Working remotely has been a thing for several years but remote workers only made up a small percentage of the overall workforce. However, that all changed in 2020. In March of 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. By March 26th of 2020, some 1.7 billion people worldwide were under some form of lockdown, with the first week of April seeing over 3.9 billion people locked down.
Businesses around the world were forced to close their doors and tens of millions of people were out of work. Many businesses responded by allowing workers to work remotely from their homes. Of course, there are many jobs that require employees to be on-site to work, but many jobs can be performed from home as long as workers have a computer and internet access.
Data from the Gallup Panel showed that by mid-April 62% of employed adults in the United States were working remotely. The shift to remote work left many companies scrambling to get some kind of system in place, while those that had used remote workers previously were better positioned to make the transition. One of the keys to successful remote working is collaborative software.
Collaborative software, sometimes known as Groupware, is application software that has the purpose of enabling people working on a common task to reach their goals. It uses existing technologies that allow groups to communicate with each other, share information, and coordinate with each other on a shared task.
Collaborative software allows a group of users to manage, process, and share documents, files and other data at any time regardless of an individual’s location thus improving the productivity of a group or team. This type of software isn’t a new thing, but COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdowns highlight how important it can be in today’s work environment. By using collaborative software COVID-19 remote team collaboration has been possible allowing many companies to continue operations in these troubled times. There are basically three types of collaborative software:
- Communication: This is software that assists in the exchange of information between members of a group. Tools may include things such as email hosting, file sharing, an online platform, or website and instant messaging.
- Conferencing: These are tools that allow for real-time discussions among members of a group or team such as video conferencing, group chats, forums, and community boards.
- Coordination: Coordination tools include calendars, time trackers, alerts, spreadsheets, and status updates among other things.
Using collaborative software increases speed and efficiency which improves productivity. It provides a more flexible work environment that lets employees work from anywhere including their homes, improves security, and consolidates many types of tools onto a single platform. There are many different Groupware software programs available to users.
One of the most popular collaborative software platforms in use today is Microsoft SharePoint. Microsoft says that SharePoint currently has 190 million users over 200,000 customer organizations. Around 80% of Fortune 500 companies use SharePoint so they are definitely doing something right. Any company with teams working remotely could benefit from SharePoint development and increase their group’s efficiency and productivity.
Microsoft SharePoint is no newcomer to the collaborative software market. It was initially released in March of 2001 as a simple server management tool but has evolved over the years to become the powerful and comprehensive collaboration tool it is today.
Figure 1: https://blog.codeasite.com/top-benefits-of-using-sharepoint-as-your-intranet-solution/
The core functions of SharePoint are to store documents in a more effective format than a regular folder system and to provide collaboration opportunities so that workers receive critical and relevant information when they need it. Using SharePoint an organization can develop its own intranet where information can be stored, organized, and shared on a centralized platform using a web browser. It provides businesses with more control over information access as well as assisting in automating workflow between employees.
Collaboration begins with setting up a SharePoint site for a team/group. This site will contain all the information relevant to a project or task being worked on which any authorized member of the team can access. SharePoint users can require the approval of documents before they become visible, get notifications when documents are uploaded or changed, “Check Out” documents so no other changes can be made and create workflows using if/then logic to automate certain actions such as emailing or moving documents and recording information. A nice feature of SharePoint is it is highly customizable. There are a host of Microsoft products that allow SharePoint integration including:
- MS Office 365: Cloud-based suite of Microsoft Office programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
- MS Visio: Diagramming and vector graphics application.
- MS Teams: Communication and collaboration platform that includes workplace chat and video meetings capabilities.
- MS Skype: Telecommunications application for video chat and voice calls.
- Yammer Social Networking: Social networking service used for private communications within organizations.
The above are just a few of the apps and programs that can be integrated into SharePoint and you can even deploy custom apps meaning that it can provide just about any collaboration function that your business requires.
Figure 2: https://www.m-files.com/en/microsoft-sharepoint-integration
Once set up SharePoint is easy to use and understand. However, it is definitely advisable to use a SharePoint expert when initially putting the platform in place. They can assist you in determining what you need and assessing your requirements as well as with the installation process and any customization that may be required. Paying a SharePoint expert salary gives you access to all the necessary skills to ensure your collaborative platform is functioning as it should and allowing you to reap all of the benefits it provides.
Even when lockdowns are over, remote working is here to stay and collaborative software will be an essential part of many businesses, both large and small. Even prior to 2020 many companies were exploring employing remote workers and COVID-19 accelerated the process. It is likely that many company employees will work remotely full time and others will work both from home and in an office. If you haven’t already, consider using collaborative software such as SharePoint in your business. Also, investigate using a trained and experienced Microsoft SharePoint developer to customize the platform to make sure it fits your specific needs.