Email is universal and has been indispensable to collaboration especially in the work environment. However, work environments are changing, as is the demographics of the workforce. Development cycles are becoming shorter and shorter, compounding the requirement for efficient collaboration. Managing meetings with file attachments means that meeting notes is not efficient anymore. Things are becoming chaotic as more and more millennials and Gen Z’ers are entering the workforce as well. They are no longer happy with the “dinosaur of communication” — email. Today there are many alternative new methods of communication available. Organizations are looking for purpose-built tools that are more effective than email. While some of these office communication tools are good for collaboration, some are good for project management, and yet others are good for issue and bug tracking. In a previous story, we looked at seven startups that are bridging the gap between old and new office communication tools. Today, we will look at some of the most popular tools being used in offices everywhere.
In many organizations, Slack is the new default for “no more emails.” It brings all types of communication of an organization together — project or topic-specific conversations, collaboration, file sharing, and more. It also easily integrates with all other tools that you may be already using, making it a versatile and seamless experience for the team. No wonder in many organizations Slack is the main gathering spot — the new watercooler!
“Channels,” public or private, are used to organize team conversations in Slack. Channels can be teams, projects, ideas, or anything that you want the teams to engage with. You can share files — PDFs, Excel and other spreadsheets, and documents by a simple “drag and drop” in the channels. Team members can comment on the uploaded documents making collaboration contextual and transparent. You can direct message an individual or a group of people if that is your preferred way of communicating. Conversations continue seamlessly on your mobile phone from the desktop keeping pace with you and keeping everything synced up at all times. Everything is searchable in Slack — messages, files, content in messages — which makes it convenient and useful and why it has become one of the most popular of all office communication tools.
Basecamp organizes everything in one place so that you can focus on moving ahead and meeting goals. Basecamp is a shared space and a collection of tools that help teams get work done together. It is one place for projects, teams, and company-wide communication. There are six basic tools for each basecamp — campfire, message board, to-dos, schedules, docs and files, and check-ins. Campfire is a chat room — this is like intranet-housing all relevant conversations and the pulse of the organization. You can use campfire for general announcements and also broadcast questions on your mind. Message boards can be used for updates and to gather feedback that is organized chronologically grouped by topics — teams, projects, or any other communication. This is so much better than messy email chains that sometimes also get hidden in the inbox inundated with a million things including newsletters, auto-replies, and marketing spams. Schedules show important dates and timelines. In the to-do section, you can assign work and see the status without having to nag people with reminders. Docs and files section is to store assets that can be found easily. If boring “update meetings” are eating away your calendar space, Basecamp has a feature that you will absolutely love. Everyone in the organization can automatically check-in to answer the question, “What did you work on today?” You no longer need to get into a 60-minute meeting with 10 other people to simply update what you are working on; you can use the time to create instead.
Trello is a project management software tool that uses cards to organize tasks and visualize progress. You can create one collaborative space for all information required organized by stages of a project. This translates to fewer emails, fewer meetings, and more productivity. With Trello you can, at a glance, know who is doing what and what needs to get done without having to go through long, messy email chains with attachments. Boards in Trello organize information and tasks and help you see your work that’s in progress. Boards consist of lists that can be steps or stages of a workflow. Cards are added to the lists to keep track of everything you need to do or remember — bugs to fix, the code to write, problems to fix, decisions to make. Cards can be dragged across lists to show progress. Details like checklists, due dates, owners, and files can be added to each card. Boards can be shared with co-workers and is a cool way to get visibility into what the organization is working on. Trello can also be integrated with other trusted apps.
Numerous tools and applications are deployed in today’s IT world to ensure “always-on” service. This means someone needs to monitor the tools, the applications, and the network connecting them, all the time. Complexity increases with dynamic cloud environment and Agile deployments, demanding the service of none less than a genie for guaranteed monitoring service. Aptly named, OpsGenie is a modern incident management tool. OpsGenie ensures critical incidents are never missed and are efficiently resolved by the people. OpsGenie categorizes the alerts that it receives from monitoring systems based on importance and timing, and uses multiple communication channels including voice calls, emails, SMS, and push messages on mobile devices to notify the right people. OpsGenie has inbuilt functionality to escalate any unacknowledged alert for an incident. OpsGenie goes beyond alerting to speed up resolution; it can reformat data and enrich the information with relevant details. OpsGenie also comes with reporting functionality that can be used to analyze and identify gaps and trends. The on-call feature also has the capability to set up conference bridges and status pages. Clearly, if you have OpsGenie, you can rest assured that all your incidents will be managed well, and without depending on email.
Jira helps you plan, track, and work faster in an Agile environment, whether it is scrum, Kanban, or your own flavor. Developers use Jira to track, organize, and prioritize bugs, stories, issues, and tasks in software release sprints. Jira improves productivity and quality in an Agile environment by reducing time spent on tracking issues and coordination. There is better visibility into the tasks and owners of tasks at any given point in time, resulting in efficient teamwork and collaboration. Visibility also lets you prioritize tasks ensuring less downtime between tasks. Jira comes with a lot of built-in reports such as time trackers, pie charts, road maps, and workload reports to monitor progress. Jira Agile gives you additional functionalities such as Agile Board, Sprint Planning, Burndown Carts, and Sprint Reports, which are very useful features in an Agile development environment.
The WaterCooler is an easy, social, and modular social intranet application, powered by the enterprise network — Salesforce Chatter. It is simple to install and easy to implement enterprise-wide in less than 30 days. The WaterCooler is user-friendly, mobile, and accessible anytime anywhere. It encourages involvement and productivity to create a new, engaging intranet. Built on the Salesforce platform, the product promises to be secure and reliable. Some of the cool features on the new “watercooler” include collaborative search engine, employee directories, company calendars, interactive document libraries, and location-specific information and notifications. The WaterCooler is mobile ready and can be customized, and is all set to replace Slack as the go-to “watercooler.”
If “deep work” is the culture of your organization, you will like BlogIn. It is nonintrusive and allows you to “catch-up” in your own space and time. BlogIn saves you from the fury of incoming emails and notifications by organizing all relevant information into a single post, like a blog. It creates a knowledge base of your regular updates. The information is organized thematically so it helps a new team member to quickly onboard, while an old team member can refer to the same to stay updated. This may be the best alternative to combat the constant distraction caused by instant messaging and emails.
Office communication tools: Face-to-face time, too?
Purpose-built collaboration and messaging office communication tools are becoming increasingly popular, but have not replaced emails entirely. On a whimsical ending note, there is a temptation to reevaluate face-to-face communication as an alternative to emails and as a way to increase productivity. It may still make a comeback in this increasingly connected yet disconnected world. Who knows, face-to-face collaboration, aided by other tools for efficiency, can perhaps be the most effective of all office communication tools in this increasingly distracted world. Till we go back in time to conversations over coffee, the many successors of the email dinosaur will keep employees focused on the task in hand.
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