Your workforce might be spread across different locations or even different continents, but these handy tools ensure projects can be worked on and shared seamlessly
Receiving too many emails, keeping staff updated on developments and making sure files are shared can be tricky, whether you run a blue chip company or a smaller enterprise.
Luckily for you, there are now plenty of practical tools and technologies to enhance and streamline business communications and adopt flexible working practices. Just as Facebook will (probably) never fully replace face-to-face social interaction, these kinds of collaboration tools will never be as effective as the real thing. But as companies become more global and workforces more dispersed, the more intelligent and intuitive networking tools are going to have to become the next best thing to meeting face to face.
So here are our five favourites collaboration tools for business:
If you’re working flexibly, a solution that allows people to collaborate from different locations as if they were still in the same room can really help shared projects develop. Yammer claims to bridge the gap. It’s a private social network boasting five million users, that claims it is “as easy to use as great consumer software like Facebook and Twitter, but designed for business collaboration”.
Yammer is deployed in small and large businesses – from local councils to the global energy giant Shell. Yammer is apparently used by half the largest healthcare companies in Europe, as well mobile phone provider O2.
The basic Yammer network is available for free. The premium version costs $79 per month for group use, or $5 per month per user.
“For any size business, flexible working can pose challenges to communication; the lack of face-to-face interaction must be met with a solution that means people can still collaborate and work effectively,” Georg Ell, General Manager for EMEA at Yammer, says.
These days, companies expect their staff to be connected at all times, and many work around the world in different time zones. Most staff are also already using social networking tools of their own, and have high expectations of the quality and availability of any enterprise network.
Huddle is a platform that allows users to upload, share and work on projects and documents in the cloud, letting various departments and suppliers collaborate without overlapping. It is used by 75% of the UK’s central government departments, 80% of the Fortune 500, and brands such as Diageo and Centrica.
Kia Motors, the Korean carmaker, uses Huddle to circulate information and maintain the consistency of its brand across its PR offices, its global workforce and some of its external marketing and news agencies. During product launches and marketing campaigns, all creative materials are uploaded to the service and shared, so that local agencies and offices can tailor it for local markets. This means that all of the latest versions, approvals and feedback are stored in the cloud for everyone in the company who needs to use them.
Price-wise, Huddle varies – it can cost around $150 a month with 10 gigabytes storage, or $15 per user per month with 1 gigabyte extra space for each user.
“Today enterprises are working in a 24/7 digital economy, and in this fast-paced environment traditional enterprise software is failing,” says Simon O’Kane, vice president, Enterprise, at Huddle. “Accustomed to the easy-to-use social tools available in their personal lives, people are now demanding simple tools in the workplace that enable them to get their jobs done.
“They want to be able to access the information they need from wherever they are on any device and work with colleagues regardless of where they are based, or if they work for a different organisation.”
Dropbox is a free file-hosting service that allows you to access your photos, docs, and videos from anywhere with internet access, and share them easily. You’ll never have to email another file again, as you can share folders with any contacts you like – you just invite them to the service, and they register for free.
Initially, you get 2GB to use for free, with another 500MB for every person you get to register (up to 18GB). You can then increase the maount of storage you need from $9.99 upwards. Team plans offer 1TB of data plus. Because of the pricing flexibility, the service suits large and small businesses.
Dropbox was launched in 2008 by Drew Houston who came up with the idea after forgetting his USB flash drive as a student. Weirdly, investors include U2’s Bono and the Edge.
Google+ is also free and allows you to create a network, arrange hangouts (public and private), share ideas, and market a brand in a basic social network format. This model is ideal for brands which are “circled” by fans and made popular. It’s a great tool for sharing videos, links and photos, but not particularly for sharing files.
You can bet your bottom dollar that sooner or later it will start influencing Google organic search results, if it hasn’t already. So if SEO matters to your business, it’s worth getting on Google+ early.
Obayoo is a collaboration tool which combines file-sharing and Twitter-like micro-blogging. The tool is available for free and is tethered to a company email address, allowing you to invite colleagues.
Security and privacy are tight, making Obayoo ideal for companies looking to keep networking and updates private while keeping in touch with what everyone’s doing and working on. You can also import a range of RSS feeds, making it a very handy tool for keeping in touch with happenings in your industry as well as inside the business.
More on flexible working:
FREE REPORT: Flexible working – myth or reality?
Our new flexible working section