New Zoho Workplace features take the friction out of digital teamwork

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright February 8, 2023
Zoho adds new cross-application features to its Workplace collaboration and conversation platform designed to take the friction out of digital teamwork.

Zoho Trident home page
Zoho Trident (Zoho)

Enterprise teamwork today spans many different engagement channels, from chat to video meetings, from voice calls to virtual whiteboards, from email to shared documents. But digital collaboration tools have not kept pace with this multi-channel user experience. Each mode of communication has its own separate app, and users often encounter friction and lose context as they skip from one channel to the next. Today, Zoho is adding new features to its Workplace platform with the goal of removing these barriers to seamless digital teamwork.

The fast-growing online office platform brings together Zoho's family of collaboration, productivity and communication tools. Headlining the new Workplace features introduced today is Zoho Trident, a native desktop app that integrates multiple channels, including email, messaging, audio and video calls, as well as calendar and tasks. Full integration of the Phone System platform from Zoho Voice into Cliq team messaging and Meeting web conferencing means users can now make and receive direct phone calls and send SMS messages from within those apps. A new universal drag-and-drop feature allows users to easily transfer files and information between any Zoho apps. All of these new features are designed to remove friction from the user experience. Rakeeb Rafeeque, Global Product Strategy Head, Zoho Workplace, explains:

At the end of the day, all a user wants is to get their work done quicker. One common goal for all the updates we're making to Zoho Workplace today is also centered around that focus — to create productivity elevators that save sizeable amounts of time for employees at an org everyday.

To share an email attachment you've received over to a colleague, we've traditionally had to either download the file, go to the chat window, drop the file there, or upload it to an online drive and generate a shareable link to pass it on. With universal drag and drop, for example, all a user has to do is drag an email attachment and drop it to the chat window. That's it! Imagine the time this saves when you repeat this dozens of times everyday! ...

Similarly, imagine you're in a conference room and your desk phone suddenly starts ringing with a call from a vendor or customer. You'd either miss that call, or get distracted by the constant ringing while at the meeting. With the Phone System integration, you now know who exactly is calling and attend or drop the call instantly based on your priority.

Things like these, that make you think, 'Wait, why didn't someone already work on this yet?' are things we're addressing through these updates.

Other announcements today include webinar functionality within Zoho Meeting; a browser plug-in that brings AI-based grammar suggestions to any online text submission; and TrueSync, which mirrors files and folders stored online in Zoho WorkDrive to any desktop for local editing. New security features add mobile device management capabilities and OTP-restricted email.

Trident desktop app

The Trident desktop app is a new departure for Zoho, which has previously delivered its apps in browser or mobile form. It was originally conceived as a mechanism for giving users a desktop email inbox with offline access, similar to the experience with Microsoft Outlook and other traditional email clients. But as development work progressed, the product vision became much more expansive. Rafeeque explains:

The Trident project also initially started out just as a native client for emails. But something kept pushing our teams to expand the boundaries of it. We saw it as a great opportunity to both envision a new experience for our existing users, and also showcase the benefits of having a connected suite like Zoho Workplace for prospective customers ...

Our goal with Trident is to experiment a new collaboration, productivity and communication experience that connects mail, messages, audio/video calls, calendar, tasks, and more in a single space — without any particular product boundaries at all. You can check-in to work, and look at your recent calls and emails from the same space, for example.

Features initially developed for this cross-boundary concept, such as drag-and-drop, are now being extended into other parts of the Workplace family, and others will follow, he adds. A mobile version of Trident is also in development.

Digital teamwork at Blue Beyond

Blue Beyond, a management consulting company with over 100 employees spread across the United States, has been a Zoho customer for more than five years and already uses a wide range of Zoho applications to co-ordinate most of the firm's core business processes. Lynn Martin, Head of Finance & IT Systems Process, is eager to use several of the new features, building on the collaboration routines that employees have already adopted. She says:

That seamless transparency between one application to the next is very enticing ... We're doing well, I think over the last year, with my company, in particular, of getting into using Connect, using Cliq, live-time, WorkDrive for file management — we're able to get people into one source to comment on things live-time. So somebody can make edits and changes, instead of, you send the email version, than you make your edits, and somebody else sends it back, or a Google Drive document that didn't really talk back to the source itself. We've worked a lot on getting those eggs in one spot.

She believes the new capability to sync a cloud file or folder to the desktop plugs an important gap and will help wean users off Microsoft Word, with potential savings on Office 365 license costs. More broadly, the business is already saving time and resources by joining up processes within the Zoho applications it uses. She adds:

We've put most of our eggs in the Zoho basket, and so for me, the more eggs that I can get into that basket, the better, because of that cross-functionality. This can talk to this, I don't have to do something over here, import it, or export it over here to shove it into something else. So for me, the more tools that they've added on, it's allowing us to work definitely smarter.

The Workplace collaboration and communication tools are particularly useful for quick interactions with colleagues. She explains:

We all work remotely. If you can just get somebody for two minutes, you can accomplish so much in just two minutes of, 'Hey, can I run this by you? What can I do?' versus waiting until the end of the day, waiting until you've saved up a few questions or feeling like you might be interrupting somebody ...

I think that that's the key to a good remote workplace, just that connectivity. You're not alone, you're not an island, you're not all to yourself. At a moment's notice, all six of us [in IT] can be on one [channel]. 'Hey, is this happening to you? Are you able to fix this?' We have an IT channel that you can ping anybody on my IT team and be like, 'Hey, Teams isn't working.' ... You don't have to call somebody or wait on hold for somebody.

My take

Blue Beyond is an example of an organization that's moved beyond back-to-back Zoom calls into a more effective pattern of digital teamwork enabled by a selection of tools, where colleagues pick the best tool for each specific conversation or task. But with most collaboration suites, there's still a lot of friction caused by swapping from one tool to another as the conversation or collaboration moves through different phases. The technology has grown up that way because each channel has evolved separately, but this creates stilted workflows and lost context as people switch between channels.

Many digital teamwork tools today are moving towards a platform model, where they are able to integrate with an ecosystem of other tools to offer an enterprise-wide Collaborative Canvas. But there are many challenges in delivering capabilities such as search, sync and a personalized, multi-channel user experience in such a multi-vendor context. Zoho's announcements today take the vendor closer to realizing that multi-channel digital UX in its single-vendor platform. Those customers that are able to, as Blue Beyond's Martin says, put all their eggs in the Zoho basket have an opportunity to remove much of the friction of separate apps and take their digital teamwork to the next level.

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