Utilizing Real-Time Collaboration Tools to Increase Team Success
By Ryan Ecclestone

Ryan Ecclestone
Ryan Ecclestone
Nonprofits, like other organizations, need to effectively and efficiently problem solve and share ideas, and real-time collaboration tools provide a means of communication and information sharing that enables geographically diverse teams to create content, make decisions, and drive the organization forward.

Presented below are some key collaboration tools, their features and how they can provide a serious return on investment to any organization.

Video Conference Solutions

More than two-thirds of communication is non-verbal; nothing can substitute for the trust that builds between people working face-to-face as opposed to communicating using email, Instant Message etc. Video conferencing addresses this need for in-person interaction and provides a dynamic range of possible uses; everything from interactively linking geographically diverse teams to creating a more engaging interviewing process.

The table below illustrates just a few of the mainstream services available:

Key Features
Google Hangout
  • Up to 9 participants per session
  • Conference in phones to audio bridge
  • Works with Mobile
Google account required
  • Free face-face
  • Mobile
Group calls require paid subscription
  • Free for 1:1
  • Multi-person - $4.99 and up
  • Whiteboard sharing space
  • Scalable
High cost for premium features
  • Free for up to 3 people
  • Plans start at $24/mo for up to 8 people

In the past, its prohibitive cost prevented video conferencing from being widespread. Today, with tools such as Google Hangouts or Skype, physically dispersed employees can enjoy the benefits provided by face-to-face communication for practically no additional cost beyond that of an organization’s existing IT infrastructure.

Cloud File Systems

Increasing operating efficiency is a constant goal of any organization and can directly lead to improved finances. Imagine a virtual conference table that allows individuals to look at the same document, make edits, as well as see the edits others are making simultaneously; this is the power of cloud file systems.

Google Drive and Box are two primary players among cloud based file systems providers. Each has unique attributes, but their core services are quite similar. Google Drive tends to focus on more real-time collaboration tools while Box focuses on integrations with other cloud based applications. Both have the ability to store and synchronize documents across organizations; thereby replacing the traditional file server. The table below highlights some key features of each:

Key Features
Google Drive
  • Desktop syncing
  • Real-time multi-user document editing
Google account required
Free up to 5GB
Plans start at $2.49/mo for 25GB
  • Integration with other cloud services
  • Document workflow
  • Cloud editing
  • Desktop syncing
High recurring cost for premium features
About $14-$30 person/month depending on version

Creating the Ecosystem

Regardless of the technology used to bring people together virtually, technology systems must function as part of an ecosystem that includes core business processes, rather than each operating as an independent silo. Winning organizations build their business processes and technology systems in a synergistically connected network that helps the organization deliver services/products and creates real, measurable value.

For example during a Google Hangout you can access and collaborate on your Google documents in real time with everyone on the video conference. It isn’t a linked feature between two different programs, but rather one platform that offers an extremely rich feature set.

Successful Delivery

Even though many of the products outlined are free, there are still costs associated with their deployment in the form of time and resources. To deliver any new technology tool effectively, proper planning and implementation are essential. This includes user training.

To ensure a successful implementation, create a phased approach with input from staff, including IT staff and the project sponsors, in the planning stage. By investing this time up front, typical pitfalls such as data loss or non-adoption by staff can be avoided.

The need for user training cannot be overemphasized. The more you and your colleagues are excited and empowered to utilize the technology tools, the more the tools will be used. Making the most of a technology tool that encourages creativity and directly increases productivity is the ultimate return on investment.

Successful organizations are made up of high energy, passionate individuals who often have tremendous ideas. Leveraging real-time collaboration tools enables these individuals and their associated organizations to ultimately create more value for clients and constituents.

Ryan Ecclestone is IT Client Manager in the Consulting Practice at Insource Services, Inc., which provides technology consulting and support services to nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Contact him at recclestone@insourceservices.com.
July 2013