Online collaboration software – A tutorial

Why do we need online collaboration software? Many managers ask. Our work is getting more complex every day. We work on more challenging gadgets, buildings, bridges, cars to name a few.

To overcome these complexities, collaboration is considered the best and least expensive solution. When teams are located in one room, collaboration comes naturally. But this isn’t always true when our teams are located in multiple geographical locations.

Collaboration has been touted as the secret sauce which makes teams more productive and successful when they work locally or remotely.

It has been extensively documented that teams which collaborate have a much higher success rate than teams which don’t. As globalization and outsourcing gain momentum, more project teams have remote workers.

They may be located in different cities, countries and even continents. Remote work is one of the enablers of growth in the global economy.

Due to the above factors, collaboration is a hot topic these days in academia and business circles. Online collaboration software has become the most sought-after tool by project managers and team leaders.

Most managers actively seek collaboration tools to improve communication and collaboration within their teams to enhance productivity.

In this post, I cover what are the features of good online collaboration application and how teams can use such tools effectively.

The recent advances in technology have made the effective collaboration for remote workers possible.

By its very nature when applications are hosted in the cloud, they are much better suited to be great collaborative tools. For this reason, 90% of all collaboration tools today are Online collaboration tools.

Online Collaboration software must-have features

What does a software package need to have to qualify as collaboration software? The short answer is that any tool which enables team members regardless of their location to communicate and share ideas qualifies as collaboration software.

Online chat, video conferencing and message board are the basic communication tools needed in any collaboration software.

But a good collaboration software goes even further and provides interactive whiteboard and document collaboration in order to be an effective collaboration tool.

The need for communication tools like online chat is obvious, but why we do need an interactive whiteboard and document collaboration you might ask?

The key to collaboration is not only verbal communication but also visual communication and brainstorming.

By working together online on a document or brainstorming on a whiteboard regardless of the location of team members, the productivity goes up. Good collaboration software tries to bring all these features into one place.

So what constitutes a good online collaboration software? I have listed the most important features and functions needed in collaboration software with a brief description below:

1-Online Chat

During any phase of the project from setting goals to development and testing, the team should be able to communicate in real time with each other. If the team is located in one physical facility, the chat and conversations are encouraged to be face to face.

But when team members are working from several places (remote work), an online chat which archives all conversations between the team members is a Godsend.

If the chat allows group conversation, it will be a much more effective tool indeed. Google Hangout is a great example of this. Binfire also has a great built-in group chat available on all pages. You can also consider using chat SDK to add a chat function to your existing app and simplify the communication between the team     

2-Message Board

For those cases that conversations will last for days and many people participate in them, a message board is essential. The ability to post questions or status reports is required.

Team members should be able to post comments and attach files if needed. There are tools like Slack which do a good job as a messaging app, but when message board is an integral part of the work management application, it is much more effective.

Binfire has its own message board which will be enhanced in the coming weeks to be even better than slack.

3-Online Videoconferencing

Video conferencing is another great online collaboration tool. Skype and Google hangout are good examples. In Binfire we have not implemented video conferencing yet, but it is in our plans to integrate video conferencing in our project management software.

4-Interactive whiteboard

For brainstorming with remote workers, nothing beats interactive whiteboard. Binfire has one of the best whiteboards on the market today.

Not only everybody can draw and write on the board, they can also post images and manipulate them right from the board. Each project could have as many whiteboards as needed. The content of the whiteboard could be downloaded as an image file.

5-Online document collaboration

Document collaboration is an absolute essential for any team working on projects. Binfire uses Google Docs and Dropbox plus our own markup tool for PDF and image files. Soon we will support word, excel and powerpoint files too.

You can mark up documents collaboratively with your team. The markup is automatically saved separately from the original file.

6-Web 2.0 Social features- comment, like, tag, follow and star

Web 2.0 social tools which are also called productivity tools enhance collaboration in the Facebook generation.

Features like comments, likes, tags, follow and starring is a great way of collaborating online. Binfire supports a full set of productivity tools for tasks, files, and bugs. In fact, most pages in Binfire implement productivity tools in the same familiar manner.

How to use collaboration software effectively

Just having a collaboration tool is not enough. Tools should be used regularly and consistently by all team members to be effective and produce the desired results.

If you are managing projects you need to set rules how the team interacts and uses any collaboration software. This is important, because the frequency a collaboration tool is used, affects how effective the team collaborates.

It is best that everybody in the team has access to all team members online to ask questions, make suggestion or brainstorm ideas.

As a manager, you should monitor the communication and the collaboration that is ongoing in your team and leave comments, encouragement or advice when needed.

Why should project management software have collaboration tools?

We have already established that the single most important factor in the success of projects is effective collaboration within teams.

Using a sports metaphor, a team of all a star players who won’t get along together and don’t back each other loses to teams with less talented players who play as a team.

The single most important trait that makes teams successful is the willingness by all members specialty the star developers/contributors to collaborate with their colleague.

The second factor is to have the right tools and procedures to be able to collaborate effectively.

Although there are many great collaboration tools in the market today that provide one of the above collaboration function, we believe the best way for these tools to be effective is when they are all integrated with the project management software.

Why do you have to sign up for five or six different applications? When all you need is found in one work management application used every day.

Another factor for integrating these tools in one online collaboration software is that they all will have access to same data stored in the application’s database. So they can seamlessly provide additional information to the user anytime needed.

An API can’t do this effectively and in a timely manner. One of the biggest issues with API integration is when one vendor changes the application and its interface.

In many instances, this breaks the interface between the app and other applications. We at Binfire believe in Apple Corp’s  approach.In Apple’s approach tightly integrated tools in one application are considered better solutions.


David Robins


David Robins is the founder and CEO of Binfire. David studied at both Cornell and MIT, and was the Director of Software Engineering at Polaroid for 11 years.


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