Using mobile collaboration to make workers more productive

They won't take you on a magic carpet ride, but collaboration tools can improve employee productivity. Make sure yours support mobile collaboration.

One of the most common ways employees work together is through collaboration tools. Now that the workforce has gone mobile, your collaboration tools should too.

Collaboration has been a goal for IT ever since we started networking computers. Email and video conferencing offer productivity gains and lowered costs, and now mobile collaboration tools are getting a boost in the new bring your own device (BYOD) world. Tablets, smartphones and laptops let users connect with colleagues anywhere, at any time.

The market for mobile collaboration is heating up: VMware acquired SocialText, Microsoft bought Yammer and Skype, and Citrix Systems purchased Podio. It's evident that the big software players are committed to collaboration, which means a new, mobile approach to collaboration is a reality. As with any term in IT, "collaboration" will mean different things depending on the product, so you'll need to assess your company's needs. Do you want to make simple communication easier? Do you want people to come together around specific projects or workflows? Remember to consider your company's data security needs and users' privacy needs.

Mobile collaboration and the cloud

If one of your main goals is to support mobility, then it doesn't make sense to run your own infrastructure. The cloud has more power and faster connectivity than most in-house collaboration software.

The leaders in the cloud collaboration market each make a different product, but they all approach mobile collaboration from a Software as a Service (SaaS) model. Microsoft Lync was once an internally managed resource. Now it has a cloud version in Office 365. Like many other enterprise-focused apps, Office 365 integrates with Active Directory for authentication and security. Microsoft also offers Office 365 apps for Android and iOS.

Other options that were exclusively consumer collaboration tools only a few months ago are now moving into business. Take Google+ Hangouts, for example. After this multiuser video conferencing and screen-sharing feature made a splash in consumer-land, Google added it to its enterprise SaaS offering, Google Apps for Business. Google+ Hangouts does some of the same things as expensive video conferencing products at a much lower cost. You can also add Hangouts apps such as Cacoo for mind mapping and SlideShare for sharing presentations.

Sometimes the only mobile collaboration tool employees need is a chat program, but you don't want the tool you implement to be a conduit for employees to distract one another. Tools that you may already have in place, such as SharePoint, can supply workflow for collaboration, but aren't very mobile-friendly. You want native experiences for your cemented line-of-business applications. Even though Microsoft doesn't offer SharePoint or Office for iOS or Android yet, apps such as SharePlus and MoPrise make in-place systems tablet- and mobile-friendly.

What other type of mobile collaboration is possible?

Workspace collaboration and file sharing are becoming commonplace, so telling users they need to log on to the network with a laptop to access their files is now a tough sell. Box, SugarSync, Huddle, VMware Octupus, Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive Pro and other products mix workspaces and file collaboration. Project management can even get a collaborative facelift with apps such as LiquidPlanner and HyperOffice. These new entries into the staid field of traditional client-server software look to break the mold in accessibility and collaborative abilities.

Taking mobile collaboration seriously

So many users rely on office collaboration tools to add to their daily workflow. If you provide a firewalled collaboration tools that only work as Windows fat clients, you'll see users move past those tools fairly quickly and build their own backchannel of communication tools. Take mobile and BYOD seriously and you'll instantly be a hit with the user base. Mobile collaboration is front-and-center in users' daily routines. 

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