Slack. Trello. Asana. If you haven’t heard of these collaborative working tools yet, you probably will do soon. As the internet becomes increasingly central to our careers, collaborative programs are enabling people from around the world to work harmoniously and cohesively on specific projects.
While the nuances of these packages vary, their basic principles are the same. Everyone with appropriate login credentials is able to access a shared space which hosts all the documents and conversations relating to a particular project. Modifications are logged and attributed to the person who made them, with more advanced platforms like Github or Red Pen supporting rollbacks to previous file versions at any time.
On paper (or on screen), this might resemble a panacea for companies with scattered workforces or complex projects. However, collaborative working tools do have their drawbacks. Below, we consider the merits and pitfalls of using these packages, helping you decide whether your company should consider using them…
From email to social media, the internet is ideally suited to bringing people together in a shared space. And that’s exactly what collaborative working tools do. They draw every electronic document, conversation, and update relating to a particular project into a single dashboard view. Hundreds of invited participants can view in real time who’s done what, where, when and why. They’re able to access everything relating to that project without having to switch between software applications, effectively eliminating data silos. This is great for freelancers or external contractors, helping them feel like part of a team without becoming salaried employees. Plus, they’ll only see what other group members share with them.
Packages like Slack reduce the need for meetings or webinars. People can chat on message boards about recent events or next stages, brainstorm on virtual whiteboards or update project calendars. Many interactions create permanent conversation logs, so it’s easy to check what was said three weeks last Tuesday, and updates are emailed to team members as they take place. Similarly, actionable to-do lists are a matter of public record, rather than being stored in one user’s inbox. Some programs even have progress gauges or deadline notifications, delivering instant summaries of how much work is still to be done.
Leading platforms offer robust mobile apps for teamwork on the move, making them ideal for remote workers or offsite collaborations. Most are compatible with external file sharing utilities including Dropbox and Google Docs. Best of all, the likes of Github and Trello are completely free to use, while Kahootz has a pay-as-you-go licensing scheme.
While some collaborative working tools are free, others like Podio are only accessible once clients choose from a bewildering array of subscription platforms. Collaborative software is expensive to design and host, which is why most charge for usage after a free trial period. Costs may spiral, and Slack has been known to make registered group members pay to view archived conversation threads. Such barriers are bound to deter occasional contributors from working in this way. Expenses frequently rise as teams expand, and a long-term license might be inappropriate for a one-off or temporary project.
Anyone unable or unwilling to join a collaborative platform could argue they’re not really missing much. These packages don’t do anything radically new, and traditional tools like email retain a permanence (particularly when saved in a PST folder) that a cloud-hosted text conversation can’t match. Conversations may suddenly be archived or even lost if the software provider changes their terms and conditions, while companies might have to delete data or pay for additional storage to make room for new projects. And of course, an always-on internet connection is essential to use any cloud-hosted service.
It’s also important for managers to oversee specific roles for each group member, preventing one person from doing someone else’s job by accident (or by design). Talking through an app is less personable than telephone or face-to-face communication, where people can gauge and respond to each other’s emotions. Finally, night owls or contributors from different time zones may make it hard for other group members to switch off outside core working hours, particularly if they have project notifications enabled…