Remote work had been the standard for a big number of companies all over the world long before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Now, when we still suffer from the disease and its consequences, working from home has become even more widespread, with more and more businesses following suit. Their employees are no longer bound to their desks in the office and are less likely to interact face-to-face. This means they need special collaboration solutions to stay productive when working from home.
Against this background, collaboration is seen as one of the key requirements to support the new work reality. In this article, we are going to explore the importance of real-time document collaboration, have a quick look at its main advantages and choose the best document collaboration tools.
What is real-time document collaboration?
Real-time document collaboration (also knows as co-authoring) is an online process during which a text document, spreadsheet, or presentation is edited by several users on different computers, tablets, or mobile devices, and their edits are merged automatically.
In contrast with offline collaborative editing, real-time editing implies instantaneous synchronization of edits made by all users. All changes in the original document are automatically updated and saved in the cloud, so users don’t have to create their own drafts. Such an approach makes it possible to minimize or even avoid editing conflicts.
Advantages of real-time document collaboration
Working on the same document simultaneously offers remote teams a lot of advantages. The most important are:
- Time-saving. Coediting a document with other collaborators at the same time, you don’t need to keep track of countless draft versions, revisions, and email attachments. All edits are made online, and you can see what other people are doing in real-time. You can edit your part of the document and leave comments for the others without waiting till they get their work done, which saves loads of time in the end.
- Enhanced productivity. Working together on a document, a remote team can increase its performance by exchanging opinions and brainstorming ideas during the process. Regardless of whether you are co-authoring a marketing presentation, draft article for your corporate blog, or annual financial report, you can see what other team members type and help them develop their ideas. In their turn, they can also help you express in a more structured way what you think.
- Flexibility. Real-time collaborative editing implies several users working on the same document on different computers, tablets, or mobile devices. Even if you work from home, you don’t have to always stay at your desk. Using a laptop or smartphone, you can collaborate with your colleagues in your favorite cafe or in the out-of-doors, which allows you to choose your workplace and have more control over your work life.
- Easy access. Collaborative work on documents takes place online. The only thing you need to stay in touch with your teammates is a reliable Internet connection. You can access your documents and work on them from any device, whether it be a personal computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. In the not-so-distant future, we will be able to co-author docs using our smartwatches, who knows.
- Convenience. When you edit a file in real-time, all edits are automatically saved in the cloud or on the company’s server. Therefore, you don’t need to worry about accidentally deleting an important document or saving unnecessary edits. Using the version history feature, you can restore any version of the document at any time. Moreover, there is also no reason to worry if your computer or laptop breaks down. In this case, nothing important will be lost, and you will be able to access your files from a new device.
How to find the best tool for collaborative document editing
For effective collaborative work on documents, any team needs to have an effective tool. It should be easy-to-use and secure because now online interactions are more open to cyber attacks than they were in a secure office environment.
The majority of remote teams will probably choose Microsoft 365 since it is a well-known market leader. However, this solution has some drawbacks despite its rich editing functionality. Some small businesses can find it too expensive and inappropriate because of privacy and data control issues.
Of course, there are other alternatives such as Google Docs or Zoho Docs. If you are looking for a secure document collaborative tool, ONLYOFFICE Docs is worth giving a try. It’s a self-hosted open-source office suite that combines three online editors for text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. ONLYOFFICE Docs is fully compatible with the Microsoft Office formats, so you can open and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files within any document management system or collaboration platform, like Nextcloud, ownCloud, SharePoint, Seafile, Alfresco, Confluence, Plone, Nuxeo, etc., which the solution easily integrates with.
Collaborative features in ONLYOFFICE Docs
This solution was built to make real-time document collaboration as easy as possible:
- Two co-editing modes. When you open a document for editing in real-time, you can choose between two co-editing modes. The Fast mode is more traditional and allows you to see the presence of other collaborators and all the changes they’re making to the document. If you enable the Strict mode, you can lock any part of the text to edit it privately. In this case, all edits are not visible in real-time and will be shown only after clicking the Save button.
- Flexible permission management. ONLYOFFICE Docs also lets you set up the required level of access to your documents. You can share them with other users granting them permission to edit, view, review, leave comments and fill out forms. Restrict the copy, download, and print options if you want. Public sharing via an external link is possible, too.
- Track changes. When you collaborate on documents in real-time, ONLYOFFICE Docs makes it possible to track edits made by other users. You can accept or reject all changes at once if necessary.
- Version history. This feature lets you restore any previous version of a document. You can easily navigate through all the versions and see who made any given edits and when it was done.
- Real-time communication. Since communication is the key to successful collaboration, you are allowed to leave comments, tag other co-authors and exchange messages via the built-in chat. You can also connect your Telegram account and communicate with your colleagues without leaving the editors’ interface, which is very convenient.
If you are new to ONLYOFFICE Docs and want to test it yourself, you can give it a try by installing the free community version. Although it comes with some limitations, it’s a good choice for teams with up to 20 users. If professional technical support, regular updates, and access to professional functionality are important for your team, you might opt for a scalable commercial version.