So many employers don’t yet see that modern employee experiences demand autonomy and flexibility more than they need presence. It’s no surprise that since the pandemic struck, technologists have been busily attempting to build collaborative tools to support the distributed hybrid future of work.
Here’s a look at some of the virtual collaboration tools available to companies.
Why these tools are important
Every survey suggests workers are more willing to find a new job than return to the bad old days of presence-based micro-management. Arguments that returning to the workplace boost collaboration may have some weight, but much of this relies on old-fashioned email and virtual meetings held from the office, rather than the home.
Even at Apple, around 76% of employees aren’t happy at being frog-marched back to work. A recent Future Forum survey found that employee experience scores have declined across the board as workers are made to go back.
As Apple CEO Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
What makes the return harder to swallow is that so many managers haven’t even begun to use readily available project or task management tools to help them optimize team management in this remote-working era. A recent survey found almost 60% of project management pros now rely on meetings as a primary means of collaboration. But do those meetings need to be real, or virtual? And to what extent can emerging families of remote collaboration and productivity solutions help make managers feel better about their hard-working remote employees?
We don’t know the answer to that yet, but some of the following tools may help us find out.
This is a browser-based virtual office environment that combines secure videoconferencing, screen-sharing, chat and file/document exchange with presence indication, so you always know who is available in real-time.
What it’s good for: Workgroups that want to retain some sense of presence while working remotely, but also need the flexibility to support asynchronous work patterns and a flexible approach to time and goals.
Unique points: I like the virtual receptionist and guest room features. These seem to provide a sense of occasion and space, even for remote meetings.
Additional features: Group messaging, private and open channels, support for corporate branding, conference rooms and the ability to “lock” yourself into a room when you need to focus or engage in a private virtual meeting.
Cost: $13 per user, per month for the first 50 users, (the price falls slightly after that). A free trial is available.
This solution seems a little more ambitious than some. The company develops tools for meetings, feedback, goal management, and more as it aims to fill the gap for people management of distributed asynchronous teams. You’ll find support for one-to-one meetings, continuous feedback, and project management in one place. WorkPatterns doesn’t aim to be an office, but to be an interactive and shared environment in which goals can be agreed on and progress monitored.
What it’s good for: This seems great for managers seeking to gain oversight over their teams; it also seems a handy adjunct for team members, who can gain insight into how they are contributing to the overall goals. That seems particularly important to remote and hybrid workflow.
Unique points: The reporting tools seem particularly strong, while the collaboration and document sharing tools are promising.
Additional features: This integrates with the great and the good of productivity: Google, Microsoft Teams, Office, Salesforce, Zoom, Slack, Skype, and more.
Cost: Free for up to five users, $8 per user per month for up to 25 users.
This option virtualizes presence and is best understood as a virtual office space that tries to work similarly to a real space. That means you can see who is “in” the office at any time and hear anyone working near you in that virtual space. Want to speak with someone? Just move your avatar over to where they are and begin a conversation. Teamflow is an app and is currently available for Mac and Windows. Versions for iOS and Android are currently in beta.
What it’s good for: A good tool for companies working remotely that don’t necessarily rely too much on distributed teams working in asynchronous time. It’s very much a virtual office space.
Unique points: I like the clever use of video and sound. To be heard (or to hear), you must move your avatar close to the another. Support for document sharing and collaboration, meeting rooms, and whiteboards also makes this a good collaborative environment.
Additional features: Support for spatial audio, scheduling, and chat tools and integration with key collaboration apps, including Slack, Office, Trello, Google Docs and more. You can also personalize your own virtual office environment.
Cost: Free for up to five users, $15 per user per month for larger groups.
Moxo is built as clien- interaction solution that also integrates some team collaboration features. What’s great about it is that the service is built to help provide white-glove treatment across the client engagement process — that’s document collection, form filling, meeting rooms and task management.
What it’s good for: With a slick user interface, Moxo provides a professional-grade user experience to help reinforce your brand.
Unique points: Available online and as an app, Moxo supports your client-facing activity with documentation, to-do lists, and a host of tools designed to streamline business processes. You also gain access to SDKs so you can build this experience into your own client-facing apps, which lets businesses provide an impressive client support experience.
Additional features: You’ll find content sharing, digital signatures, document collaboration and useful team management and oversight features inside this solution.
Cost: From $120 a month for up to 10 users.
Already relatively well used, Miro is less about creating a virtual space as it is focused on optimizing and supporting collaboration with whiteboards, video conferencing, shared workspaces, and support for asynchronous teams. It’s not about recreating a virtual office, but instead provides tools to kick-start collaborative activity.
What it’s good for: A slick environment that wraps an attractive digital mantle around your existing apps and workflow patterns. It helps create a collaborative space that doesn’t interfere in your personal space. This should fit very well with any organization that has come to terms with goal-based, rather than presence-based management.
Unique points: Miro seems to have put a lot of thought into its software, including development of training materials to help managers and staff optimize collaboration in the hybrid workspace.
Additional features: Unified persistent workspaces and integration with key tools, including most brands of interactive display, mobile devices, and videoconferencing apps. All are presented within a clean user interface.
Cost: Free for an unlimited number of users, but with limited features, rising to $16 per member, per month for the business package, which includes SSO, Okta support, and smart meetings tools. Only enterprise accounts offer some of the most exciting features.
A powerful solution, Asana skips the virtual environment in favor of providing tools to help teams stay focused, understand the significance of their work, and help them get things done. Part project management, part process management, part reporting and workflow management, Asana integrates with key collaborative apps.
What it’s good for: This is a slick suite that puts everything in one place. However, I’ve included it in this roundup primarily as an illustration of how integrated collaborative project management environments can augment remote working practices.
Unique points: While Asana is far more a project management tool than it is a people and collaboration aid, it does help illustrate how digital technologies are filling the gaps between presence-based and remote collaboration and team management.
Additional features: There is so much here. Built-in Gantt chart creation, useful process automations, tools for workflow/workload management and goal creation. It’s weak in terms of video support, but does provide a slew of in-app messaging and commenting tools.
Cost: You can use it free to get used to it, but if you want more sophisticated features expect to pay around $15/user/month.
I recently discussed the magic of Flow Club, which may be a tool to help digital nomads stay on top of their game. While researching this piece, I’ve come across a handful of other solutions worth consideration, including:
If you’ve come across any similar services, please let me know. And then consider how AR will be of use in the new remote working age.