The nature of work changed rapidly in the past few years due to world events and has been further propelled by the advent of robust technologies. These new tools allow people to achieve a level of visual collaboration, regardless of physical distance from one another, that has positively transformed how many organizations do business.
A new emphasis has been placed on visual collaboration to bridge the physical distance between employees through technology. Research from McKinsey finds that organizations that implement collaborative techniques, either through technology or other processes, see up to 30% increased productivity. In the workplace, visual collaboration is the use of technology to facilitate collaboration. Visual elements are used as tools to enhance people’s understanding and communication abilities and enable them to collaborate. As these tools are accessed online, people can carry out this collaboration wherever they are, on any device, and however they like. There are a variety of business objectives that require collaboration that goes beyond words – this is where visual collaboration is not only useful but critical. The key in all this is to harness these technologies to enhance collaboration across distances that meets if not exceeds what’s possible when people are face to face.
What type of tools constitute visual collaboration and what are the benefits of it?
VISUAL COLLABORATION TOOLS
The thing to remember is that there are many different tools and providers of visual collaboration solutions, but they currently all fall within a few distinct categories.
- Video Conferencing – Perhaps nothing has become more common in the way we work than the video conference. Whether it’s Zoom, GoogleMeet, WebEx or a myriad of other providers, this technology has become almost ubiquitous. There are a variety of ways video conferencing can be utilized. Mostly individuals utilize web cameras that are built into their phone or laptops, or desktops to provide the audio and video for these calls. The platforms mentioned above are then tasked with connecting the parties that want to connect. These providers also offer other functions such as chat and screen sharing during the calls. No technology has perhaps been more impactful in allowing people to work remotely than video conferencing.
- Screen Sharing – Even though screen sharing often is a feature within video conferencing tools, it’s so powerful it needs to be mentioned on its own. This feature involves streaming the contents of one display to another device or more than one device. Sharing screen content allows teams to collaborate dynamically in real-time, share data, and demonstrate processes. It’s powerful because your team can show instead of just telling complex, visually-oriented data – a plus when you’re dealing with complicated, big ideas. If you ever tried to explain an intricate process with just words, you know that it can be frustrating. Being able to share a screen helps increase clarity, cuts down on misunderstandings, and reduces the time needed to explain large chunks of information.
- Document Sharing – this technology allows multiple people to both write and edit drafts in real-time. This helps avoid miscommunication, while document creation becomes faster and more streamlined. Additionally, people are able to avoid the confusion of having to worry about whether they are looking at the most updated version of a document. It is not necessary to create a new draft everytime, since all edits are automatically synced to the same master doc and saved in the cloud. Users can also save documents in multiple formats, including PDF, plain text, and web page.
- Digital Whiteboards – there are just some things that require a whiteboard. Fortunately there are tools now that allow you to collaborate with other people in real time. They allow you to draw, put up sticky notes, and throw in diagrams to help get everyone on the same page. When several people work together on the same visual workspace at the same time, they can watch one another share ideas and actively contribute to one another, unlocking a new level of ideation previously unavailable to remote workers.
- Online Project Management – these are tools that help visualize project workflows with color-coded visual overviews, task assignments, and help make communication transparent by keeping all work related information in one place.
BENEFITS OF VISUAL COLLABORATION
The benefits of visual collaboration will be apparent once your team becomes comfortable with it. It’s not just a fancy way of communicating — it’s a way to convey ideas faster and more clearly that allows your team to innovate at warp speed. Through visual collaboration, experts and teams are able to connect in ways they were never able to in the past, and it allows them to combine their thoughts and ideas in ways that could not be done simply over the phone.
- Lower Travel Costs – visual collaboration has helped replace much of the need to have in-person meetings since the tools are so great at allowing people to get creative with how they communicate. This means companies do not need to commit as much overhead to flights and travel, as productivity doesn’t wane just because employees are not physically close to one another.
- Increased Efficiency – Collaboration through visual means allows teams to pick up ideas quickly and orient themselves towards their goals more quickly. The benefit of using visual collaboration is to provide instant feedback to your entire team. If you work with others in the same virtual workspace, you can evaluate the progress they are making and contribute your own expertise whenever necessary. These tools also allow instant feedback which is an essential part of teamwork. This is the best and quickest way to communicate your intentions and vision with everyone.
- Clearer Big Picture Communication – When visual communication isn’t involved, collaboration can feel like playing virtual telephone. People end up transmitting messages second hand and this can cause miscommunication and confusion as ideas and tasks get more complicated. The use of visual collaboration tools enables teams to share and communicate ideas across dispersed or remote locations. Moreover, it makes it easy to illustrate all the aspects of a plan and their relationship to organizational goals.
- Higher Employee Retention – Engagement levels in your company have a significant impact on performance and culture. When people don’t feel included or are sitting in long drawn out meetings where they can’t see anyone or understand the tasks at hand, they see their work as meaningless. If a company has remote workers but no visual collaboration tools, some introverted team members can feel ignored, dismissed, or uninterested. Also, these tools allow employees to have greater autonomy with how they work, which has become more important since the global pandemic. Great employees are hard to come by, so it’s important for organizations to be able to attract and retain them with tools that allow them to decide how they want to participate in the workforce.
- More Innovative Ideas – When people and teams can interact together in real time with the help of powerful technology, ideas get better. More voices in the room are allowed to participate, not just vocally, but visually. This unlocks the potential of employees that may not be as loquacious but still have great input to give a company. These tools help flatten out top down hierarchy allowing for truly collaborative decision making.
The future of work will be increasingly visual, thanks to these visual collaboration tools. It is amazing how they can emulate an in-person collaboration experience and go further to improve efficiency in places where meeting in person would be impossible. By improving the working experience by extending visual collaboration capabilities worldwide, we can increase productivity, creativity, and boost employee morale.