May 27, 2022
As we enter a new age where remote work is more often the rule than the exception, effective software-based collaboration tools are everything—and companies know it. It’s why collaboration software—from Monday.com, Wrike, Smartsheet and many others—grew by a healthy six percent during the early days of Covid and then kept on growing.
Employees are helping to drive this growth. As Gensler’s most recent U.S. Workplace Survey confirmed, 43 percent of workers favor companies that actively promote collaboration. When some people are in the office and some aren’t, doing so requires the right technological tools.
“After almost two years, companies are done with retooling and are now optimizing processes,” according to a recent report by independent software review platform financesonline.com. “As communication and collaboration continue to take place virtually, online collaboration software continues to offer enhanced features that address specific communication nuances.”
In a separate article, financesonline.com took a deep dive into software-based collaboration that explored a number of collaboration-related topics. Here are the core findings of their reporting, plus additional insights from other experts.
Growth of External Collaboration
Thanks to various collaboration platforms, B2B and B2C organizations are increasingly able to communicate more effectively with clients, decrease R&D risk, innovate more readily and share sensitive documents with more peace of mind as security continues to improve.
According to NTT’s 2021 Global Workplace report, “This year’s data shows a more gradual trend of moving away from office-based or factory-based working to remote-only or hybrid models than many have suggested. This means organizations will need to enable a more diverse workforce to connect, collaborate and be productive across different environments – and deliver an equal experience for all employees – while remaining agile to pivot future workplace models for evolving needs.”
Immersive Tech for Hybrid Workplaces
Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR and AR, aka XR—extended reality) are increasingly popular ways to “stimulate workplace interactions” and increase worker engagement by providing more lifelike remote interactions.
The XR market is expected to reach $460 billion by 2026, a massive jump from its current $26 billion. “While XR has traditionally been long on promise and short on delivery due to tech limitations, high costs and a general sense that the tools are faddish or niche, it now stands to secure a hold on the enterprise,” Cognizant manager Duncan Roberts wrote in Forbes. “With the growing interest and increased demands from employees for a solid remote-work experience, businesses need to understand more about XR collaboration capabilities and choices.”
Asynchronous Collaborative Environments
Whether your remote/hybrid workforce is distributed nationally or globally, “asynchronous collaborative environments” (video, for instance) allow employees to engage when it’s convenient for them. As a result, “messages become more focused and employees are able to acquire more productive time.” Through its WebEx platform, for example, Cisco is one among many vendors that enable businesses to send asynchronous video, which reportedly cuts down on “meeting fatigue.”
In a recent article for CMS Wire, digital marketing professional Ruben Ugarte noted that “remote work benefits from asynchronous collaboration, which simply means working independently of each other. Instead of hopping on a call and going through group feedback on the copy for a new landing page, the process can happen offline through comments on a document…Asynchronous allows people to tackle things on their schedule and can reduce the workload by eliminating pointless meetings. Think of how many meetings you participate in that could be handled in an email thread. Meetings are costly events that companies have abused for years.”
Workstream Collaboration Platforms
“WSC tools work by eliminating multiple logins and different user interfaces.” That’s a big reason why by the end of 2022, according to Gartner, WSC will be used by nearly three-quarters of businesses to communicate, coordinate and share information.
According to CIO.com, “In the past, organizations trying to achieve a Unified Communications (UC) environment that would support remote work struggled to integrate several disparate tools, leading to multiple logins, different user interfaces and little if any flow of information among the various tools. In this frustrating environment, creating integrated, real-time, secure, and compliant workflows was extraordinarily difficult and costly. Today, secure and compliant Workstream Collaboration solutions integrate multiple tools, including voice, video, messaging, chat and task management. This helps maintain the context of conversations even when moving from one tool to another and enables teams to create public and private workspaces for information sharing and collaboration.
AI Integration and Collaboration Tools
Computer vision, AI and natural language processing can help improve interactivity and inclusivity during meetings that have a virtual component—which is most of them these days. The hoped-for result is a radical transformation of virtual interaction.
In a Forbes essay, tech founder Annie Brown, whose company builds more inclusive ML and contextual AI systems, explained how AI systems “can mimic the human brain’s ability to categorize and prioritize information. The data from meetings can be analyzed in similar ways, parsing out points of high importance, and filtering out those of low importance.” She added, “As AI becomes increasingly advanced, platforms… can use natural language understanding to capture and concisely summarize meeting content.”
Enhanced Virtual Experience
This is done through the use of what’s called “spatial audio,” which simulates an actual room in which many voices are talking. It’s an important enhancement that’s based on psychological research showing that humans “interpret and absorb sound more effectively when it is spatially separated, which in turn can increase focus and productivity.
One of the best explanations of how spatial audio works comes from Mathias Johansson, CEO of Swedish audio research company Dirac. “The artificiality of conferencing audio is far more subtle but no less fatiguing,” he has said. “It starts with the fact that the audio simply doesn’t sound real as it’s often processed, loud, soft or choppy, in a way we wouldn’t tolerate if we were having a conversation around a conference table. The sound comes at you all from just one direction. You could have four conference participants spread out in little windows on your screen, but every voice comes at you through earphones or a loudspeaker, often at the same time….If you multiply the number of participants by two, three or more, you begin to understand the challenge of enjoying virtual happy hours with friends or other gatherings where many people may start talking all at once; often to just a few people in the group. It’s a flat experience devoid of the spatial audio cues that help our minds comprehend who is talking when and to whom. It all contributes to the fatigue we often feel after a virtual meeting.”
Whether employees work from home or the office or switch between the two, collaborative tech makes it possible for them to meet and brainstorm wherever they are. Rather than requiring workers to meet in person, businesses are realizing the value of more flexible collaboration via technology.
“Flexibility to work outside traditional business hours and the four walls of the office is no longer just a nice-to-have for today’s professionals—it’s an expectation,” Stefanie Spurlin, vice president of workplace solutions at Capital One, told Inc in 2019, a year before the pandemic-spurred remote work revolution revved up. “The goal is to find tools that build connectivity across geographies and locations, allowing teams and individuals to work as if they are sitting together.”
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