photo looking down at people sitting at a table working with laptop computers
PHOTO: Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

It's impossible to get to the end of any year in the tech industry without wading through piles of predictions as to what will happen in the coming year. It happens every year. Unfortunately, by the end of January, most people have forgotten those predictions. This year is no different — except when it comes to collaboration strategies.

With work-from-home mandates extended at many organizations, it only makes sense for companies to double down on collaborative solutions that can boost productivity in a time of Zoom fatigue. Here are five reasons collaboration technology will continue to grow in the months ahead.

Continued Investment in the Digital Workplace

It is clear by now that remote and hybrid work models will continue to impact the business ecosystem. Employees now demand more flexibility in how and where they work, while companies, whenever possible, are opening job opportunities to talent across the globe. That means organizations will continue to invest in digital workplace technologies and solutions for long-term remote or hybrid working.

The increased funding for digital workplace initiatives will translate into an increase in the number of emerging technologies for digital workplace solutions. One of those technologies will be enterprise collaboration platforms that enable onsite and remote employees to work together. The current thinking, in fact, is that without these platforms the entire system will break down.

Related Article: What Drives Effective Collaboration in the Hybrid Workplace?

The Need for Security

In today’s landscape, collaboration platforms are no longer an option but a “must-have” for enterprises to survive, said Morten Brogger, CEO of Berlin, Germany-based collaboration platform Wire. It is critical for organizations with hybrid or remote workers to use collaboration tools to enable productivity and communication — and prevent bottlenecks in workflows.

But a critical aspect of collaboration platforms to consider is the security infrastructure, given that remote workers are more predisposed to cybersecurity threats. According to a recent study by security firm Tenable, 74 percent of organizations attributed business-impacting cyberattacks to remote-work tech vulnerabilities such as accessing data with personal devices, migrating processes to the cloud and third-party software compromises. End-to-end encryption (E2EE) is one area where collaboration tools can help.

“As companies reconsider reopening their offices and continue to offer flexible work, a collaboration platform remains essential — whether this be a combination of messaging apps or video conferencing tools,” said Brogger. “These platforms must also support asynchronous communication and offer E2EE capabilities to prevent cybersecurity risks while communicating sensitive information across distributed teams.”

Related Article: Is Working From Home an IT Security Issue?

Unifying Enterprise Communications

Remote work provides a unique set of challenges, said cybersecurity specialist Isla Sibanda. One of those is establishing clear lines of communication across the distributed workforce to manage project milestones virtually. Collaboration platforms give enterprises the option to have the entirety of an organization’s communication on a single platform. This centralization improves efficiency and replaces unnecessary applications.

“A company that does not use collaboration tools when working with remote teams is making a blunder that is probably costing them a lot of resources,” she said.

Enterprises have a large gap to fill when it comes to communication in a digital world, and collaboration tools such as Blink, Slack or Basecamp help bridge it. “The sooner we realize our dependency on these applications and their features to streamline online work, the better it is for the growth of our businesses,” Sibanda added.

Collaboration platforms enable organizations to delegate tasks and ensure they get the necessary attention from those individuals best positioned to progress a task forward, said Kamyar Shah, CEO of Florida-based executive management firm World Consulting Group. “Under no circumstance should an employee be viewed as a jack-of-all-trades and handed tasks that should be handled by a team,” he said.

Shah listed several tools that organizations can leverage depending on the task at hand. For instance, when it comes to team communication, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Chanty, Skype and Hangouts can facilitate meetings and dialogue. For project management and file collaboration, Confluence, Google Suite, Asana, Instagantt and Basecamp are organizational favorites. For teams working on a tight schedule, time-tracking tools like Toggl, Clockify and HiveDesk work quite efficiently. In the case of development and design, teams use tools like Bamboo and InVision.

“Businesses need to train their employees on how to collaborate using these tools," he said. "They are worthwhile investments that act as propellers for remote business success."

Related Article: A Step-by-Step Guide to Asynchronous Collaboration

Connecting Distributed Employees and Managers

The shift to a remote work environment was a challenge for most companies because it not only required change management and process improvements but also introduced requirements for new technologies, said Jamie McCormick, director of HR at Betterworks, a performance management software company based in Menlo Park, Calif. That includes collaboration tools to keep the business functioning.

McCormick noted that a good remote company will use their tech stack to connect remote employees, foster collaboration and disseminate important information. The companies that succeed will have a regular cadence of company meetings and encourage cross-functional collaboration between departments, she said. They ensure constant communication and multiple sources of information to keep team members informed, and invest in management training on performance enablement, employee engagement and collaboration. Collaboration tools played a key role in her company's transition to a remote-first model.

“Without the small talk during lunch and hallway conversations that naturally occur in the office, it’s easy for an employee to feel siloed,” she said. “We’ve prioritized multiple company checkpoints like our monthly all-hands meetings and bi-weekly company check-ins to share departmental updates and give employees the opportunity to ask any questions they may have."

For managers with little to no experience, the new environment can be challenging. It requires a different set of skills, including excellent communication skills across multiple platforms and trust that employees are working on the tasks that align and advance overall company goals. It also requires managers to understand how to best keep an employee engaged and provide a sense of belonging, which can be difficult without the day-to-day interactions of an in-office setting. Collaboration tools can facilitate these objectives.

Finding the Right Collaboration Balance

The increasing screen time associated with remote work has led to tool fatigue, and adding another tool for collaboration only adds to the stress. Ruben Gamez, CEO of e-sign company SignWell, said enterprises can survive without a collaboration platform if the waterfall workflow method exists. 

“Some companies collaborate too much and end up losing time allocated for work," he said. "To avoid this, employees can be given asynchronous modules of work that need to be completed. Status updates alone can be informed to the team leads."

In that view, enterprises that don't have collaboration platforms place more trust on their employees. They give them greater freedom and accountability, which in turn can provide employees with space to work without feeling micromanaged. Collaboration can happen post-work, just to catch up and relax.

Collaboration platforms may not be absolutely necessary to facilitate quality work in this type of environment, but task delegation must be very clear. An accountability mechanism must be created to understand and recognize the consequences of poor quality work. Collaboration technology can step in to help if an organization needs support.

That said, even if COVID-19 vanished tomorrow, most enterprises would not survive without a collaboration platform. The workplace has reached a tipping point where these platforms are expected and often required to maintain normal workflows. Going back to pre-pandemic times just isn't going to happen.