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Rethinking collaboration: 6 vendors offer new paths to remote work

By June 4, 2020Article

With the need for efficient collaboration tools, Mathew Finnegan at Computerworld has observed a variety of companies who hope to refine how collaborative tools work and what they can do for organizations. 

Adding to mainstays like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meet, there are range of start-ups and scale-ups working on innovative ways to connect workers. Increasingly, collaboration isn’t just about team chat: people work together in countless ways — meaning the tools they now need will likely come in many shapes and sizes.

These six vendors hope to help users adapt to remote work — a pivot that uncovered gaps in the way many companies plan and execute work, said Raul Castanon, a senior analyst at 451 Research / S&P Global Market Intelligence. The most obvious issue: eliminating business processes that depended on informal conversations, meetings, emails and quick fixes to keep things running smoothly.


1. Airtable

Airtable wants to rethink how spreadsheets are used, offering a flexible low-code app for planning and managing team projects.  More in-depth than simple task management tools, it lets users create apps customized to a specific workflow, such as a video post-production schedule or marketing campaign, said CEO Howie Liu.

Launched in 2015, Airtable’s spreadsheet “bases” collate a variety of information on projects, with the ability to add photos and check boxes to individual cells. Due dates and status can be added to track progress and tasks can be assigned to team members. Projects can then be viewed in numerous ways; from traditional spreadsheet grid view to calendar, gallery and Kanban-style interfaces.

While creating apps in Airtable requires no software skills, the process is aimed at those comfortable handling data sets and managing business process. Once a base is set up, it should be easy for anyone to interact with.

Airtable has raised more than $170 million over five funding rounds. Its approach has garnered plenty of interest (seemingly including Microsoft, which recently unveiled its similar Lists app).

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2. Coda

“Coda is a new type of document,” said CEO Shishir Mehrotra. “The promise is that anyone can make a doc as powerful as an app.”

Starting with a blank page, Coda can quickly offer more in-depth information and data. Simple bullet-point meeting notes, for example, can be turned into action items with due dates, which can then be viewed as progress charts.

It’s well-suited to project planning. Uber, for example, has used a single Coda doc to coordinate hundreds of engineers as part of a major app-redesign initiative, replacing scores of spreadsheets and serving as a single “source of truth.”  

Coda was made publicly available last year following a private beta. It has raised $60 million so far in two funding rounds.

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3. Figma

Figma is browser-based collaborative interface design app that enables “multiplayer” editing in real-time. It includes features required by designers, such as vector tools for illustration, auto-layout, reusable UI styles and components, and code generation for hand off to developers. Team members can leave feedback and @mention colleagues to discuss changes, while files can be shared via a live lin

Figma also wants to make it easier for users outside an organization. It recently launched Community, a public resource that lets users share designs that can be viewed and “remixed” by anyone.

A range of new use cases has emerged since Figma, which has raised $132.9 million in funding, launched in 2016. These include visual whiteboarding, diagramming and slide deck creation for presentations that go beyond its core focus of website and application interfaces.

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4. Front

With the growing use of tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, email has often been maligned as a workplace tool. But it remains a primary option for external communications, which can often involve multiple co-workers crafting a customer support response.

Front aims to bring some of the advances around group chat to email. A shared inbox allows work to be assigned to team members, with comments and @mentions to coordinate customer support responses, for instance. Teams can also work together to co-edit emails.

Created in France by Collin and CTO Laurent Perrin, Front launched from Y Combinator in 2014. It recently raised $59 million in Series C funding from a variety of individual investors, including Zoom CEO Eric Yuan and Atlassian co-CEO Mike Cannon-Brooks.

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Project coordination is a key part of collaboration, and there has been buzz around work management tools for some time. Trello was acquired by Atlassian for $475 million in 2017 and Asana preparing for a public listing, creating a market worth billions of dollars by 2023., which launched its platform in 2014, has emerged as a key player.

How does differentiate itself in such a competitive market? “We built a platform that is flexible; you change it and modify it however you like and build any process or anything you want to have into the platform,” said Eran Zinman, co-founder and CTO at reached $130 million in annual recurring revenues this year, according to Techcrunch, and has raised $234 million in funding to date.

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6. Mural

Mural provides a visual collaboration space to brainstorm and capture ideas to help distributed teams work together creatively.

With Mural’s digital whiteboard, colleagues can pitch suggestions remotely, adding text, sticky notes, images, video and drawings to a shared “mural.” Templates are provided to support brainstorming and planning sessions. Content created in these can then be exported via Jira or GitHub or shared via email.

“[Mural involves] using pictures in your head, your imagination, and visual thinking to understand what’s available and also understand each other at the very early phases of iterations,” Co-Founder and CEO, Suarez-Battan said.

Mural recently received $23 million in a Series A funding round, having previously raised less than $2 million since its launch.

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 Matthew Finnegan is a Senior Reporter at Computerworld

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