A collaborative platform is a virtual workspace where resources and tools are pooled together with the aim of facilitating communication, personal interaction and productivity. Examples include Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Asana and Google Docs. Use of these platforms was largely previously reserved to corporate projects and cross border deals. However, due to the pandemic many employees across all business sectors have been restricted to their homes and working through collaborative platforms is now a key aspect to both project and internal management.
Videoconferencing and collaboration platforms have become the norm for many employees working from home. For some, productivity has soared as staff have scheduled work when they are most productive; have gained back time from the daily commute; and have been able to integrate work and family life more easily. Businesses may need to restructure work to take advantage of this experience and think about how they can support and keep valuable employees.
Ian Goldin, a Professor at Oxford University explained in a recent Financial Times article – “now that office workers are logging in at home, it begs the question as to why they need to be anywhere specific”. This question is one which many businesses have recognised, and has resulted in business travel plummeting. While personal travel is expected to recover sharply, cross border travel for business will likely never return to the pre-Covid level. This is because collaborative platforms and virtual meetings have boosted efficiency through travel time reductions, which has led to increased engagement from those involved.
Collaborative platforms are here to stay. Even when enterprise workforces move back into an office space, it’s hard to imagine going back to a meeting room that contains only a white board and conference room table in it when half of a team is still working at home. Technology is now a requirement, the bar has been set higher, and people will expect to continue using the powerful tools they’ve been relying on during the transition to remote work.
The key consideration when implementing a collaborative platform is that it largely replaces the range of disparate systems already in place. Improvements to efficiency will be maximised if the system is adopted and implemented by all members of a team or project. Failure to do so undermines the benefits of the collaboration and will work against the common goal – for example where an employee chooses to make changes to a group document off-platform and does not report these amendments back to the team. Alongside this primary consideration, it is important to consider the following factors when choosing which collaborative platform to implement:
- Objectives and scope of use – is it purely to maintain virtual contact with colleagues or to facilitate a new project or business venture?
- Will the system compliment the culture of the business? – while collaboration is currently a hot topic, some of the software is very high tech and specific training is required. Would this be welcomed by employees?
- Cost – depending on the chosen system and size of the business, costs can run high. It is important to determine whether this expense is justified by the advantages offered by the system
- Accessibility/compatibility – the platform must be accessible from all employee devices and at any time to optimise the benefits of the collaboration. This may involve updating other company tech and providing work phones to all employees which will have a further cost impact
- Risk Management – the growth of collaboration platforms has also meant a greater risk of hacking or unintended access from third parties. It is crucial to conduct a security assessment and deploy additional security controls (if required) prior to implementation. This could include: – ensuring access to the platform requires a corporate/company access code and password
- employing multi-factor authentication protecting the creation of new user accounts
- reviewing who has been granted access on a regular basis
- Data Privacy – most businesses will discuss and share personal data as part of their day to day operations. This information will likely also be transmitted across collaboratory platforms. All conversations, shared files, as well as audio and video recordings should be encrypted when sent and when stored and be covered by applicable data protection and privacy regulations, most notably the General Data Protection Regulation. One method of ensuring compliance with privacy regulations is to implement a Use Policy amongst employees, so that they are aware of their responsibilities when using the platform.
Collaborative platforms have proven to be an absolute necessity in response to the pandemic and in many cases their use has secured business survival. They also represent a blueprint for building future workplace flexibility and efficiency in the long term.