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Many activities in organizations are carried out by workgroups. Learn about specialized workgroup software that makes it easier for members to communicate and collaborate more effectively in this video lesson.

Workgroup Software

A workgroup is a collection of individuals working together on a task. This could be a formal unit in an organization, such as a department, or a temporary group working together on a specific project. Specialized workgroup software makes it possible for workgroup members to share data files, to schedule meetings, or to define workflows where files are automatically forwarded to the right people at each stage of a process.

Many personal applications extend into workgroup applications. For example, if everyone in a group is using the same online calendar to schedule their meetings, then shared access can be set up to create a common scheduling tool. However, there are also applications specifically developed for workgroups.

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Workgroup software applications are also referred to as collaborative software or groupware. There are several categories of workgroup applications, including electronic communications, electronic conferencing, and scheduling and coordination tools. Increasingly, workgroup applications have become Web-based, meaning you can access the applications using a Web browser. This makes it easier to work in groups of any size in geographically separate locations.

Electronic Communications

Electronic communication applications send messages, documents, and files between people on different computer systems. This includes tools like email, voicemail, instant messaging, and wikis.

Email is short for electronic mail. It allows for the exchange of digital messages between one sender and one or more recipients. There are a few strategies to make email more effective for workgroups. One approach is to set up a group in your contacts. You only have to do this once, and then if you want to email the entire group, you only have to enter the group name.

If many different individuals will be sending emails to the group, another approach is to set up an electronic mailing list, or listserv. Individuals are added to this list, and messages sent to the listserv address are sent out to all list members. This is particularly useful for very large groups and groups whose membership constantly changes.

Many organizations have an electronic mailing list of all their employees so that one email message can reach everyone.Voicemail makes it possible for users to receive, send, and store spoken messages. Voicemail is mostly used for you to record a message if someone is not able to answer their phone, but some voicemail systems can be set up for you to reach a group of people with one message.

Voicemail can be cumbersome to work with if you have a large number of messages, since it may not always be immediately clear who has called and what the message is. Using a voicemail-to-text service, you can have your voicemail translated into text and converted to an email message.

Chat

Instant messaging, or IM, is a widely-used form of online chat, which refers to text-based communication over the Internet in real time. This is similar to sending text messages on your mobile phone.

IM uses a software application to compose, send, and receive messages. This sounds like email, but the difference is that IM occurs in real time, so your messages appear instantaneously and you can see who is online.The software application for IM typically shows up as a small window floating on top of your other applications.

This makes it possible to keep an eye on your messages while continuing with your other tasks. Quite a few companies have an online chat option on their website. Click on the link, and you actually get to chat with a live person.

Electronic Conferencing

Electronic conferencing applications consist of software that makes it possible to have meetings in real time without being physically in the same location. This includes audio conferencing, video conferencing, and electronic meeting systems.Audio conferencing allows for simultaneous two-way audio transmissions between multiple parties. This is also referred to as a conference call. Typically, one party sets up the conference call, allowing others to call in. This allows any number of participants to be part of the call.

Audio conferencing typically relies on regular telephone lines for the connection, but it requires at least one telephone that is specifically set up for this purpose.Video conferencing uses interactive communications technology to enable simultaneous two-way video and audio transmissions. This has also become very popular for personal use through services such as Skype and FaceTime, but it is also widely used by organizations. Video conferencing can reduce travel time and costs and provides a more personal connection between team members relative to other communications means. A relatively fast Internet connection is required to obtain acceptable video and audio quality.

Video conferencing for personal use can be accomplished using a regular computer and a simple webcam and is typically between two locations. Group video conferencing in a business environment typically requires more dedicated equipment in a dedicated facility. This includes higher quality cameras, microphones and speakers, larger monitors, and the ability to connect to multiple locations. Video conferencing has also become popular for training and education.

For example, a scientist can give an interactive presentation at a school.Electronic meeting systems allow individuals to communicate online in real time using a combination of text, audio, video, and other visuals. This is also referred to as Web conferencing. Typically, a virtual meeting room is set up. This can include a list of participants that are currently online and participating in the meeting.

There is a chat area where participants can type comments for all to see. A moderator can give the virtual microphone or camera to one of the participants so her or his audio is broadcasted. A presenter can also share a document with all the other participants.One specific type of Web conferencing is a webinar, where one person gives a live presentation to an online audience, and audience members can use the various communication tools to interact with the presenter and ask questions. Webinars are widely used in online training and education programs.

Scheduling and Coordination Tools

Scheduling and coordination tools facilitate scheduling meetings and other group activities.

This includes tools such as electronic calendars, project management systems, online proofing, and workflow systems.Electronic calendars allow individuals to keep track of their appointments. Workgroups can be given access to each others’ schedules to facilitate scheduling. Group members can be sent invitations to meetings; if they accept, these are automatically added to their calendar.Projects in organizations can become very complex, involving several different departments and dozens of individuals both inside and outside of the organization. Project management software assists with planning, organizing, and managing the resources for projects.

This includes tasks such as scheduling, budgeting, resource allocation, and decision making. Project management software often uses charts that track the progress of project activities over time.Workflow management systems define a series of tasks that need to be accomplished for a particular outcome. Consider how you file an insurance claim.

When you call in to your insurance company, they follow a series of very specific steps. Their workflow management systems specify exactly which questions to ask and what is going to happen to handle your claim fast and efficiently.Online proofing systems distribute documents electronically to members of a workgroup. Individuals can make changes to the documents and place comments, and those edits are for all others to see.

Lesson Summary

Many activities in organizations are carried out by workgroups. Specialized workgroup software makes it easier for members to communicate and collaborate more effectively.

Workgroup applications include electronic communications, electronic conferencing, and scheduling and coordination tools.

Learning Outcomes

After you have finished with this lesson, you’ll be able to:

  • Define workgroups and explain their purpose
  • Explain the benefits of workgroup software
  • Describe several types of workgroup applications, including electronic communications, electronic conferencing, and scheduling and coordination tools, and explain how they are used
  • Provide examples of each of the types of workgroup applications above

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