Real-time collaboration: what it is and how it helps your business

What is real-time collaboration? 

Two managers contributing to the same report from two different locations. Three executives using an online whiteboard and building a presentation from three corporate campuses. Four hundred employees participating in an online meeting from their homes spread across the four corners of the globe.   

Real-time collaboration is just that—people working together at the same time even if they’re in different places. And the online collaboration tools available are just as varied as the types of collaboration they enable. For example, desktop sharing. Using a feature that allows you to share your device screen with others allows them all to see exactly the same thing so everyone can collaborate at the same time with the same context. Document sharing is another collaboration tool that gives multiple people access to the same piece of writing, spreadsheet, or presentation so that they can collectively add, edit, or comment on a single live file.    

How real-time collaboration works 

A file is made commonly available to multiple people in multiple locations. This requires storing the file in the cloud and then providing a link or access to the file. It also requires the people who are collaborating to have uninterrupted internet access, the same collaboration software, or integrated apps that interact seamlessly. 

The difference between traditional collaboration and real-time collaboration 

The main and most obvious distinction between the two types of collaboration is the timing of their processes. Traditional online collaboration can only occur sequentially—one person at a time. For example, an employee creates a document, emails it to a colleague for review, the colleague emails it back, and so on. Real-time collaboration between multiple people happens simultaneously—an entire team of people can work together on the same project at the same time.  

Why real-time collaboration is important now? 

As remote work and working from home is increasingly encouraged and accepted by many industries, in-person collaboration such as conference room meetings and whiteboard sessions will become the rare exception versus the norm. For productive collaboration to continue, people need new ways to come together and contribute without sharing the same physical space. Online collaboration tools are designed to do just that by replacing old analog methods with modern digital ones. With tools such as online whiteboards now being widely adopted and used, it’s easier than ever to empower people working remotely to collaborate in real time.  

Types of real-time collaboration 

The types of real-time collaboration possible are as varied as the apps that enable them. Here’s a list with some of the most common ways people collaborate in real-time:  

  • Document sharing and editing  
  • Videoconferencing 
  • Desktop sharing 
  • Online whiteboards 
  • Instant messaging (real-time text) and chat rooms (or threads)     

Real-time collaboration features 

Different real-time collaboration tools have different sets of features for enabling group interaction. Some have instant messaging, or other real-time meeting and communications tools, and file sharing so everyone involved has access to files at the same time. 

A few important features to look for when considering collaboration tools: 

  • Seamless integration with other productivity apps such as document, spreadsheet, and presentation creation software.  
  • Easy access and visibility of files, calendars, meeting notes, and communication threads.  
  • Flexibility to collaborate anytime, anywhere, and from any device—desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. 
  • Confidentiality from built-in, advanced security and compliance capabilities 
  • Ease of implementation among groups, businesses, and organizations 

Benefits of real-time collaboration  

The benefits are becoming clear as more businesses and groups implement and adopt online collaboration tools such as online whiteboards. Here are just a few proven benefits of real-time collaboration:  

  • Improved participation and knowledge sharing from working together as a team just as you would if you were in the same room.
  • Increased efficiency and productivity from a simplified and seamless process that  eliminates back-and-forth communications and replaces the chaos of multiple versions with a single, shared document living in the cloud.  
  • Higher employee morale and job satisfaction and decreased feelings of isolation and loneliness associated with remote work. 
  • Streamlined workflow with meetings, conversations, and file sharing—all happening simultaneously.  
  • Greater cost-effectiveness over traditional methods of collaboration which require office space, equipment, and travel.  
  • Expansive reach and scope from the ability to connect anyone inside and outside your business including employees, clients, and vendors.  

Get started  

Where, when, and how we work is changing. Fortunately, online collaboration tools give people the freedom and flexibility to work hand in hand even when they’re apart. Are you ready to start seeing the benefits of real-time collaboration for your business? Take next steps and learn more about the latest solutions such as an integrated suite of apps or a powerful set of collaboration and communication tools.  

Get started with Microsoft 365

It’s the Office you know, plus the tools to help you work better together, so you can get more done—anytime, anywhere.

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