I’ve been working as part of virtual teams since the days of dial-up. Back then, collaboration took the form of emailing documents back and forth. Very old school. Very slow. Not very interactive at all. Thankfully, these days, most of my clients are using online collaboration and communication tools.
If you’re still stuck in the 90s mode of collaboration strictly by email, I have two reasons you should try out collaboration software now:
- Document version control
- Keeping everyone on schedule
In many large organizations, document reviews can be very challenging. Everyone has a different schedule, and a different way they like to mark up documents. And as a virtual team member, you don’t have the luxury of a hallway chat to ask if they’ve had a chance to look at a document, and slip in a friendly reminder of the impending due date. This can lead to project deliverables that keep pushing past their due dates, derailing projects. But a well-implemented collaboration solution mitigates these challenges.
Launching a Collaboration Platform for Maximum Adoption
You can easily implement a well-designed collaboration platform. It’s another thing entirely to make it be something people want to use. In many organizations, people have their own secret stash of corporate documents. With versions that vary. And they don’t want to give them up. They have to be shown the benefit–to themselves as well as the organization– of getting everyone centralized in one environment that contains all the group’s shared documents and communications.
The key is to implement the platform in a phased manner:
1. Bring people into it gradually. Start off small, with one particular team or project.
2. Be very focused on asking where previous pain points were, and show participants/users how the new platform helps. For example, centralizing documents online means no more version control issues, fewer corrupt docs, and better ability to track comments.
3. Look for those small victories and communicate them to the users.
For most organizations, one of the primary benefits of implementing a centralized online collaboration platform is improving document versioning and tracking document review processes. When files are being forwarded around via email, or everyone’s working on a file in a shared folder, one user error can lead to a versioning issue that can lose hours or even days of work. But once the document is part of an online workflow, it’s easy and transparent to roll back to a prior version if a document issue occurs. Being able to centralize and share team members’ comments so everyone can see it also very helpful.
Document security is another big benefit of online collaboration platforms. Managing all documents and their review within the confines of your collaboration platform lessens the likelihood of in progress document versions or sensitive communications getting out to the public accidentally.
On a related note, in a contractor economy like the one we’re moving into now in the United States, project team members come and go; by keeping all their work within a collaboration platform, your institutional knowledge doesn’t walk out the door when their contract ends. Instead, you end up with a centralized repository of project documents and communications that can significantly decrease the ramp up time for the next new team member.
Tips for Onboarding Reluctant Team Members to a Collaboration Platform
One of the best ways to get an organization to start using a collaboration platform is to have internal champions in groups throughout the organization singing the platform’s praises. Searching for the internal champions may not even take long depending on your organization. You start by identifying the end users who can benefit from it the most and starting with them. By focusing on their needs and challenges, and designing workflows to help them be more efficient, you’re building up a power user who can be an advocate for the platform.
While management may mandate adoption of a collaboration platform, it is usually the mid-level manager who has been burned in the past by a project gone off the rails who sees the benefits of it and that will become your internal champion. Often, these are knowledge workers, not technologists. For example, some of the biggest collaboration platform champions I’ve ever met have been attorneys. They had a need for secure collaboration and workflow in support of their court cases.
Another tip for getting your launch off on the right foot is to put in the right job aids and provide hands-on, in-person support. Your technical writers on staff may be a good fit. Once they understand the ins and outs of the collaboration platform, they can often be that first line of support.
Get Started Now to Stay in Step with the Evolving World of Work
Having a solid online collaboration platform in place will set you up for the coming waves of change in the evolving modern workplace, and will be an important foundation to the success of your virtual teams. The platform will be key to supporting mobile workers as a workplace communication tool. These technologies will also create an unavoidable shift in your corporate culture. Micro-managers will have to adapt and loosen the reins on employees (or hire new employees they can trust with more autonomy.)
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