Introduction

Unless you’re a hermit, you'll need to collaborate with other people in order to get your work done. However, traditional office software seldom takes this into account.

Unless you’re a hermit, you'll need to collaborate with other people in order to get your work done. However, traditional office software seldom takes this into account. Software designed to help people work together -- either in real time or whenever it’s convenient for different individuals -- offers a mix of services for communicating and sharing information.

Depending on the system you pick and what you need, collaboration tools can include instant messaging and discussion forums, audio and video conferencing, group diaries and address books, ways of sharing files and applications so that more than one person can work in them at once, or collaborative whiteboard and presentation systems.

Collaboration tools can replace face-to-face meetings, allowing you to work with a team in another office, another company -- or even another time zone. But they’re just as useful to help you stay on top of projects that involve people in the same office, because they bring together the information and resources you need to do your job from day to day.

Collaboration software does not provide the tools you use to actually do your work; rather, it’s what you use to facilitate getting it done. And just because you can use something in a meeting -- or to prepare for one -- doesn’t mean it helps you collaborate. There are plenty of useful tools that we don’t have space to cover here, from applications that let you share meeting notes, to traditional whiteboards that print off a copy of brainstorming sessions.

If you start looking at everything you could use for group working, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the options. To choose what’s right for your business, you need to understand what's on offer from the different types of collaborative software, and what you can actually achieve when you use them.

Think about the number of people who need to collaborate: the tools that work for several hundred employees in a highly structured organisation could stifle the creativity that gives a smaller business an edge. But whether your company has 50, 500 or 1,000 people, what you choose needs to work the way your business does. Do you need an informal way for people to share ideas that’s more flexible and targeted than email? Or does a more formal workflow provide a better fit for your business processes? We’ll look at the range of collaboration tools on offer, picking out what you need to consider and taking a look at what has worked for businesses that have already taken the plunge.