With utilization of virtual teams and freelance hires at an all time high, finding ways to seamlessly work together is paramount in today’s workplace. As a result, there is an unprecedented number of tools designed to connect us and make work easier, but if you don’t start with a clear communication plan paired with a solid understanding of how your tools-of-choice work, you may still struggle to stay in the loop or achieve the level of collaboration necessary to be successful.
Whether your team is in the same office or spread across 7 continents, digital collaboration can be tricky. Requests, tasks, and key project details can get lost in the slew of emails and notifications that we receive in a day. This can make it hard to maintain visibility, facilitate effective communication, and adhere to deadlines.
Collaboration = Getting Things Done Together (GTDT)
At Gladiator, we take a project-based approach to managing the work that we do. It helps make us more agile and able to adapt our processes to move specific initiatives forward to completion. We also have an added level of complexity because 80% of those initiatives require communication with clients and vendors. Needless to say, we have had to define, and continue to refine, our digital communication process. Here are 8 tips for optimizing your digital collaboration protocols.
Digital Collaboration Tips
Optimize Technology Stack for Collaboration and Define Platform Protocols*
Your tech stack is the foundation of efficient digital collaboration. What tools do you have at your disposal and how do they fit into your processes? Choose your tools and define appropriate uses for each. There are four key elements that your tech stack should address for collaboration: Project Management/Productivity, Communication, File Management, and Review/Approval. Other considerations include time tracking, expenses, password/access management, and metrics.
Review Your Processes for Communication Gaps
Your processes are the blueprint for everything you do. Defining how tasks are typically completed and who’s responsible will help you make decisions on how reporting and project handoff will be accomplished. Then, identify the critical communication points. Where have you experienced breakdowns in dialogue that have cost you time, money, or credibility? What checkpoints can you put into place? These are the opportunities for improvement that will make your efficiency soar and bring your COO great joy.
Inputting these processes into a project management tool can help keep projects on track and create visibility for the entire team.
Project Management/Productivity Tools
These tools will help you document and track the work that needs to done. This is typically where formal communication on the status of tasks and projects happens.
- Spreadsheets (Google Sheets or Excel)
Role Clarity Creates Accountability for Virtual Teams
Once you have your key communication points, assign your available resources. This becomes extremely important with cross-functional teams that require multiple people to touch the project. The Project Manager is the main communication advocate and sets the tone for the project. The collaborators are the various individuals needed to get the project done. Lastly, the final project sign off is reserved for approvers, which can be any combination of leadership and/or external stakeholders.
Align Your Team with the Goal at Kickoff
How you start a project and introduce it to your team is vital to paving the path success. Making sure that all of the necessary project information is documented and available for the stakeholders helps align the team and offers a foundation for realignment, if needed. Additionally, having a meeting to discuss the goals can be an opportunity to field questions and course-correct before work begins.
- Google Hangouts
- Go To Meeting
Create Synergy with a File Management System
When virtual team members can’t find the resources to do their jobs, it reduces productivity and morale. Storing files in a mutually accessible cloud-based location is essential to the success of virtual teams. Establishing a folder system and naming convention will help make project and task handoff seamless.
File Management Tools
- Google Drive
Informal Communication Channels Encourage Collaboration and Problem Solving
Your project management tool may satisfy all of your communication needs, but it is nice to have a backup channel or two. Email has been the preferred channel for business communications for decades, but business-oriented instant messaging has proven to be very effective because it facilitates dialogue and short, quick responses that would take longer on other platforms.
Instant Messaging Tools
- Google Hangouts
Don’t Let Getting Approval Become a Burden for You or Your Approvers
Executives. Directors. Managers. Clients. Every work product has to be reviewed at some point in the project life cycle. Facilitating these approvals can get sticky depending on the communication preferences of the leadership team. However, creating and documenting a process makes it easier to get buy-in and participation.
Close the Feedback Loop by Communicating in Context
If the Approver can’t make the changes on their own, it is important to make it as simple as possible to give clear and specific feedback. What’s more specific than providing it directly on the document? Almost every viewing, reading, or writing tool has review features and, if not, they have an export to PDF function. Utilizing commenting features helps to minimize the number of revision cycles and shortens the project life cycle significantly.
Feedback is essential to guiding a project to completion. Feedback tools depend on the format of the deliverable and if you want to give the reviewer the ability to make edits.
- Adobe PDF Comments
- G Suite Comments
- Microsoft Office Review tools
- Red Pen
Train Your Team and Reward Buy-in
Make sure that everyone is on the same page and familiar with the tools. The age of “the best interface is no interface” has left users to navigate a sea of obscure icons when opening a new tool. So take care to fully train so that implementation will go smoothly. Set an implementation deadline and reward your team for all of their hard work. Everyone likes a good swag item even if they have to wait for it to come in the mail.
Now that you’ve had a full plate of food for thought, go forth and empower your team to work better together.
P.S. We also sweetened the deal! We’ve developed a list of Actionable Collaboration Tips for G Suite that Gladiator uses to GTDT!
*Gladiator Consulting has not been compensated in any way to promote or endorse these products.