Businesses are becoming more and more spread out, due to the advances in technology that allows us to work from all over the world. We no longer need to physically be in the office, when we can access our documents from any device, communicate with people from anywhere and even work with teams of people via the internet.
In this article, we’ll discuss collaboration specifically, and take a look at how you can work with your colleagues on a task, simply by going online. We’ll also review some of the key mistakes that are made and provide solutions to encourage the success of your collaboration efforts.
Importance of online collaboration
Collaboration is important in business as it enables discussions to take place, ideas to be shared, work to be carried out, and decisions to be made. However, it is not always possible to have everyone in the same place at once. As a result, online project collaboration has become highly important as it enables discussion, sharing and decision making, regardless of distance.
Simply using tools like email are not effective when creating a collaborative environment. In fact, online collaboration can become very ineffective if the right tools are not being used.
What tools should I use for online collaboration?
There are many different tools your business can use for online collaboration, as each business has different requirements. Below, we’ve included a small selection of the collaboration tools you and your colleagues may find useful, regardless of whether you’re in the office or working remotely:
- Project management software – If you’re working with a number of people and lots of smaller tasks, it can be difficult to keep track of everything. Tools such as Basecamp are ideal for logging tasks, assigning them to team members, adding deadlines, initiating discussions, sharing documents, and much more.
- Document sharing tools – When collaborating remotely, it’s important to be able to easily share documents between team members. One tool that makes document sharing exceptionally easy is Google Docs. This program also helps with control, as everyone works from one document, so there is no confusion over which is the latest version. You can even have multiple users updating the same document simultaneously.
- Enterprise social networks – Enterprise social networks have become increasingly popular recently. Yammer is one to note, as it works in a similar manner to Facebook, but is strictly for businesses. Yammer allows companies to build a community within a project team. Here, the team can have conversations, share information, upload documents, and more.
- Communication tools – When your team is spread around the world, it can be difficult to have face-to-face meetings to discuss a project. Make sure you have tools to help you stay connected. Although email is a great option for many messages, it is not ideal for much deeper, detailed conversations that happen quickly as a project is being developed or updated. Instant messaging and video conferencing tools such as Lync, Skype, Google Hangouts, Apple Facetime and Oovoo are an excellent option for fast-paced conversation.
What collaboration mistakes do businesses make?
There are a number of ways to make collaboration work effectively. Here are some common mistakes and suggestions for how to handle these situations:
- Mistake: Forgetting that some team members may be in different time zones nationally or internationally.
- Solution: Always be considerate when scheduling conference calls and video meetings. Also remember that responses to communications may be delayed, so have a realistic expectation for replies to emails or messages.
- Mistake: Several people working on the same task at once, unaware that the others are doing so.
- Solution: Ensure that roles are clearly defined and that participants regularly notify each other of what they are doing via online project management software, such as Basecamp, or enterprise social networks, such as Yammer.
- Mistake: Confusion between different versions of the same document.
- Solution: Start by using a file-naming convention that includes the date and time, so it easy to see which is the latest version. Another option is to use project management or file storage platforms that automatically show which document is the most up-to-date. There are also tools which allow documents to be shared in the cloud and edited by multiple users, such as Google Docs.
- Mistake: Not establishing skills and best practices through employee training.
- Organise an enterprise IT training program to ensure that your staff are adept at using SharePoint, Outlook, Lync, Office 365 and any other collaboration software. Mistakes and confusion will happen less if everyone is systematically trained in using the software properly, and in taking advantage of its full capabilities.
As a business, collaboration is important for working together and sharing ideas. Many businesses create a collaboration strategy to aid their staff with changing requirements and business flexibility. It is important to choose the right software for your business and projects, and to make sure that your collaboration strategy is effective all the way through the project. Evaluate the success of your collaboration efforts at points throughout your project and make adjustments, where necessary.
Photo: Markus Spiske / www.temporausch.com / CC-BY 2.0