Your writer is in New York, your marketing team is in Chicago, your information technology (IT) staff is in India and you're, well, more or less living at the airport. In today's business environment -- where employees, contractors, consultants and partners are spread across locations -- it's crucial to have online communications and collaboration tools. They boost worker productivity and save time that's usually spent in tons of meetings.
The following five Web tools and services are changing the way we work.
Project Management and Collaboration Tools
There are several popular subscription Web services for tracking projects, posting updates, assigning tasks, sharing files and managing a mobile workforce. Some of the best-known are Basecamp, @Task, WorkZone and ProjectSpaces.
Here are some of the most common features of these online project management and collaboration tools:
- No requirements for special software, just a Web browser and Internet connection
- Allow employees, managers and executives to clearly track the progress of projects, seeing which ones are completed, on track or running behind schedule
- Allow managers to easily assign different tasks to different team members and for team members to report back on their progress
- Everyone has access to a group calendar with important dates and deadlines
- Team members receive e-mail or RSS (Really Simple Syndication) alerts when changes or comments are made on their project
- Users can easily share documents of any file type and collaborate on changes
- Managers and executives can print reports on employee productivity, on-time project completion rates, et cetera
- Freelance and contract employees can track how many hours they've worked on a given project
- Several of these programs allow you to update project status from a mobile device like a Web-enabled PDA or cell phone
- Some programs can plug into other popular business management Web services like Oracle, SAP, PeopleSoft and Salesforce.com
Business-class Instant Messaging
Workplace instant messaging can be a powerful collaboration tool. Faster than e-mail, less intrusive than a phone call, it's a great way to ask quick questions, share files and set up instant voice, Web or videoconferences. Programs like AIM Pro and KonoLive take instant messaging beyond simple chat. They allow document sharing, desktop sharing, conferencing and secure, encrypted messaging.
Web Conferencing and Collaboration
Companies specialize in Web conferencing, audio conferencing and videoconferencing solutions with built-in collaboration tools. Conferences are hosted on a third-party server and can be set up easily and instantly through a Web interface.
VoIP and Unified Communications
By integrating all types of communication -- voice, e-mail, IM, fax and video -- over an Internet Protocol (IP) network, it's possible to manage all of your communications from a single Web workspace. Smaller businesses can use a streamlined system like the one from Skype. Larger, more complex organizations could employee VoIP and unified communications solutions from companies like Cisco or Avaya.
Social Networks at Work
Businesses are quickly realizing the potential of online social networks for collaboration, communication, and internal and external networking. A company can create a page or group on a popular social networking site like Facebook or build a self-contained social network with a service like Ning.
For more information about online business tools and conferencing, check out the links on the next page.
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