Although many people might prefer their own solitary approach to working, a collaborative workplace environment is proven to lead to a more productive workplace. But why exactly is this? We need to first look at what collaboration means for a business.

Business collaboration definition

Also known as 'collaborative working', business collaboration is where two or more individuals (or companies) work together to achieve shared business objectives. It may sound like a pretty simple and obvious working practice – most people probably collaborate with their colleagues every day – but there are methods to maximise collaboration, and improve production output.

Types of business collaboration

Collaborative working can come in many forms, including synchronous, asynchronous, collocated and non-collocated.

Synchronous business collaboration describes employees working on tasks at the same time, and asynchronous business collaboration is the opposite, i.e. working on the task at different times.

Each method has its own benefits, and it depends on the type of project as to which method is most suitable. For something like written content, for example, an asynchronous approach might be better suited, as one team member can write the document, and another team member can check it over after it is complete.

In that situation, it doesn't make sense to have both team members working on the document at the same time as they might interrupt each other’s work, whereas for something like developing a web application, it's common to split the application up into smaller chunks, and have team members working on their own individual branches simultaneously. This method is used for the cyclical nature of Agile development.

A collocated approach to business collaboration means having employees in the same physical location as each other. A non-collocated approach is the obvious opposite, and includes collaboration between people working remotely, off-site or in home offices.

Collocation leads to more face-to-face interaction and meetings, which can be helpful when deciding on the exact requirements and definitions of a project, but some companies see too many meetings as an unnecessary distraction, and prefer to operate with a non-collocated approach to collaborative working. Again, it often depends on the size and scope of a project.

Benefits of collaboration

Whichever method of collaboration suits your business better, there are plenty of benefits to collaborative working – whether that be collaborating with other companies, or collaboration between employees.

Financial benefits

Collaboration can save a business money due to human and physical factors. For example, collaborating with another business on a project will save you money if you agree to split some of the expenses. This will mean that you'll get more output from the budget that you put in. You're also using less human resource if, say, collaborating means you only need two of your employees on a project instead of four.

Using remote working in a non-collocated approach can also save greatly on expenses required for office space and staff amenities. By allowing staff to work from home on a project, business expenses such as utilities and parking fees are reduced dramatically.

Educational benefits

Having employees work closely together with other parts of the business (or even other businesses) will give them an opportunity to learn from each other. Collaborating with people outside of an employee's usual network will lead to a more skilled and informed workforce.

A business in your collaborative network may also have research that would be beneficial to your company, and vice versa. Sharing information that you have with them in exchange for their research helps both businesses, and saves costs.

Business collaboration tools

Productive collaborative working is all about communication and coordination. Whether it's face-to-face or distanced, communication needs to be efficient. And if tasks happen simultaneously or consecutively it's important that everything is coordinated. There are a variety of tools to help with collaborative working.

Microsoft Exchange email and Outlook

Perhaps the most obvious tool for business collaboration is email. Free email solutions like Gmail and Hotmail might work well initially, but the coordination tools included with email solutions like Microsoft Exchange make it really worthwhile for increasing collaboration efficiency and productivity. Exchange integrates perfectly with Microsoft Outlook and it's easy to set up each employee with their own email account. From there, you can make use of shared contacts, calendars and tasks to coordinate meetings, actions and responsibilities.

Skype for Business

Skype for Business is a great tool for internal communication. If you need a quick answer to a question from a co-worker, it's much easier to send an instant message than an email. Skype also has status alerts, which allow you to see which colleagues are 'available', 'busy', 'away', 'off work', etc. This helps with coordination and communication and is vital for effective business collaboration.

Skype also comes with conferencing tools such as audio and video chat as well as screen sharing functionality. If you've organised a face-to-face meeting, it's easy to have other attendees dial in over Skype audio or video chat. This is an ideal function for a non-collocated collaboration environment, as it ensures that everybody on the team stays informed, even if they can't make the meeting in person.

Microsoft Office – online and offline

Everyone in business knows about the Microsoft Office suite, and that's because it includes a software package for most day-to-day business needs: word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, accounting, etc. Where these tools are made even better for collaborative working is that they're now available in online versions. This makes document sharing between teams much easier, and integration with Outlook/Exchange calendars makes tracking document version numbers and suggested changes a lot more efficient.

All of these tools are included in the Office 365 package from Fasthosts. Visit the Fasthosts website for more information on a complete email and office package that maximises your business collaboration potential.