Collaboration for Business

Why Collaboration is the New Buzz-Word

  • What Is Collaboration -Dictionary Definition
  • Why is remote collaboration Being Increasingly Used?
  • Key Skills Needed to Do this Successfully
  • Ideas to Make Things Easier
  • What are the Tools Used?
  • Other Useful Tools
  • Benefits and Downfalls of using this software
  • Benefits of a more Collaborative Environment
  • Challenges
  • Learn More – information

What is Collaboration – Dictionary Definition

Collaboration in the dictionary means ‘the act of working with another person or group of people to create or produce something’

So we have 2 parts to this process, the fact that there is more than one person (you can’t collaborate with yourself!) and that there is the intention to produce an effect (normally a product or project).

So really it’s a question of creating a ‘team’ of people who can work together efficiently to get this ‘effect’ over the line.

Why is remote collaboration becoming increasingly used?

These days, thanks to the technology currently available, it has become very common for people to collaborate without being in the same place.

Collaborators are working together on projects, products, ideas, documents, books and many of these things are online.

These ‘collaborators’ no longer need to meet physically in offices, they can use video conferencing software to discuss, version control to review documents and digital planners to make plans.

The idea of creating something in a virtual team isn’t new of course, but with the number of companies allowing workers to work from home, this has now become a question of virtual collaboration, working separately (physically) but together (virtually).

The most forward thinking collaborative projects allow teams to get the right team members and adapt and change that talent as they need it.

There are three main types of collaboration activities:

  • Group brainstorming – idea sharing, idea creation, problem solving
  • Mixed skilled teams – longer term projects and product creation
  • Open discussion – giving members of a team to discuss specific issues

How Teleworking has meant a boom in online collaboration

Teleworking is the act of using technology to be able to work as close as possible as you would in the office, but from home.

This has boomed, in a previous article we discovered that this has grown as much as 159% over the last 12 years (see article HERE). In order to work effectively on a product or project, it’s essential that the team has all the resources it would normally have in the office or on their mobile devices. Later we explore some of the tools collaborators are using to achieve this.

What are the key skills needed to be able to do this successfully?

Soft Skills – In a successful collaborative environment, the softer skills are very important. Members of the team need to have a cooperative spirit, respect for each other’s roles and a laser focus on goals (both milestones and big picture).

Creating this type of environment allows the members to express themselves and understand the needs of the other members of the team. The members need to have a commitment to the team, the project and the goals. This gives each member a strong sense of worth (both self and to the team) and equality, making any conflicts easier to resolve.

Managing Collaborative Projects – It’s important that the members use and trust the systems that are put in place. This means that all of these systems need to be clear and well documented. The project always needs to have clear processes and deadlines and each member clear responsibilities.

Meetings that are held online need to be productive, regular (but not too regular). There need to be clear objectives for each meeting and (very important) It’s also important that everyone has their opportunity to be heard and what each individual needs to achieve in the meeting.

In addition to the main meetings there needs to be an open channel for quick communication between the members. It’s very important that the data is shared, that nobody becomes the gatekeeper of important data.

Remember that 50% of communication is non-verbal, this is one element that needs to be taken into account in video or phone conference calls. There are parts of the conversation that are ‘unreadable’ so it’s important to get the whole story by asking the right questions.

Use some of the tools you have out there, like regular brainstorming, or mind maps. Change management, the path you set out on is not always the one you arrive to, good idea to monitor and change when needed.

Ideas to Make Things Easier

Have a credit scheme (see the part of Microsoft Teams that has this), give credit where credit is due, some collaboration software packages include this feature. This is where one member of the team can give a ‘prize’ or ‘praise’ to another. This gives the team the possibility to give prizes at the end of the month to the person with the most brownie points.

Have a proper schedule, more information on this is the article on teleworking, it’s very important to maintain a routine. Otherwise time just passes too quickly and before you know it you are up at 4am on a Sunday for a Monday morning deadline.

Have a decent documenting process to monitor progress, make sure this is available to everyone online. There’s nothing like a looming deadline to focus the mind of your colleagues (see above point)

If not already collaborating online, try to get the senior management on board. This may motivate them to attend seminars or introduce awareness and training. The best way to get senior management on board is to direct them to a successful competitor that is doing this very thing. If you ARE the senior management, it might be a good idea to get your staff on board using the same methods! You can start with some of your existing teams and convert them!

What are the tools used?

There are a number of ‘tools’ that you can use to help the process, but always be careful of digital overload, too many programs can be overwhelming or too much to learn for new users.

Here are some of the programs and services that are being used in collaborative projects, some essential, some helpful. Here are the ones we all know of:

high speed internet – essential, faster the better

Email – secure and reliable, something like Office 365 that includes a number of other applications to ensure safety, checking for phishing emails etc

Social Media – establish whether people prefer to use social media, how they use it

File sharing – documents need to be secured via strict permissions, access limited to a need to know basis. Many options from OneDrive to GoogleDocs.

Video conferencing – important for the human side of things, here you have many choices from Skype to GoToMeeting (more sophisticated)

Other applications that should also be useful:

Web based programs – instead of using locally installed programs, try their web application version. For example accounts programs that used to be installed on the PC are now available via the internet through the browser.

Office suites such as Office 365, includes Word, Excel, Outlook, but also many efficiency based programs such as OneNote (for taking notes and snippets), Teams (for managing teams and projects) and many more.

Various communication applications such as WhatsApp or Skype

IM – in fact other tools that make communicating much quicker than email

Mobile apps

Calendars and invites

Project management applications such as Trello or Asana

Digital whiteboards and mind maps for brainstorming

Other forms of social media such as company forums, blogs and wikis. This is especially important to get the conversation flowing and conversation outside the workplace and can also encourage members to take part in

What are the benefits and downfalls of using the software above?

Faster Response – for example question/answer can be very rapid when using messaging applications

Everyone up to date with project or product development

More variety in responses – if posted on forums then likely to get a wider range of ideas or responses

More complete problem solving – as above

Additional ideas or opportunities are identified

Some benefits of a more collaborative environment

Skills building – participants can learn what they need and investigate, use pool of talent that they have,

More self analysis , learn where you lack knowledge from the best

Happier employees – many are working from home and their unique skills are more appreciated

Having the big picture and one goal lets participants appreciate the main goal of the product or project

Much more transparency due to applications used

Where you may find some challenges

It may be difficult for people coming from a non-collaborative environment to change the chip, there may be some resistance to change here

There will be different levels of acceptance and ability to work like that, especially if they are used to working differently as above

The decision making can be more complex as it needs to be more dynamic and based on a lot more information

The cost savings are not immediate as the learning curve is taken into account or the technology might need to be acquired. It’s difficult to measure the return on investment at the outset.

Other sources of Information

Learn more – 7 reasons why collaboration is important article –

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