How well your team works together is to a great extent determined by the software chosen to enable collaboration. When choosing email collaboration software, what are the features that will allow your team to perform at its best? Collaboration software, when carefully chosen, will save significant amounts of time, avoid confusion and increase trust through improved transparency. It will also increase productivity, improve communication and generally empower a team to achieve more by working closer together. So, what are some of the more important things you should be looking for?
The ability to chat with other team members will significantly reduce the number of emails cluttering a shared inbox. It also allows faster communication between colleagues when compared to email, whilst still creating a permanent record of what is being discussed. Within CompassAirthis works in a couple of ways, the first is best compared to say WhatsApp, whereby individual team members are able to exchange short messages, unrelated to any particular emails. Communication takes place without adding to “email noise”. The second works by attaching a discussion between team members sharing an inbox to an individual email – an email comes in, team members “talk” about it, and that discussion is attached permanently to the email for future reference. Again, “email noise” is minimised. Colleagues can discuss a particular email, agree how and who should respond, whilst simultaneously attaching to the message those thoughts and comments, all useful if they need to be reviewed later.
When viewing the inbox, those emails with discussions attached have a chat icon to enable easy identification. Whilst these discussions often are for the attention of the whole team, the software also needs to be able to alert specific individuals when necessary, achieved by mentioning their name preceded by an @, e.g. @tomsmith would be inserted in the discussion.
Having available this second form ofintegrated chat facilitates the exchange between team members of ideas, thoughts and comments prior to responding to the sender. Everyone can see what progress is being made on handling a particular email and, later if necessary, the logic as to why a particular response was made and by whom as well as the timeline.
When sharing an inbox, being able to see what action your colleagues are taking or have taken with respect to individual emails is essential, with immediate updating without the need to refresh screens. Needless to say, this also needs to be simultaneously synchronised across all devices accessible by each individual user.
Probably the most important feature in this regard is to be able to see who has read a specific email. Within CompassAireach email displays by default the initials of every team member who has done so (with the option to display only chosen colleagues if required), immediately. CompassAiralso displays a “processed” icon, indicating who has take responsibility for the next stage of processing that email.
Other changes made immediately visible to all team members include flagging messages, adding discussions and notifications.
Sometimes it is necessary to see what happened to a particular email, for example who read it, who “processed” it, who responded, who marked it as spam and even who deleted it, together with the date and time each of these actions took place. In other words, it is essential that the software keeps a complete history of who did what, transparency being essential if a team is to collaborate well.
When working as a team it is critical that each member can search for and have access to the same files and database. For example, within CompassAir, in addition to documents and emails, this includes a common, detailed vessel database, where any changes are immediately visible to colleagues. Such changes might record for example a change in owner or manager, a vessel location, sold prices, or information about pending and completed fixtures.
Sharing can also include having access to a pending folder. This allows team members to review messages before they are sent, enabling emails to be either stopped or edited where appropriate, before it is too late. CompassAiralso includes, for example, easy access to Google Drive and Dropbox.
Increased security, reduced risks
It is very likely that team members who share an inbox will not all have the same levels of authority within a department or organisation. The collaboration software chosen should allow for control over what individual users can and cannot do, as well as prevent unauthorised access to features, documents etc. where necessary. Two obvious examples would be to restrict the ability to delete emails and being able to edit the pending emails of colleagues.
Automated processing of emails
Sharing an inbox inevitably means that each team member will see more emails than they would if using only their own, private address. To accomodate this additional “noise”, the email collaboration software chosen should make use of automationwherever possible.
CompassAirhas a number of ways in which automation makes the handling of large volumes of emails much easier for a team. One of the simplest is by colour coding selected emails. For example, an individual may have access to a number of shared email boxes – firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com – and will want to be able to distinguish, at a glance, which email in the current view is associated with which address. When used in this context, each email is automatically given a colour when it lands in the inbox: accounts might be green, sales yellow. Other ways to use automated colours could include applying them to different deals, particular senders or subjects.
Other features that ease the handling of emails include automated filing – when a team member looks at shared folders they will be safe in the knowledge that each is completely up to date, containing only and all those messages that should be there. Emails can also automatically be taggedupon receipt, for example with the name of a ship or yacht, cutting the time and effort needed to retrieve them when needed at a later date.
Message rules can be a very versatile tool, where it is possible to choose exactly how to deal with both incoming and outgoing emails using a comprehensive set of parameters. An example would be where one might choose to identify every email that contains in the text body the vessel name “Eclipse”. Having told CompassAirto identify each email containing the name Eclipse, the next step is to define how it should deal with each one that satisfies that criterion. There are many options available, for example, it might be appropriate for CompassAirto notify a team member that the email is in the inbox as soon as it arrives, maybe to add the keyword “Singapore” in order to facilitate future searches and then to file it in the folder SHIPS/ECLIPSE/SINGAPORE. Not only that, the message will be included alongside the ship Eclipse in the vessels database.
When choosing any new software, something to pay particular attention to is how it makes use of AI both in existing products and those in development. AI tools can learn and then imitate human behaviour and responses. One of the benefits is the ability to automate workflows, freeing up resources that can then be used to add even greater value to an organisation. CompassAirmakes use of AI in both existing products and those in and planned for development. One example of this is ShipLink, where our software automates the collection of useful information from emails ready for use by SnP brokers. This reduces the time brokers spend on administrative tasks, thus allowing them to focus on more profitable activities.
Having a shared mailbox should not preclude the use of individual names or access to individual email addresses. For example, when replying from a firstname.lastname@example.org address, having someone’s name at the bottom of the email can be important – it gives a personal rather than a corporate feel. Being able to customise signatures can help to improve the relationship between sender and recipient.
Similarly, in addition to a shared inbox address, each team member will probably have a private address, e.g. email@example.com or even firstname.lastname@example.org. This being the case, it can often save a significant amount of time to include these emails in the same list of emails seen in the shared inbox, i.e. the same view, possibly with colour coding being used to facilitate identifying which is which, and which should have priority.
Teams drive the success of an organisation, and empowering team members to work together in the most efficient way, providing the tools they need to be most productive, is fundamental to achieving that success. To be at its most effective, collaboration software will make use of the latest tools, including cloud computing, automation and artificial intelligence in addition to the most popular features of social media that enhance communication.
Email is as popular as ever, and the growth in its use is forecast to continue for the foreseeable future. Not only can choosing the right email collaboration software make the difference between a good and a great year, it can sometimes even make the difference between success and failure.
A few words about CompassAir
Creating solutions for the global maritime sector, CompassAir develops state of the art messaging and business application software designed to maximise ROI. Our software is used across the sector, including by Sale and Purchase brokers (S&P/SnP), Chartering brokers, Owners, Managers and Operators.
Through its shipping and shipbroking clients, ranging from recognised World leaders through to the smallest, most dynamic independent companies, CompassAir has a significant presence in the major maritime centres throughout Europe, the US and Asia.
Our flagship solution is designed to simplify collaboration for teams within and across continents, allowing access to group mailboxes at astounding speed using tools that remove the stress from handling thousands of emails a day. It can be cloud based or on premise. To find out more contact email@example.com. If you are new to shipping, or just want to find out more about this exciting and challenging sector, the CompassAirShipping Guide might prove to be an interesting read.
Contact us for more information or a short demonstration on how CompassAir can benefit your business, and find out how we can help your teams improve collaboration and increase productivity.