Why we need online collaboration tools more than ever.
There’s no doubt that most of us over the past six months have had to get to grips with remote working at least part of the time, if not all of the time. We’ve also had to learn new ways of communicating with our colleagues, and in particular, participating in and managing online meetings. Indeed studies show that productivity for many of us has even increased since the start of the pandemic in March of this year.
Consultancy firm, Eden McCallum, has conducted three Covid-19 impact studies amongst European executives. The latest study shows that in the UK, 43% of these managers saw an increase in productivity from their employees while they were working from home. Without the need to commute we are starting earlier, finishing later and more of us are working at the weekend.
However, one area where many people still struggle in this new virtual world is that of how to collaborate effectively online. Remember in the ‘old days’ if you wanted to run a brainstorming session, an ideation meeting, a creative kick-off, or a strategy huddle … you would get a relevant group of people together, in a room, with a large whiteboard, probably a flipchart or two, a handful of colourful markers and maybe even a pile of Post-It notes. Simple right? But today, something that seemed so straightforward then now seems awkward, clumsy, hard work, and often not that productive.
So the challenge is how can we collaborate and capture online, people’s great ideas and insights, with the same effectiveness as we used to do face-to-face?
Online collaboration via Video Conferencing apps
Video conferencing apps usually offer more than just a live camera interface. If you’re reading this you have probably already experimented with the integrated online/virtual/digital whiteboard options most virtual meeting platforms have.
Whilst Zoom.com is often voted the most popular platform overall – users can share screens, access each other’s desktops, and communicate via whiteboards – there are many other online video platforms that perform well. PC Magazine voted Microsoft Teams the best for large corporations (provided you use Microsoft as your company-wide platform), BlueJeans Meetings best for shared meetings and collaboration (it’s unique Dolby –powered audio gives a greater feeling of presence), Zoho Meeting for small to mid-sized businesses and GoTo Meeting for its ease of use as a standalone platform. Of course, there is also Webex, JoinMe, Intermedia, and a host of others to choose from.
But one thing they all have in common is a lack of sophisticated, integrated online collaboration tools (beyond the basic whiteboard) that meet the needs of a multitude of business sectors. PC Magazine uses descriptors like ‘rudimentary’ and ‘bare-bones’ for the worst offenders. And now we are progressing beyond the basics in our use of online conferencing platforms these integrated whiteboards are at best clunky, and at worse a test of patience.
Why we need to go beyond VC platforms for online collaboration
Digital Task Management tools like Monday are great for project management and keeping track of deadlines, but they don’t support real-time brainstorming, creative project planning, and editing. The best digital whiteboards around today have many additional features including a wide range of templates, the ability to upload, save and publish in multiple formats, VC, chat and collaboration options, screen sharing, and much more.
If you’re looking for a free whiteboard then Microsoft Whiteboard and Whiteboard Fox are probably the best options around. They have most of the basic functionality for sharing, editing, making notes, adding images, and freehand drawing. But if you want to improve the way your team members collaborate, inspire each other and project manage – and ultimately, improve your productivity – then the paid-for options are the way to go.
So we’ve researched the market based on user reviews, expert’s advice, ease of use and functionality to share with you our top 5 picks of what we believe are the best collaboration tools everyone in business should know about.
Best tools for online collaboration every business should know about
A cloud-based tool with over 4 million users that is highly rated for its ease of use, value for money, and ‘best of its type’ functionality – it is capable of visualising very complex concepts, processes and structures, and features a never-ending board – Miro is great for mid-sized businesses. Users can pre-load templates if required and work can be saved and shared in real-time and converted into a presentation or multiple export formats.
Up to 50 users can work on the whiteboard in real-time and there is a VC and Audio feature along with chat and messaging boards. The basic version is free but the full suite will cost business teams up to $16 per month, per user.
Popular with both beginners and pros and with a high user satisfaction score, web-based MindMeister has a wide range of brainstorming templates and impressive graphical techniques that can easily be converted into actionable tasks (with MeisterTask) assigned to different team members. Users regard it as intuitive to use and great for project management and workflow. The free to use version, however, only comes with 3 templates. Prices range from £4.99 per month for individual users up to £12.49 per month (per team member) for large teams.
Used by over 40% of the global Fortune 100 companies, Mural is one of the cloud-based online collaboration tools that allows teams to schedule and run brainstorming sessions, create customised ideas and workflows – including polls, post-meeting de-briefs, and task management – and set specific schedules for each task.
Users like its friendly and intuitive interface; it works just as well for individuals as it does for large teams, it allows for versatile visual customisation and can be integrated with other applications such as Dropbox, OneDrive, MS Teams and Google Calendar. Functionality and customer support also rate highly amongst users. Although there is the option of a free trial there isn’t a free to use version. Prices range from $12 to $20 per team member, per month.
Ayoa (formally called Drop Task) is a cloud based, all-in-one mind mapping and task management tool that’s great both for single users and large groups. The Evernote feature allows users to convert mind maps into actionable tasks that sync automatically with external email and calendar apps to generate deadlines, send reminders and monitor the progress of the project from start to finish.
Users love the ‘hand drawn’ style of the graphics, the fact that it helps them prioritise tasks and projects, and many feel it has improved their productivity and that of their team. Viewing the tutorials before using is recommended – some users don’t find it as intuitive as straight mind mapping tools – but once you get the hang of it most people can’t imagine their working lives without it! There is a ‘Freemium’ version that provides the basics, and at the top end, the Ultimate package will cost £9:75 per month, per user.
Loved by creative’s, film-makers, designers, and product developers, Milanote is a cloud-based, visually creative collaborative workspace for brainstorming, storyboarding, design collaboration, and project management. Milanote incorporates one of the highest-rated mind mapping tools that uses text, images and video with a drag and drop interface.
It’s easy to use – it allows for real-time drawing between teams, has a wide range of templates, easy file attachment and presentation sharing tools – and you can create as many levels of hierarchy as you want, although the project management features don’t currently link to external email and calendar interfaces. The free version allows for up to 100 boards to be created but doesn’t have the option of live sharing. The Pro version starts at $9.99 per month, per user.
Business Presentation skills are still your team’s best tool
There are many other online collaboration tools out there and some, like Milanote, are more suited to specific industries, so it’s worth exploring your business sector options as well. But these top 5 picks are a great representation of just how sophisticated these tools have become.
But having a team that can present with confidence and impact online is still one of the greatest assets for any business in this new, post Covid-19 environment, and it requires a different set of skills to those used in face-to-face meetings.
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Written By Belinda Huckle
Co-Founder & Managing DirectorRead Bio
Belinda is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of SecondNature International. With a determination to drive a paradigm shift in the delivery of presentation skills training both In-Person and Online, she is a strong advocate of a more personal and sustainable presentation skills training methodology.
Belinda believes that people don’t have to change who they are to be the presenter they want to be. So she developed a coaching approach that harnesses people’s unique personality to build their own authentic presentation style and personal brand.
She has helped to transform the presentation skills of people around the world in an A-Z of organisations including Amazon, BBC, Brother, BT, CocaCola, DHL, EE, ESRI, IpsosMORI, Heineken, MARS Inc., Moody’s, Moonpig, Nationwide, Pfizer, Publicis Groupe, Roche, Savills, Triumph and Walmart – to name just a few.