More and more of us are telecommuting. It’s time to explore how online collaboration tools can keep your team productive outside of the conference room.
It’s prime time for remote workers.
If knowing that one-third of Americans consider themselves freelancers doesn’t convince you, consider this prediction: by 2020, that number is expected to grow to 40 percent. The way we work is changing.
For those of us sticking with traditional companies, the places we work are changing, too. A large majority of companies surveyed by Regus expect an increase in telecommuting and remote work.
While freelancing and remote work come with a multitude of benefits, there are costs and disadvantages, too.
One major disadvantage? Figuring out the best way to coordinate and collaborate with team members. Working with people in different locations often means relying on email or instant messaging when decisions need to be made.
This presents an inherent and deeper issue in freelancing and remote work: how to communicate effectively. While emails and instant messaging allow employees to stay connected in a remote setting, we still expect face-to-face meetings to provide the best method of discussion and task completion.
This is where online collaboration tools come in handy.
Any business, small or big, can benefit from such applications. But these tools can be especially helpful to small, overworked IT departments, along with financial or project management teams. These cloud-based tools can enhance employee productivity, or even improve efficiency throughout an organization.
Whether your telecommuting team is a part of a large enterprise or small business — or even if you’re a freelancer working with one of these teams — here are some benefits of collaborating in the cloud.
Cloud tools are reliable
One of the biggest benefits of a cloud-based service is that it doesn’t break down even when a lot of people in your organization are using it. (Click here to tweet this.) Unlike programs running from local servers, cloud-based services distributes data from shared resources online. Doing so balances out bandwidth and ensures that applications perform at optimum levels.
Cloud service providers aimed at businesses usually have high-availability infrastructure, in order to guarantee almost-constant “uptime” for their customers. This reliability simply cannot be matched by a small IT department running a single server at the office.
Teams collaborate better on the cloud
Platforms like Slack and Yammer provide a venue for employee collaboration through a corporate social network – something similar to a private Twitter or Facebook. Asana and Trello make project and task management drag-and-drop easy. WorkflowMax integrates project and task management with other cloud apps.
Many of these platforms can even be employed for personal use, on top of business purposes. For example: Trello can be used to balance work and home obligations.
The obvious benefit for organizations is improved efficiency: employees can collaborate on tasks/projects together, without working face to face. You’ll also learn how your business is becoming more efficient as it happens, especially with applications that track project progress and completion times.
Take your work on the road
Cloud-based services bridge the communication gap by providing virtual workers with mobility features. Go To Meeting and ClickMeeting make virtual meetings easier, so you can ditch those staticky conference calls. Smaller organizations can also use consumer tools, like Skype and Google Hangouts, to allow team members to participate through the tools they already use after work hours.
More importantly, most of the tools mentioned above have mobile apps. No longer do telecommuters and virtual employees feel tied to their desk or computer
The cloud doesn’t require a huge investment
Choosing a cloud-based collaboration tool (or two or three) won’t break the bank. Instead of forking over a large fee to get started, most cloud tools operate on a subscription basis. When you pay your bill each month or see the automatic charge hit your account, you can quickly check with your team to make sure your tool is still helping your company do more.
An organization can start small with a few subscriptions, and then increase use as the team grows. Microsoft’s Office 365, for example, offers a variety of plans that include both cloud-based and locally-installed software versions of its popular Office suite. Bigger organizations can benefit from enterprise pricing, which reduces the per-user subscription rate.
Alternately, an on-premises server and local area network can cost thousands of dollars to purchase and install, not to mention the costs involved in managing a dedicated IT department. A cloud-based service can start with a one-person subscription and expand to accommodate hundreds of employees. For small-scale personal use, some cloud tools are even free.
The workplace is changing, and telecommuting and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies are here to stay. The cloud is one of many options for your mobile team, but it can offer immense benefits to both the business and the individuals that use it.
Everyone’s happier when they’re organized and efficient, right?
Christopher Jan Benitez is a freelance writer and content marketer who is a closet Backstreet Boys fan, is excited for the upcoming NBA Playoffs, and hates “Cruel” by MAGIC! with a passion.