of the software can take considerable time.
Zoho has the useful additional feature of being able to set up a Wiki knowledge base – a great way of organising and storing organizational knowledge. Basecamp can help bring together project teams from around the globe – allowing for quick feedback, small changes and updates. It allows for reporting on project performance and provides both internal and external communication tools. Basecamp also has a fast set-up time and is accordingly easy to use, making it an attractive option.
Let us know what you think about these software solutions, and which you might recommend to other businesses. We are interested in finding out your perspectives on them!