Online collaboration is one of the best reasons for businesspeople to embrace the web. There’s no longer a need to email attachments back and forth, and you always know you’re looking at the most recent version of a work-in-progress. What’s more, you can access your group’s documents from any Internet-connected device and make changes in real time. For teams of two to 10 people, there can really be no better solution than online collaboration tools, and the last few years has seen some clear winners emerge from the hundreds of previous contenders.
Radical Innovation: Real-Time Micro-Messaging
The toolset most likely to inspire close collaboration within an organization is the new trend of micro-messaging. Inspired by the hit micro-blogging service Twitter, sites like Present.ly and Yammer allow team members to post constant updates about projects they’re working on to the rest of the group, keeping everyone in sync and on track. The third key player in this space is shaping up to be Communote, which is currently in private beta and therefore requires an invite.
Those companies willing to trial these services may find they unlock new forms of productivity; the flipside is that they’re a new form of distraction, too.
Tried and True: Document Management
The core tool for any group looking to work together online has to be an online word processor. Microsoft Office Live was Microsoft’s tardy entrance into this space, and while it’s likely an easy transition for existing Office users, the early-adopting web community would be unlikely to recommend it.
Competitor Google has a much stronger offering that’s already a hit with the web’s early adopters: for editing documents, spreadsheets and presentations in real-time with a group, Google Docs is the undisputed champion. For those already using Google’s other services, it’s the obvious choice, and web-specific features like embedding documents on blogs and websites make it the strongest option. Google has some impressive competition nonetheless: both ThinkFree Office and Zoho Office match up to Google Docs almost feature-for-feature, with interfaces that are a little kinder on the eye than Google’s offering. Both are good bets for those venturing beyond the obvious choices (and if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a Gmail user, Zoho would be my first choice).
Bringing it All Together: Online Project Management
Getting things done as a team requires an agreed upon schedule, milestones and tasks assigned to individuals. Particularly for remote teams, the web offers some of the best tools for the job.
A more-than-worthy Basecamp alternative is UK-based Huddle, which combines Basecamp’s project management features with document editing in the style of Google Docs: It’s a single solution for all your collaboration needs, and the pricing is cheaper than Basecamp across the board (the most expensive account is less than $100/month). The truly interesting feature, however, is Huddle’s integration with business networking champion LinkedIn: the Huddle Workspaces application is an incredibly handy tool for collaborating with LinkedIn colleagues.
Online collaboration unlocks value in a business and allows for rapid communication: if you’re not using these tools, you can guarantee some of your competitors are. The desktop is no longer a productive place to be.