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What Makes a Useful Team Collaboration App?

October 20, 2017 | Productivity

While we’re fully convinced that Ashore is the best team collaboration app available for managing approval on digital documents, there are various other ways that teams need to collaborate.

These team collaboration products are called many different things; collaboration tool, collaborative software, and groupware are all examples. Anything with the word collaboration or group followed by app, software, or tool is likely a team collaboration app. But, this is a big, nebulous term that can mean a lot of different things. Collaboration apps can be broken up into several different specific areas of functionality. The three that we will be discussing today are messaging apps, project management apps, and workflow management apps.

Messaging Apps

Communication is hard, but digital communication is harder. Our most traditional online collaboration tool, email, has a laundry list of bad qualities that are too obvious to repeat here. It’s no wonder that several unique messaging apps, our first collaboration tool type, have entered the market in a brand new way.

Messaging apps are especially created to improve communication between individuals and teams in real time. The tools that have dominated this technology space (think Slack, Intercom, Drift) have turned email upside down. Compared to those terrible packets of poorly-written tables, these messaging applications have revolutionized how we keep effective and clear lines of communication.

When looking for an effective messaging app, first make sure it has at least these four features:

  1. It has a real-time chat: Like Facebook Messenger, but more professional. An effective messaging function should offer real-time chat updates in a conversation. It should keep track of the date and time of when messages were sent and seen. But, most importantly, you should be able to group message as well as direct message. The app gets bonus points if you can reply to a comment directly, and start a new thread of messages.
  2. It organizes your thoughts: In group chats, many different topics can be surfaced in quick succession. It can be hard to follow and locate pertinent information to you. Effective messaging apps should have a way that you can mark (or, hashtag) a subject to make it easy to do a quick look-up throughout the conversation history. It gets bonus points when it’s search functionality has semantic capabilities.
  3. It should do more than text: An improved collaboration system should be able to accommodate the many different ways we communicate. Everyone communicates differently, and no one should be limited. Sometimes, you may need to speak with someone or a group directly. Sometimes, you need to share your screen. Sometimes, you need to take control of someone else’s screen. An effective messaging app support video, audio, text and screen sharing.
  4. It should play well with others: Programs such as Slack have a clear advantage over email because of their ability to integrate with many of the tools we use to perform our jobs well. From Google Drive, Dropbox and project management tools like Asana, the messaging app you select should have a healthy ecosystem of integrations.

Email will be a hard tool to replace. But, when it comes to collaboration within your organization, messaging apps can improve the speed and reliability of information. They can’t, however, organize your team. That’s where our next team collaboration app comes in.

Kanban-Style Project Management Apps

Project management applications often get a bad reputation. This is mostly due to the many failed attempts workers have made to implement them in their organizations. At Ashore, we’re painfully aware of this (and, it’s why we created our own kind of collaboration app).

But project management applications, especially Kanban tools such as MiesterTasks and Trello, really don’t deserve the bad rep. In fact, they can be a huge benefit to any organization with the ability to assign tasks, speed up review cycles and clearly define work scopes.

We’re fans of Kanban, which is a catch-all term for any team collaboration app that uses a highly-visual, linear style of organization.

Kanban boards are multi-column charts that represent progress stages such as “in review” or “completed”. Tasks are moved across these boards in the form of color-coded cards, which can be assigned to individuals within an organization. The digital version of this organizational tactic is often an upgraded but similar layout to its analog predecessor.

When looking for an effective Kanban-style app make sure that these two features are available:

  1. It has customizable workflow cards and columns: Kanban’s main function is to organize your workflow into cards and columns. Make sure that each card or column can be renamed and reformatted to suite your specific needs.
  2. You should be able to upload and edit more than text: Collaboration occurs on more than just text-based projects so your team collaboration app should be able to accommodate that as well. Make sure that the application allows you to not only upload things like PDFs and images, but also allows you to comment on the uploaded files.

Kanban tools can be a powerful and effective tool for in-house collaboration, but they often fall short when you are working with people or teams outside of your organization.

Workflow Management Apps

Just like the phrase “team collaboration app,” “workflow management” can mean a lot of different things. There are many different kinds of workflow management apps because there are endless (and endlessly complex) workflows. All workflow apps, however, aim at making the collaboration process easier by automating the way we work with others.

Ashore is an example of a workflow management app, because our product automates the approval and sign-off process for digital apps. When a user forgets to review a proof, for example, Ashore automatically reminds them. And when a user approves a file, Ashore automatically sends it to the next user in the workflow for review.

Workflow management is an important tool for collaboration because it reduces the amount of time spent in those tedious processes like tracking the status of a project or following up with other employees. It is important that these three conditions are met when searching for this type of team collaboration app:

  1. It should keep your files all in one place: It’s hard to collaborate if your files aren’t centrally located and easily accessible. A useful workflow management application will be able to keep all pertinent files of a project together so that collaborators can access them without asking, “where did you put that file?”
  2. It should automate small tasks: The software must be able to automate tasks such as proof sign-offs and reminder emails. It frees collaborators from wasting their time doing things that robots can do for free.
  3. It should facilitate review processes: Collaboration is hard because effective communication is hard. Your workflow management software should improve communication by making it easier for collaborators to review files. When collaborators are reviewing a website or image file, for example, they should be able to leave their feedback in context, directly on the document. Without context, other collaborators will need further clarification. If that becomes the case, your workflow management software is essentially useless.

The downside of workflow management applications are clear: it takes time to set them up. But, after you have created your workflow, you can endlessly replicate and modify it. That ability is invaluable for any organization improving collaboration.

When deciding on your business needs, always do your research. Keep this discussion in mind. And, if you need help understanding which products we recommend, feel free to reach out to us:

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