Collaboration as a lifestyle

Posted: October 19, 2014 in Technology

Collaboration is one of those “buzz” words we’ve been hearing for many years now but the technology to empower that idea has only now really began to become more readily available.  If you’re not familiar with the term collaboration, think of it really as social networking for business.  Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have given us the ability to connect with people and share our thoughts and ideas and have them provide almost instant feedback on those thoughts and ideas.  You may have already started hearing collaboration being referred to as social networking for business and that really is a good way to look at it.  Today I’d like to discuss two tools that are currently available to us from Microsoft that have really changed the way I work with my other team members, Microsoft SharePoint and Lync.

Microsoft SharePoint has been around for many years but is only now becoming more and more popular due to the availability of it within cloud providers such as Office 365.  SharePoint makes it extremely easy for teams to be able to work together either in a general fashion or on specific projects by creating what are known as SharePoint sites.  Like a website, a SharePoint site is available via your web browser and is edited in a very familiar way just like you would a Microsoft Word document.  SharePoint in a basic way was designed to replace the use of file shares within a company but is so much more.  With SharePoint sites you are empowered as the “owner” of the site to give access to whom you need to share information and collaborate with.  Once you’ve granted access you can add things such as documents and organize them in folders just like you would on your local computer but the benefit is that the files become available to other members of your team and you anywhere within the organization (or in the case of Office 365, anywhere on the internet) securely from a web interface or natively within Microsoft Office applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.  Going beyond the basic features of file sharing you can do other things such as create team blogs or newsfeeds where you can discuss particular topics and comment/like the posts just like you would on a site such as Facebook.  As projects come up you can create “child-sites” of your main team site for that specific project and then once done archive or delete it.  It really provides a great central place to share information with other team members and many people find they end up setting their team site as their web browser’s home page.

Microsoft Lync may have previously been known to you as Microsoft Office Communicator or OCS for short.  Many people think Lync is just a tool for instant messaging like Skype or AOL Instant Messenger but it is quite a bit more.  At a basic level Lync is used by companies to provide instant communication within a company.  For many years people have used e-mail when the phone wasn’t convenient or accessible but, as I know I’ve experienced, one e-mail soon becomes twenty and next thing you know that simple e-mail became a long running chain.  Microsoft Lync empowers a person to be able to find anyone in the company and easily communicate with them either by instant messaging, by voice or even video.  The great thing about Lync is that if you and your colleague decide that an instant message isn’t really enough to be able to communicate your thoughts, with a click of a button you can add voice, video, or even screen sharing.  Many times I personally have been working on a task or project and needed input from another member of my team and with Lync I’ve been able to quickly reach them if they are available, share something on my screen, resolve the issue, and then go back to what I was doing.  The instant ability to communicate really saves a lot of time rather than having to setup a meeting or lookup someone’s phone number or start that chain of twenty e-mails.  Speaking of meetings though, Lync also provides us with a meeting space online that can be used both inside and outside of our company.  Microsoft Lync has a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook that allows you to easily insert your meeting information to a calendar invite by clicking a button on the toolbar.  Once your meeting time has arrived, participants simply click on the “Join Lync Meeting” link within the meeting invite and then can either join via a headset or speakerphone attached to their PC, have Lync call them at their desk or cell phone number, or even dial in to the meeting if they aren’t near their computer.  Within the meeting you can do the same things you can within a one person conversation such as instant message, voice or video chat, or share content such as your entire monitor or a PowerPoint presentation.

Having used both of these tools for the last year I can truly say it has made communicating with other members of my team a much easier experience and has really empowered us to work much more efficiently and effectively.  If you’re unfamiliar with these technologies, check with your manager or local IT resource and they can help guide you in accessing these tools.​ If you want to implement these tools for your own company I suggest looking in to Microsoft’s Office 365 online offerings. They have several versions available for small businesses as well as enterprises.

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