In our current era of high-speed internet, the idea of chatting and collaborating with different professionals across the globe is often seen as nothing more than normal, everyday business. But of course, as you may already know, the heart of every joint online project will always be a collaborative platform.

But wait.

How does one choose the best starting collaborative platform in the first place? Here are some of what we think makes a good collaborative platform, and why we chose that particular point or view.

Elements of a collaborative platform

Before we start, it's best first that we define the fundamental elements of collaborative platforms. This may be somewhat intuitive, and oftentimes we don't even think about the moving parts of what we currently use, but summarized, these are as follows:

Features – Pretty self-explanatory. The more features the better, right? Maybe, but maybe not. For our purposes, the better criteria would instead be to find features that specifically suit the needs of your organization or business structure. Less can sometimes be more.

Usability – The ease of using an app, along with the general feel of using it. Slick, frictionless, error-free experiences are what users like. The opposite is also true.

Personalization - This means tweaking the features in order to develop or create a user experience that works for your organisation.

Integration – With the current development of various tools and software solutions for almost anything, integration is now a vital criteria of any collaborative platform. This combines the element of features and usability in the form of external tools.

Scalability – Organizations and businesses come in different shapes and sizes. Therefore, choosing a collaborative platform that allows slowly scaling up as the company grows is already a good starting investment. Obviously, this means you don’t need to significantly change the system, and you don’t have to suffer from delays caused by overhauling the platform.

Security – Normally, this is where all manners of information risks and data security issues come into play. However, we can technically also include system stability in this regard. If certain integration features cause unintended problems, or if certain bugs persist whenever major updates are made, then it's going to be a big problem.

The point of effective usage

Now, there are other criteria that are fairly important enough to be taken into consideration when choosing the platform you need to use.

To differentiate what you really want to use, you have to consider why you need a platform and what for. There are a four main areas to consider:

1. Good knowledge acquisition, retention, and representation**

Collaborative platforms by default usually allow some form uploading when it comes to sharing files or making them available for the entire team. At this point, we can pretty much surmise that everyone is already pretty familiar with these features.

The controls are typically intuitive anyway. Drag and drop to share files, for example. Sticky notes are also often available in the form of pinned content, with each channel on a platform usually having its own sticky content.

This specific acquisition and retention of knowledge is one of the key aspects that made collaborative platforms so much more convenient, at least with when compared to more the likes of email.

However, the addition of other options that could expand this basic feature, even something as mundane and simple as an auto-share function, would make a collaborative platform far more convenient and faster to use than any other.

Hot tip: Never forget your spreadsheet roots! Color coding can still make a huge difference in the speed of access to any shared task, project, file or calendar. If you want the fastest, most convenient access to a portion of data from any project outline, choose the platform that offers the most distinct variety of colored indicator icons and symbols.

2. Convenient data reuse and recycling

There will be files and other relevant digital information that might be used over and over within the team’s project lifecycle. This is where the idea of data reuse and recycle comes into mind.

This is not just about setting and integrating a cloud-based data storage system. The way these files are accessed is also critical to the overall efficiency of the platform’s information retention capabilities.

Cloud-storage integration is the bread and butter of convenient data reuse and recycling. Just having the option to directly integrate Dropbox for example, is already a huge plus for any collaborative platform. Not only will your shared file links appear as direct download notifications, but you also have the option to open up more options in your chat bar to directly share the files, as if the cloud-storage service was part of the platform in the first place.

As an added bonus, you are even treated to the unspoken luxury of making the file searchable simply because it was shared on the platform as a 'sent' message. Sometimes, the search results will even be modified so that the download link is directly available from the list, making data reuse even more convenient.

Hot tip: While tagging typically means calling the attention of a specific team member, many similar features in other platforms could also directly provide access to task points, project points and other bits of needed data. What's even more convenient, is that it is usually used the exact same way as tagging a user.

3. Seamless flow of information

The huge success of Evernote during its burgeoning years can be attributed to one word: seamless. Information, regardless of medium, format, or type, can be saved, transferred, converted, and shared across different spaces, platforms, devices and even other apps.

This raw power of intuitive, uninterrupted flow of information has worked wonders for app and all of its users. Disregarding the negative changes it suffered through the years, this more or less same general model of free information flow that can be applied when choosing a collaborative platform.

Though a rather late player to the scene, Microsoft Teams is perhaps the easiest citable example for this pointer, though by no means is it the best. It is not difficult to demonstrate how "seamless" it can be, with all the combined services provided by the tech giant (Office 365, OneNote, OneDrive, etc.) that can be integrated into it directly.

Excluding integrated apps however, when it comes to just the platform itself, more emphasis is generally given to access. For instance, if the mobile version would be just as convenient to use externally (with other apps) as its original browser or full software version. You may be able to upload files as normal on your phone, but if you phone cannot provide a way to open the shared files without use another app first, then the overall value of its convenience may be somewhat reduced.

Hot tip: If external apps are included, time then becomes an added variable. Basically, the older the platform, the more likely it is to have a well developed suite of apps it can use to extend its information sharing and communication features.

4. Solid archiving of work history

Statistical information is always a great resource of reference data. Quantitatively knowing just how much effort has been poured onto a project allows managers to more accurately track progress, and to make the necessary steps to adjust and adapt to the changes realized upon analyzing these numbers.

Collaborative platforms with options that allow work history archiving are therefore great to for organisations that need to keep an eye on projects and progress.

One can point out that there is actually no direct effect on efficiency as per function or feature. But the raw data it provides reflects on what we have discussed earlier when it comes to information acquisition. This kind of knowledge can optimise and inform future projects.

Do you need an indicator of total hours worked by each member? Do you need to collate milestones and completed tasks to display it in a numerical form that directly shows a given percentage at a single glance? These and other comparatively similar features are what you should generally look out for.

Hot tip: Don't limit your analytics options to the default one provided by the platform. Branch out and use other types of data from a wider variety of statistics apps from other developers, as needed by your team of course.

Photo by "My Life Through A Lens" on Unsplash.