Best practices for digital collaboration
Since the beginning of time, people have achieved better results when they collaborate. The Wright brothers worked together to give us flight, John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote songs that changed people’s lives, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page worked closely together to bring us Google. Based on these examples and countless others throughout time, it is easy to say that collaboration helps teams achieve better results.
As the digital age evolves and channels for communication open, pressure to collaborate is strong. The beginning of a worldwide pandemic multiplied this pressure, forcing workers to collaborate remotely and beginning the prime of digital collaboration.
Before COVID struck, collaboration entailed going to your office and chatting with your colleagues at their desk or over a coffee in the kitchen. You could schedule official meetings in various meeting rooms. Or you might send a chat or email to a colleague in a different location, be it on a different floor or an entirely different office. If the team was working far apart, a video call might be necessary. With full-scale, remote work upon us, the second two forms of collaboration are now more likely than the first two.
But how can we improve our digital collaboration to get more work done in shorter amounts of time and make sure we don't have communication overload?
Make yourself a comfortable office
...with a door.
Having your own space, separate from the rest of your domicile, will help you increase your productivity when working remotely and collaborating virtually. It will help even more if you can limit the distractions that are in that area. Therefore, sectioning your office off from your kid’s playroom or your roommate’s video games will help limit the distractions.
The exciting part about this is you get to create an environment where you will spend most of your days. Things that weren’t possible in a shared office are now very possible when you create your environment. Want that plant your neighbor at the office said they were allergic to? Get it. Want to change the temperature every five minutes because you are too hot/cold? You can do that. Didn’t like the design of the new office chairs when corporate redid the furniture last quarter? Get your own office furniture to suit your needs. Sitting desk or standing desk, make sure you are comfortable in your environment to do your best work.
Focus on objectives in your workday/week/month/quarter
It can become monotonous working in the same small office all day, no matter how comfortable you make it. When you and your team were physically in the same place, it was easy to have regular, informal check-ins, which helped determine progress towards team and individual goals.
No matter how many extra status check meetings you schedule or how often you check your email, it’s easy to lose sight of the daily and medium-term objectives.
This is where to-do lists will help you, and regular status updates using your project management tool will help management. Since you all aren’t working together in one place anymore, it’s much harder to depend on your team for updates and reminders. If you have a list of assigned tasks that you are working on, it’s easy to see what needs to be done and celebrate when you finish something.
Center meetings on decisions, not discussions
We must maintain some semblance of regular communication. Sometimes in our meetings at Seibert Media, we will schedule in “chit chat” at the beginning of meetings so that everyone can catch up a little and see how the others are doing.
Once this is over, however, you should get down to business. Communication in video or audio calls when working remotely is much slower. There are frequent breaks in connection depending on your internet, and sometimes it’s hard to hear others.
To compensate for these shortcomings, meeting organizers need to keep their events focused. They can do this with a shared document with an agenda and a quick rundown of the goals at the beginning of each meeting. Send the shared agenda out well in advance of the meeting start time and run through your objectives at the start of each meeting. During the meeting, make sure it is focused on the objectives at hand. Finally, if you find members discussing items, conclude those discussions in shared documents to help people make better decisions.
It’s much harder to grab someone’s attention for a minute when you don’t share an office with them. It’s also impossible to walk over to your colleague’s desk to ask them how to do something. The meeting or quick chat that you just had over Slack? It could be gone in an instant when more messages come in. Therefore, when working remotely, it’s more important than ever to document everything.
Documentation can range from formal how-to articles to informal takeaways from a Slack chat you just had with your colleague. You and your team should document any work that you need to do. You should also document meetings, processes, questions, or essentially anything that will help the next person do a better job. The idea here is to share as much knowledge as possible since you won’t have a chance to share in person anytime soon. A great internal wiki tool is excellent for this.
Stick to work hours
This one is pretty simple but much more challenging to apply. Stick to your regular working hours. If you’re normally at the office working from 9-5, try to stick to that as your “digital collaboration hours.” Your comfortable working office will help a lot here.
On one end, it’s very easy to become quickly enamored with the idea that you can work from anywhere with digital collaboration. This might seem fun when you can bring your computer into the kitchen over breakfast or quickly get some work done in front of your favorite primetime television show. Don’t do this. One thing will lead to another, and you will find yourself multitasking with all of your at-home chores. Your quality of work will digress not only at work but also in your responsibilities at home.
If you need a break during work hours, by all means, take it and do something at home to distract yourself, but set a time limit on that distraction and get back to your responsibilities shortly after you’re finished.
Help others respect your time
Nobody likes getting inundated with messages and calls when they are “in the zone.” Research shows that it takes people close to twenty minutes to refocus on their task if they get distracted. In a digital collaboration environment, it’s difficult to see if someone is busy when you can’t actually see them.
The first way to help with this is by using a shared calendar. You can schedule your meetings and allow others to see that you are busy; that way, you won’t get double-booked.
Another method is to use the “do not disturb” feature of your organization’s chat app. This signals to your coworkers that you are in the middle of something and can’t respond right away. On the other end, if you send a message to someone who isn’t available, you can simply draft the message you want to send them, then leave your chat. Slack is great with this now as it saves your drafted message as a separate section of the app.
No matter the tools, ensure people know how to use them
When everyone is collaborating in person, training is essential. When you add a medium to collaboration, such as a wiki or other collaboration software, training is even more important.
People need to know how to use the tools to raise productivity. The administrators of these tools can only do so much to control the way that people use them. An additional task for employees now is to learn how to use the software they are working with. If you know how to use a tool, it will make your digital work life much easier to navigate.
Celebrate wins of all sizes
Achievement in the workplace comes in many forms, and it’s important to celebrate that achievement. The easiest way to congratulate someone is to send a message. You can spice that message up by sending a gif or emoji.
One other cool way to celebrate wins is to have a video call. Yes, you can take some of your precious time to just chat with a colleague about something great that happened this week. It’s important to continue to share these experiences as we would in an office. Our egos crave the feeling of belonging, and having celebratory calls reminds us that the people we collaborate with are humans too.
Digital collaboration is complex. Working remotely, at first, might seem exciting and appealing. It certainly comes with its benefits but as they say, with more power comes more responsibility. You have to remember to take care of yourself and your time while working in a digital environment. This means you should separate your work from the rest of your home, focus on your daily tasks while keeping your bigger goals in mind, keep meetings focused, document everything, and continue to celebrate all wins.
Tools make digital collaboration possible. Without training on those tools, they become obsolete. After all, digital collaboration doesn’t exist without a computer and collaboration software on that computer. Whether your software is hosted in the cloud or behind a firewall in your old office, teams need to know how to use it to get the most out of it. Whether you use Google Workspace or Linchpin Social Intranet to navigate the complex world of digital communication, it is still up to you and your teams to find the balance.
Find out more
Linchpin Social Intranet is a platform where you can find your feet instantly – a visually familiar tool following your company’s look and feel, with content and features tailored to you, your work, your interests, and your profile: News, events, announcements, information for your location and more. If you're curious to learn more, take Linchpin for a test drive at no cost and see why a social intranet could work for your organization. Check out our latest Linchpin blog post - Connection to collaboration - A journey with Linchpin - and find out why we're drawn to working together.
Google Workspace is one of the most well-known and well-loved suite of tools. And for good reason. Whether it's for email, creating documents, shared calendars, and everything in between, Google Workspace has the tools to keep communication and collaboration flowing within your organization. If you're on the fence, why not test Google Workspace for free for 30 days? Read our latest blog post where we deep dive into the future of collaboration with our new Google Workspace Series: The Future of Work Part 1 – Tools.