Distance is no longer a barrier to collaboration. Online collaboration tools make it possible for us to work with colleagues thousands of miles away. They enable us to be more mobile, accessing project information wherever and whenever the need arises.

But the same problems that hamper collaboration in our physical workspaces have followed us online. Communications that used to get lost in a pile of papers now get buried in our inboxes; important data that disappeared into a dusty file cabinet is now lost in chaotic folder hierarchies and duplicated in multiple versions. Miscommunication still occurs, feedback and assignments still get lost in the shuffle, and we’re still crunching numbers and updating spreadsheets to glean meaningful insights from work data. Collaboration tools offer a solution that lets your team take advantage of the real-time benefits of online collaboration, while side stepping the disorder that comes with working via email, spreadsheets, and instant messaging. So what are some ways you can improve your team's performance with a collaboration tool?

1. Improve quality

Working alone means you work with one set of ideas — your own. By collaborating, you can build on the collective abilities of your team to create the best idea, or test a few different plans to find the optimal solution. Collaboration tools give you a designated place to "brain dump": everyone involved in a project can list their proposals without being talked over (as is often the case during ideation meetings), while still being inspired by their teammates' ideas and discussions. Once the team reviews the full list of creative possibilities, they can start working right away to turn the chosen idea into reality. No thoughts get lost in inboxes, and no quiet voices are accidentally ignored.

2. Increase velocity

Collaboration software brings every resource, every idea, and every person into one collective space. Your team won't have to waste time searching emails for important attachments, waiting for status updates or approvals, or chasing down a colleague for help. Every piece of the project, from the initial idea to the final release, can be created and completed in one place and accessed round-the-clock, so people can connect to work information wherever they need to, or whenever a new idea strikes them. Your team can collaborate how, when, and where they want, without waiting for regular business hours or the next in-person meeting to move forward.

3. Reinforce accountability

If you've studied high-performance teams, you know that public accountability is a trump card in the game of project progress. People are 33% more likely to accomplish a goal when they write it down and tell others they are working on it. Collaboration tools give your team members a way to publicly commit to their tasks and goals, so they can share their progress, ask for assistance, and complete projects with full transparency. Plus, when everyone on your team knows not only what they're accountable for, but also what their teammates are accountable for, the waste of duplicated work disappears.

4. Spark innovation

It still holds true: two minds are better than one. When a collaboration tool allows you to look around and discover the new projects your colleagues are working on, that insight can spark innovative ideas for current or future projects. "I see that Lucy is working on our new feature.... Wait, what if we spun that in a different direction? I'll suggest it." Collaboration tools give people access to information that can fuel creativity on a daily basis, instead of limiting those breakthrough "A-ha!" moments to weekly update meetings or accidental watercooler conversations.

Collaboration tools also free ideas from the limitations of organizational hierarchy. Company-wide visibility means new ideas and initiatives can come from any employee, not just the executives. Proposals that may have been buried, or never formally submitted to begin with, are now circulating freely to grow and attract notice based on merit, not on limited access to decision makers.

Your team is your greatest resource

Ultimately, your greatest resource is your team. By providing tools that help them collaborate with less stress and greater efficiency, you’re enabling them to focus on the results of their efforts — instead of getting mired in the process. After all, a good collaboration tool smooths the flow of work for everyone. It reduces the number of lost files, facilitates the ideation process, and cuts down on time spent waiting for feedback or instruction. Most importantly, it helps their ideas get noticed, so your team can fulfill its full potential.