Your guide to team collaboration software

Collaboration has taken on a new look in the last few years as remote work has become the norm, with a whopping 80% of all workers using team collaboration tools in 2021. These tools aren't new, but they've been thrust into the spotlight lately as more businesses have taken advantage of everything they offer. Team collaboration software is now the method of choice to enable remote collaboration and supplement in-person work.

With collaborative tools, workers can communicate in a myriad of ways across rich multimedia channels, enabling innovative thinking and more efficient workdays

What are collaborative tools exactly? And what kind of benefits do they bring to the workplace? We'll answer these questions and much more in this guide to team collaboration platforms.

What are team collaboration platforms?

Team collaboration platforms often augment in-person work with useful tools and features, but with the rise of remote work, they can also serve as replacements. These platforms can include any number of online collaboration tools that allow users to communicate via video, text, and other dynamic mediums such as screen sharing. Some of the tools you might find in team collaboration software include:

  • Video conferencing
  • Messaging
  • Screen sharing
  • Calendars
  • File sharing
  • Real-time document editing
  • Virtual whiteboards
  • Reporting and dashboards
  • Integration with work platforms, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems

With so many options and integrations available, team collaboration platforms can help businesses create a centralized hub for almost all workplace communication to occur

With so many options and integrations available, team collaboration platforms can help businesses create a centralized hub for workplace communication. They're an excellent choice for all kinds of work, from brainstorming to sharing expertise to polishing a contract. These online platforms can serve as large presentation spaces, small meeting rooms, and intimate, informal chats between colleagues.

Although these platforms make a great replacement for in-person meetings when necessary, they're also a valuable supplement, with distinct capabilities that add to face-to-face collaboration. For instance, having a whole team work on one document is challenging even in person. With a file-sharing solution like the Content Cloud from Box, multiple users can work on the same document at once — no duplicate files, overlapping edits, or outdated versions to worry about.

The best collaboration platforms are in the cloud, allowing users to access them from any location and device. Updates occur automatically, and the platform provides a single source of truth for data, all accessible in one place. A cloud-based system also makes for a versatile solution that can fit into the workflow of virtually any modern workplace, whether employees operate from the office, remotely, or within a hybrid solution.

Benefits of team collaboration platforms

While some businesses turn to team collaboration software out of a need for remote capabilities, others adopt it to take advantage of various other benefits.

Several studies have associated collaboration tools with productivity boosts, with one citing a 35% increase in productivity after implementing a messaging app

1. Greater productivity

Team collaboration platforms are all about improving communication and making it easier to get work done, so it's no surprise that they're a good way to boost productivity. Several studies have associated collaboration tools with productivity boosts, with one citing a 35% increase in productivity after implementing a messaging app.

Productivity benefits come from a few different places, such as:

  • Breaking down data silos: Silos prevent information from being shared across departments and are a significant hurdle to collaboration — these platforms help eliminate them
  • Real-time data access: Since workers can access data in real time, there's no concern about outdated or inaccurate content or delays in receiving information
  • Reducing friction: Many internal and external processes occur faster and more easily, creating a smoother, less frustrating experience for everyone
  • Streamlined workflows and greater visibility: Delegation, project tools, and automation can streamline which tasks go to which users for transparent, easy-to-manage workflows
  • Accessible information: When policies, schedules, and budgets are easily accessible, employees can spend less time hunting them down and more time working

2. New opportunities

If you find yourself turning to collaboration when you want to generate new ideas, you're not alone. Almost 60% of executives said that identifying and exploiting new business opportunities was the most important outcome of increased collaboration, followed by boosting innovation and attracting top talent.

Bouncing ideas off of others and learning from the expertise of colleagues is an excellent way to fuel new concepts and solve problems. Cloud team collaboration can introduce unique new tools and environments to the process and help breed innovation.

3. Cost savings

With greater productivity and efficiency, you can expect considerable cost savings. Some collaborative platforms, including Box, pull double duty as operational powerhouses, with platforms to speed up business tasks, reduce labor demands, and deliver powerful insights through data.

According to one Forrester analysis, a collaboration platform that boosts productivity by 10% can save a business nearly $250,000 a year per 100 employees. The analysis found additional cost savings through higher employee retention and improved customer experiences that led to revenue increases. Forrester also found that Box nets a return on investment (ROI) of 332%, with break-even costs occurring in less than six months.

Regardless of industry or country, workers say that ease of communication supports good collaboration

4. Improved communication

At the root of all of these tools is better communication. Regardless of industry or country, workers say that ease of communication supports good collaboration. Traditional methods of remote communication miss out on subtleties like facial expressions or tone of voice that can affect a message's meaning. Although they can't replace all of these elements, team collaboration tools can come pretty close. They also allow businesses to mitigate these issues through improved transparency, visibility, and more explicit delegation of goals and responsibilities.

5. Centralized data

By creating a single source of truth, you can trust that your data and files are reliable, up to date, and accessible. Information is stored in one place, not in multiple versions on different devices. When a team member changes a document, everyone else sees that change in real time. Accessibility can be controlled in a way that works best for everyone, whether data is restricted by team, individual, department, or some other measure. This level of control also helps meet security demands, too.

