Fifty years ago, few people could fathom working with a team that was spread over multiple locations and time zones. Hell, even five years ago, you'd hardly ever run into an employer that was cool with a "work from home" situation. Yet, as of 2017, over 3.9 million Americans telecommute regularly.

On top of that, businesses are becoming more global so even if you do work in an office, it's likely that you'll have to collaborate with others who are not in the room with you. And to add the icing on the cake, you'll almost certainly work with consultants and freelancers as well, given that they now make up about 36 percent of the US workforce.

If you're like 6 million other people, you probably use Slack to communicate with your team and maybe you round it out with Trello to organize your projects. Both platforms can be highly effective if used correctly. One of the challenges, for example, is making sure that Slack does not become one big trash yard of too many unnecessary posts. 

To get the best out of project management platforms, users of these technologies have learned very quickly that it's important to set up channels and rules for operation, so that everyone is not bombarded with irrelevant messages.

"We use Slack very extensively--we have over 100 channels," says Cody Nailor, of Museum Hack, team building and corporate events provider. "These various channels help us group and categorize conversations and information which allows us to not only cut down on emails (we send an average of 1000 messages a day!), but to help build up a knowledge base."

Given the sheer number of high growth companies that thrive using Slack and Trello, it's worth noting that the professional community is getting multi-office collaboration down to a science. 77 percent of Fortune 100 companies report using Slack to enhance their operations, with global users clocking up about 650 million hours a week on the platform.  

But in the world of constant innovation, there's always a curve ball.

As we become a more global business society, we're seeing a lot more companies collaborating with other companies - which can present the challenge of keeping confidential information secret, while still effectively working with outsiders. Provided they can get past these barriers, businesses can gain a competitive edge by leveraging the resources of a partner.

In the UK, for example, dashcams are one of the fastest growing consumer electronics area, now that insurance companies accept their footage as evidence. Companies like Nextbase, the UK's largest manufacturer of dashcams, are capitalizing on a trend and collaborating with major insurance providers to offer discounts on their products.

Even previously at-odds fintech and financial services providers are starting to realize the value in coming together and collaborating. According to the 2017 PwC Global Fintech Report, some 87 percent of companies surveyed planned to increase their collaboration with fintech providers over the next three to five years.

WorkSpan Co-Founder and Chief Customer Officer, Amit Sinha believes that strategic collaboration is the key to success. "If we don't figure out this next level of productivity, next level of insight, next level of discovery, next level of innovation coming from the network, I think globalization coordination will take a back seat, and that should not be the case."

Platforms like Slack and Trello have made huge strides toward improving collaboration, but according to Sinha, are somewhat limited to internal office communication. Because Americans spend more and more time working with other companies or outside contractors (with some 40 percent of the workforce expected to be freelance by 2020), it's pretty clear, a new standard of collaboration needs to be implemented for these cases.

Sinha and his team believe that it should be as easy to work with anyone outside as with inside the company, of course, with the appropriate security and controls, which is why they founded WorkSpan. The platform has been adopted by the likes of Intel, Infosys, and SAP, who, among other things, use the technology to engage with partnering companies. 

Joining forces with other companies naturally gives businesses a great deal more power, allowing each to bring their audiences together for a more impactful result. Utilizing collaborative platforms that expand beyond the offices of individual companies may help reduce costs, promote global productivity, and allow businesses to be aware of synergistic projects that they can potentially get in on.

No matter how we cut it, the future looks increasingly collaborative and it will be interesting to see how new company partnerships evolve. If technologies and teams can accommodate this trend, we might just find that working apart can actually bring us closer together and, more importantly, closer to our business goals. 

Published on: Jan 9, 2018