The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in remote work as a rule, not an exception.
Before the pandemic, 7% of employees worked remotely, according to Pew Research Center. That number surged as COVID-19 took hold, which led organizations to quickly deploy and increase their software investments -- including remote content collaboration tools -- so their teams could remain productive.
As a result, the remote content collaboration market grew more extensively during pandemic-related business shutdowns than other related markets. Content collaboration became essential technology, according to Mike Woodbridge, senior director and analyst at Gartner.
Benefits of remote content collaboration tools
While content collaboration can have different meanings, it primarily refers to the next generation of file-sharing tools. Leaders in this space include Box, Hyland Software, Microsoft and OpenText, according to Gartner.
Regardless of industry, most organizations need employees to share and collaborate on files. Remote content collaboration removes the back-and-forth of email and benefits organizations in the following ways:
- Easier content management. Employees can find the latest version of a document and view changes in real time. They can also see who made the changes.
- Better communication across teams. Many content collaboration tools include a digital workspace to trade notes and offer markup suggestions in files.
- Faster file access. When a tool stores files in a central repository, employees can easily find what they need. Search functions in these tools also simplify how employees locate documents.
- Improved communication with clients. Many organizations use remote content collaboration tools to share documents with clients.
- Smoother workflows. Content collaboration tools include project management features to tag collaborators, assign tasks and automatically route items for approval.
- Enhanced security. Rather than employees emailing files and potentially downloading them to personal devices that may lack security, teams can collaborate directly in content collaboration tools. File owners can also turn off access after teams complete a project or a team member leaves the organization.
Essential features of a content collaboration tool
The marketplace for remote content collaboration tools is mature, according to Woodbridge, and a limited number of capabilities differentiate vendors. They all have the same essential functions: file storage, sharing, collaboration inside and outside the organization, classifying, tagging and grouping files, he said. Other essential features include security, privacy, process automation, enterprise administration, reporting and mobility.
Heather HaughianCTO and founder, Culhane Meadows
However, content collaboration tools differentiate themselves in their intelligent services, Woodbridge said, which are automated capabilities and AI functions. In content collaboration tools, those services are the following:
- content intelligence, which is automated content classification;
- productivity intelligence, which is how content appears to users without searching for it;
- security intelligence, which automates capabilities to secure content, such as locking content that meets specific rules; and
- governance intelligence, which retains and disposes of content based on its capabilities and the organization's policies.
These tools also differ in where they store data. While larger vendors such as Microsoft and Box separate data into different zones or regions, some regulatory requirements merit stricter controls. Small, localized vendors come into play here, Woodbridge said.
How to deploy content collaboration tools to remote workforces
Successful deployment to remote workforces depends on the workforce's preparedness for the tool and its buy-in from leadership teams. To prepare workforces, leaderships teams should take the following steps:
- Explain the tool's advantages. Before launch, leadership teams must lay out the tool's benefits to get users on board, according to Heather Haughian, CTO and founder of law firm Culhane Meadows. While leadership teams may like something state-of-the-art and innovative, "if you don't tell [employees] why and what it can do for them, it will flop," Haughian said.
- Set policies and model behavior for the new tool. For example, instead of users sending emails about document changes, they can use the internal messaging features of the collaboration tool. These features can keep everything in one place and speed up response times -- especially if the tool integrates with an internal messaging platform such as Microsoft Teams or Slack.
- Provide reliable documentation. Before rollout, leadership teams should also document processes, particularly on file naming and creation, according to Rax Suen, creator of the travel and remote work website NomadsUnveiled. He said documentation prevents users from creating random folders and systems, which can make it difficult to find files.
- Offer live and recorded training. Leaderships teams should host online training and post tutorial videos to train users on the remote content collaboration tool. For example, e-commerce company Cable Compare set up an online course with a proficiency exam and a certificate of completion for its employees, according to its manager, Todd Ramlin. It also offered an in-house Q&A, so business leaders could address employee concerns before adopting the tool.
- Ensure security is reliable. Some tools may need allowlist functions for security measures such as VPNs. The deployment approach is also critical; in some cases, organizations may start with a small pilot and progress to a phased rollout so users don't get overwhelmed.
- Determine who is responsible for the tool going forward. Flipping the switch to go live isn't the end of deployment. The organization needs someone responsible for the tool so it remains usable. For example, that representative must ensure users follow policies around file naming and folder creation, according to Alex Mastin, founder and CEO of coffee community website Home Grounds.
"This is not necessarily a full-time job, but just somebody who is skilled in the tool to check it at the beginning or end [of] every few days to make sure that any rogue information can be reassigned and put back in the correct place," Mastin said.
As organizations regroup from implementing remote content collaboration tools amid the pandemic, they can look for ways to get the most out of their tools or choose a tool better suited to their needs.