Are team collaboration platforms secure?

Despite the need for transparency and sharing, collaboration platforms cannot sacrifice security. Like other cloud-based programs, you'll need to ensure your collaboration software meets applicable standards and industry best practices, such as:

  • Single sign-on (SSO)
  • Two-factor authentication (2FA)
  • End-to-end encryption
  • Access controls

Enlisting appropriate security mechanisms is vital for data integrity, confidentiality, and adherence to regulations — all of critical importance when data-sharing is involved. 

Cloud team collaboration software can be incredibly secure if you work with a reputable, trustworthy provider.These platforms also have the important benefit of minimizing shadow IT. This sinister term simply refers to technical solutions and applications employees use without going through a centralized IT team. Workers often revert to shadow IT programs when they need a better solution than what their organization offers.

Say a sales rep gets annoyed with printing, scanning, and storing every contract they need signed by business partners. The worker may turn to an e-signature solution that hasn't been vetted by IT and is beyond the oversight of the company — and which could easily violate security requirements and regulations. By employing a trusted solution, such as Box Sign and the Content Cloud, businesses can limit the need for the unapproved, risky, and often inefficient solutions that constitute shadow IT.

With the right controls in place, cloud collaboration software can be even more secure than some on-site options. No physical documents can be lost or damaged, and servers are safely managed by cybersecurity experts and top-tier equipment. Of course, not all collaboration platform providers will offer this level of care, so it's critical to vet your options and work with reliable, trusted partners.

Keep in mind that collaboration platforms are still subject to risks from human behavior. This is why industry-standard technologies like 2FA and SSO are so necessary. They can limit risk and contain problems if an employee gives away their password or loses a company phone, for example. As with any platform, be sure to train employees on proper security practices like identifying phishing attempts.

Whether you're sharing documents with clients or linking up with a partner company to drum up a new campaign, external collaboration should be a part of your platform

Internal vs. external collaboration

We often think of collaboration as colleagues working together within an organization, but some platforms are also great for collaborating beyond the business. Whether you're sharing documents with clients or linking up with a partner company to collaborate on a new campaign, external collaboration should be a part of your platform. These tools should provide a seamless experience for partners and an easy interface that anyone can use, even if they haven't seen it before.

Whatever your external collaboration solution looks like, strong security for guest access is essential. Disconnected systems should communicate while limiting external collaborators to certain features and files.

Another important component of outside collaboration is integration. If your partners use industry tools like Salesforce and Microsoft 365, a collaboration tool that integrates with these familiar platforms can appear seamless and easy to use. Whether you're allocating sales data in a consistent format or sharing your screen within Zoom, convenient integrations make external collaboration simple.

Collaboration trends

Many of us are familiar with tried-and-true collaboration tools like video calls and messaging apps, but these features have been evolving, and many others are joining the collaboration landscape. Here are some current trends in collaboration tools.

Artificial intelligence can even help remove background noise and activate microphones at opportune times, minimizing the sounds of a dog barking or a lawnmower running

Improved hardware and software

Gone are the days of fuzzy, low-quality video and audio. As cameras, microphones, and — most importantly — software have improved, collaboration tools have become more natural and enjoyable to use. The technical quality of calls and discussions is better, even with increasingly affordable hardware, and new features are frequently added.

Video calls, for instance, can now blur out or replace the background and provide closed captioning, transcriptions, and translations in real time. Artificial intelligence can even help remove background noise and activate microphones at opportune times, minimizing the sounds of a dog barking or a lawnmower running.

AR and VR

Many companies have been playing with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in order to create a digital representation of the office space, complete with avatars that move around to mimic the on-the-fly interactions that occur at work. Some companies have even been using headsets to deliver this experience in first-person view.

Deep integrations

With so many employees knee-deep in business applications, integrations are essential for a smooth workflow. Creating seamless connections between platforms like Salesforce, Adobe, Slack, and Oracle NetSuite is a necessity for maximizing productivity and security in a collaboration platform. With solid integrations, businesses can create all-in-one solutions for achieving multiple communication methods within one or a few applications.

Instead of breaking focus to jump into a meeting employees can respond to comments at another time when they can more thoughtfully address the topic

Asynchronous collaboration

While video calls and conferences are still widespread, more businesses are leaning into asynchronous tools, which allow users to collaborate at their own pace, as opposed to in real time. In increasingly globalized environments, this setup is especially useful for workers in different time zones. Someone in one time zone can send a message and, rather than being forced to log onto a video call at 2 a.m., an employee in another time zone can respond later in their workday.

Even within time zones, asynchronous collaboration has value. Employees can better control their focus and work on projects when it's best for them, adding more autonomy to the workday. Instead of breaking focus to jump into a meeting, employees can respond to comments at another time when they can more thoughtfully address the topic. Asynchronous tools also create records, unlike verbal conversations, which don’t carry a paper trail.

Some types of work are better suited to synchronous collaboration, but many asynchronous tools can also be used synchronously. Document editing, for instance, can be used in real time, or users can leave changes and notes to be addressed later.

