Communication is the key to team success. That applies whether your teams are working remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic or because your business is geographically distributed. Thankfully, digital technology offers a broad range of options from which you can choose, but given the number of choices, making an informed decision can be challenging. What makes one tool a good option while another should be avoided?
One of the first considerations when choosing a communication tool for remote team collaboration is the security of the platform. With the shortcomings of tools like Zoom being broadcast by the national news media, it is more apparent than ever before that security should be one of your major considerations. What steps does the developer take to safeguard your accounts? How secure is information shared within the tool? What third parties does the developer share your information with? Is the platform secure enough to comply with industry regulations or government mandates (HIPAA or PCI-DSS, for instance)?
Number of Users
How many team members can use the tool at the same time? This applies not just to the total number of team members that can have accounts under your business name, but how many can communicate simultaneously? This is an important consideration for larger teams and group discussions that might involve a significant number of people.
Connectivity/Communication Types Supported
Accurate communication is absolutely essential between remote team members. So, it pays to ensure that the platform you choose can support the connectivity/communication types that your team members need. For instance, some teams will be fine with nothing more than the ability to text one another. In that case, something as simple as a messenger or chat app will suffice. However, what if your team members need to send each other images? What about larger files? Will they need to combine a secondary tool like Google Drive or Dropbox, or does the communication tool provide all-in-one capabilities for these types of things?
Team members must do more than just talk to one another. They must be able to collaborate quickly and easily. How well does the tool support team collaboration? What features and functions does it provide that support collaboration? For instance, can you create task lists? Can you delegate responsibilities? Can you assign projects or jobs and then track completion? Can projects be tracked and monitored in real-time, or are those functions relegated to after the fact?
While team members must be able to collaborate across the board, there will be times that they need to communicate with just one or two others. This could be a side project between two or three team members. It might be a team leader holding a member accountable for his or her actions. It could be virtually anything. The point is that in addition to wide-scale collaborative capabilities, you need to ensure that the tool you ultimately choose also supports one-on-one communication capabilities.
Was the tool developed for use within a particular industry or range of industries? If so, does your company fall into those industries? Different industries will have varying usage requirements, best practices, rules and regulations, and other needs that must be addressed, meaning that what works for one business may not work at all for another.
Growth and Scalability
No team remains the same forever. They grow and change. They evolve. Just as your business will grow, so too will the needs of your teams and individual team members. Make sure that any communication tool you choose is scalable and able to change with your needs. One good example of this is in the tool’s ability to adapt to increases in team size. Can you scale up team size infinitely, or is there a cap? If there is a cap, is it realistic, or is it something that you will reach and surpass within the foreseeable future?
Of course, scalability also goes the other way. There may be times in the future that you need to scale down your membership or the features that you’re using. Does the platform offer that, or will you be forced to pay for capabilities and features that you are no longer using? If the tool isn’t scalable to meet your changing needs, then you’d be better off looking elsewhere.
Plays Well with Others
No matter how robust the remote team communication tool you choose might be, it will not do everything that you need. Look for a solution that plays well with other apps and programs that you already use. Does the platform integrate with your file-sharing system? Does it support the types of documents you need to share? Can it tie in with your email system? What about reporting tools and similar options? If the tool does not play well with other apps and programs, you are better off looking elsewhere.
Ease of Use
User experience is a significant consideration today, from website design to digital communication tools. Ease of use is a major factor in user experience and it applies directly to any communication tool that you might be considering. How easy is the system to use? How steep is the learning curve? Will it take days or even weeks for your team members to get the hang of it, or is it something they can adapt to within mere hours? Obviously, the easier the system is to use, the better. However, don’t sacrifice capabilities for a reduced learning curve. If the tool cannot meet your needs, then no amount of user-friendly design is going to do you any good.
When it’s all said and done, there are dozens of great communication tools out there that can help your remote teams communicate more effectively. However, they are not all the same. Some can provide you with a broad range of features and functions, while others are more barebones. Some comply with industry and government mandates for specific industries, while others are less secure. It’s vital that you compare your options and make an informed decision.