Improving collaboration has long been a concern for business leaders, but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizations to shift it to the top of the priority list. Among their questions: What can companies do immediately to improve how people work together? What about long-term? What can employees do? Which collaboration apps hold the most promise?
Unfortunately, there is no simple, one-size-fits-all approach for improving collaboration—indeed, it’s safe to say that business leaders probably will never find a magic app or an easy answer to those questions. Besides, they should know by now that, to truly change the way employees work together, they must take into account multiple factors that are different for each organization, including company culture, employee receptiveness to change, the importance of communication and training, and buy-in from management.
Still, technology companies have continued to create apps that promise magically simple solutions. But instead of inspiring a workplace collaboration revolution, this flood of technology is creating “collaboration fatigue” and adding to employees’ high levels of anxiety and stress.
But there’s real hope, and it comes in the form of Microsoft’s Fluid Framework, a new web-based app that uses a componentized document model, artificial intelligence, and the SharePoint cloud platform to streamline and supercharge workplace collaboration.
You may not have heard much about Fluid Framework—Microsoft started rolling out the preview in January and February, right before the number of U.S. cases of COVID-19 began to climb. But, considering the effects of the pandemic—a rapid, massive shift to remote work and an even greater focus on collaboration—the app surely should be on every employee’s radar.
Considering COVID-19’s impact on the world of work—a rapid, massive shift to remote work and an even greater focus on collaboration—Microsoft’s Fluid Framework app should be on every employee’s radar.
It’s still quite basic, but Microsoft said it will be adding Fluid Framework functionality to some Office 365 applications, including Teams, OneNote, SharePoint, and Office applications. Here are four reasons why you and your colleagues should check it out:
- It enables lightning-fast, multi-person co-authoring. Granted, any co-authoring is better than using email attachments, Track Changes, and endless document versions. But Fluid Framework’s co-authoring is hardly a lesser evil—it’s remarkably faster than the current co-authoring experience in Office, and it enables multiple people working on a document to see everyone’s changes as they are typed.
- It breaks down content into flexible, easily editable, reusable chunks. Fluid’s componentized document model makes it easy for you to break apart content into collaborative blocks and use those blocks across other applications. For example, one chunk could be a table you created in Fluid, which is being edited by multiple people simultaneously in Excel and Teams. Everyone sees live updates as they are being made—no matter which application they are using to edit the file.
- It uses AI in smart, practical ways. For example, it can translate text in real-time, provide additional copy and images that are relevant to what you’re writing about, suggest the best kind of charts to explain your data, and perform compliance checks.
- It’s a Microsoft app, which means it will play nice with the Office apps you rely upon daily.
Fluid Framework has been rolling out to some commercial Office 365 customers since January, but, because it is still in preview, it has limited features. Microsoft says it will be adding capabilities and pushing them out over time.
You can still get a head start on adopting the technology. Ask if your organization will be providing training, support and other learning resources for Fluid. Find out how your manager expects you to use it and ask for business case scenarios.
Be sure to also check it out, nose around, and ask colleagues for ideas about how it could be used by your department or team. Invite co-workers to test it out with you and put some of those ideas into practice.
Keep in mind that when technology implementations fail, employees are often impacted the most. Case in point: the aforementioned “collaboration fatigue,” which was described in a recent Business Insider article as one-third of the “unholy trinity of burnout” (along with emails and meetings).
Employees and organizations put enormous effort into collaboration solutions—and even more so in recent weeks. Take steps now to ensure your effort pays off.
If your organization has access to the Fluid Framework preview, you can sign in via the Fluid Preview page and start testing it out right away.
Jen is an award-winning journalist who writes about workplace productivity and technology for Vitalyst. She believes in the power of using plain language, especially when writing about technology, and lists “achieving and enabling clarity” among her life goals.