I was recently asked for my thoughts on the future of collaboration. Some of the quotes from my response were collected into this panel. Below is the full length of my response.

Prompt from Alex Schiff

There are a ton of trends that have been redefining the tools people use to work together in the last 10 years. Cloud computing, the consumerization of enterprise IT, and the ubiquity of smartphones, just to name a few. By now, these aren’t really open questions or hypotheses — they’re well-accepted phenomenons.

As you look ahead into the next wave of collaboration, what are the trends forming today that you think will redefine the tools people use to work together tomorrow?

My Response

New products and tools usually emerge either because technological breakthroughs allow them or evolving social trends generate new markets. Here are three trends of each type:

Technology Trends Enabling Collaboration Tools

Cheap, embedded sensors are becoming ubiquitous. Teams will be able to pull in tremendous amounts of real-time data to educate their decisions. They will need clear dashboards through which to absorb the information and strong algorithms to filter the signal from the noise. An early example is the way teams use website analytics educate their product strategy. Other embedded computers will allow participants to collaborate from anywhere with any modality / fidelity of communication.

Automation bots, acting as collaborators, will take on varied work. A recent explosion in APIs have led to simple automation of complex processes. Sometimes this happens continuously through recipes (e.g. IFTTT) other times via commands issued to simple bots. Many startups now have bots in their chat room that can answer sophisticated queries and carry out tasks (e.g. run unit tests on the latest build and deploy it to the production server if it passes). Expect to see these bots appearing in more locations and capable of increasingly complicated tasks.

Smart contracts are starting to emerge, often tied to cryptocurrencies. These may enable new organizational forms like Decentralized Autonomous Corporations that have no ownership, encourage ad hoc collaboration, and pair well with the bots from the last trend. It is too early to see if, when, and how these contracts will empower better collaboration but it is a fascinating trend to watch.

Social Behavior Enabling Collaboration Tools

Distributed teams require better tools. Applications like Google Docs, Hangouts, and Jive have made it easier for remote works to communicate and coordinate. Few of these tools enable deep collaboration. As more work gets done by remote individuals, there will be demand for better products enable virtual war-rooms that display a team’s relevant information, resources, ideas, preferences, dependencies, etc.

Freelance and ad hoc work are becoming more prevalent. Ad hoc workers need tools to quickly get up to speed with a team / project’s context and may require just-in-time education to gain necessary skills. New reputation signals will be needed to better select short-term collaborators. New contracts and arbitration conventions may be needed to reduce the transaction costs / time in bringing on ad hoc teammates.

Large decentralized teams will take on complex, audacious tasks. Massive, distributed teams (which Falkvinge terms ‘Swarms’) are building organizations like the global Pirate Parties. Other distributed teams are building and remixing open source software on GitHub and through platforms like Assembly. Huge, distributed, voluntary organizations will need more sophisticated tools to maintain alignment and coordinate a vast and varied membership.