Casual interactions

Many organizations are trying to replicate the offhand, casual interactions that occur in the workplace. A brief chat through an office doorway or a reminder by the coffee machine is hard to translate into structured video calls. Low-stakes messaging and simple chat tools aim to create more touchpoints and loose discussions.

Comparing team collaboration vendors and tools

When adopting team collaboration tools, it's important to work with a dependable vendor. The collaboration platform you choose should become a foundational part of the workday, with tools that meet your company's unique needs and security standards. Take your time and compare your options carefully. Consider the following topics when choosing your team collaboration platform.

The right team collaboration software for your business should offer appropriate integrations to help you leverage your existing tools and get more value from them

1. Security

While accessibility is key to strong collaboration, your vendor can never sacrifice security. Look for robust security measures that address:

  • User authentication controls: SSO and 2FA
  • Granular access and permissions: Multiple user roles and easy permissions modifications
  • Strong encryption: FIPS 140-2 certified, AES 256-bit encryption at rest and in transit
  • Audit logs: Precise recording options
  • Native integration with third-party platforms: Secure access to other systems
  • Data residency standards: International zones and server locations
  • Compliance with applicable regulations and standards: Including FINRA, HIPAA, GxP, and more

Certain businesses may need more security than others, but the right team collaboration platform will offer strong protections regardless of your field.

2. Ease of use

Team collaboration tools must be user-friendly to be effective. After all, they're also efficiency tools, which should offer a smooth, seamless experience for both internal and external users, along with near-perfect uptime. Ease of use can come in many forms, like an intuitive user interface, reliability, and valuable integrations. If you're looking for flexibility, a cloud-based platform is a must. This approach allows users to work from anywhere they can get online — whether that's their home office, a coffee shop, or another country.

Consider the points of friction your employees currently face and whether a potential provider can reduce or eliminate them. The best way to get a feel for a program is to download a free trial and see how it blends into your workflow.

3. Integrations

You may already have a host of tools in your arsenal that you want to continue using. The right team collaboration software for your business should offer appropriate integrations to help you leverage your existing tools and get more value from them. Box offers built-in integrations with platforms like Microsoft 365, Slack, and Salesforce, as well as custom application programming interfaces (APIs) to use within your business systems.

Plentiful integrations like these allow you to use one platform for various types of work, enjoying seamless and quick access to additional collaborative tools.

4. Features

Of course, you'll want to check out the features list, too, and make sure your platform has the tools you need to encourage innovation. Run through the list of options and see which ones you'd like to have in your workflow. If your business is content heavy, as most modern organizations are, a document collaboration platform is a necessity — and it's the type of platform that teams prefer the most

With Box, for instance, people can collaborate on files in real time, create rich multimedia notes, and enlist workflow tools that make the project lifecycle visible and automated.

Both synchronous and asynchronous methods work well with Box, and strict security standards suit even the most highly regulated industries like finance and healthcare

How Box simplifies team collaboration

Collaboration is a primary component of the Content Cloud, a platform packed with tools designed for teamwork and communication. Whatever kind of content you work with, Box can bring user-friendly collaboration to the forefront. Some of the valuable tools you'll find in Box include:

  • Real-time document collaboration: Edits and notes appear immediately, with user-specific colors, dates, and attributions for clear and easy-to-understand project management
  • File versioning: Access and restore previous versions, and never lose progress
  • Easy sharing both inside and out of the organization: Add coworkers to documents or securely send files to external collaborators on an intuitive platform
  • 1,500+ integrations: Share and collaborate using familiar business tools like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft 365, and much more
  • Industry-leading security standards: Enjoy all the benefits of collaboration without sacrificing security and regulatory compliance
  • Automated workflow tools: Bring team visibility to the forefront with workflow tools that clearly identify user roles and project statuses

The Box platform offers team collaboration in the cloud and links up with other business staples such as Zoom and Slack to create a comprehensive communication system. Users can chat, call, and collaborate in sync with the projects and deliverables they're creating. Both synchronous and asynchronous methods work well with Box, and strict security standards suit even the most highly regulated industries like finance and healthcare.

Visibility is a key part of collaborative workspaces, and Box serves as your single source of truth. Centralized data brings information into one reliable location for ease of use, tighter security, and greater efficiency.

Learn more about the Content Cloud or reach out to us for details

Learn more about collaborating in the Content Cloud

Box has always been ahead of the curve on document collaboration, offering intuitive, streamlined tools to help employees work together and innovate. Our platform is trusted by more than 100,000 organizations, including 67% of the Fortune 500. Whether you're looking for a comprehensive document collaboration system or something to complement your existing collaboration tools, Box is ideally suited to various business environments.

Reach out to us today to learn how Box can help your organization ramp up its team communication and reap the benefits of a collaborative workplace.

**While we maintain our steadfast commitment to offering products and services with best-in-class privacy, security, and compliance, the information provided in this blogpost is not intended to constitute legal advice. We strongly encourage prospective and current customers to perform their own due diligence when assessing compliance with applicable laws.