Due to the Covid-19 pandemic more and more teams are working remote. This not only includes working from home, but also from different geographies and time zones. Team collaboration has never been more important. What used to be a simple task of walking over to a colleague’s desk and sharing information, now is more complex.
The Oxford Dictionary defines collaboration as “an action of working with someone to produce something”. Almost all work today requires input from various contributors to be successful. Imagine a simple task of replying to a customer’s complaint over poor service. The customer service representative has to find out the facts of the case by talking to other team members. He then has to discuss the details with his supervisor to prepare a response to mollify the upset customer. He may have to talk to the person who handles finance to give the customer a refund. All this is team collaboration and it is necessary to get anything done.
Benefits from Seamless Collaboration
Seamless collaboration means team members can reach out to each other easily through email, calls and video chats to discuss the issue at hand. They can easily find reference information pertinent to the discussion. If necessary, information can be easily shared through files stored on the cloud or through screen sharing. When all these means of connecting with each other happen naturally without any extra effort or stress, just like connecting in person, the collaboration is seamless.
Seamless collaboration fosters a sense of shared responsibility. Things get done faster and without any errors. Everyone’s productivity goes up and there is higher customer satisfaction.
What makes Seamless Collaboration Difficult?
In one word, Context. If you ask me “How are you doing?” the answer can be as simple as “I am doing good”. But imagine I was unwell, and you happen to ask me the same question knowing I wasn’t feeling well, the answer could be very different. Same question, very different answer. The reason is Context.
When teams collaborate, it is very important that they can share the history of the conversation with other team members. This history provides context. Other team members can then easily see the bigger picture and provide suitable inputs. Collaboration can become painful if it takes a lot of effort to share the history on which the conversation is based.
Imagine the same example cited above of the customer service representative reaching out to his colleague to get help on the customer’s complaint. He needs to share the customer’s emails, copies of receipts, and prior conversations with the customer among other things, before his colleague fully understands the problem. If this exchange of information is cumbersome, collaboration becomes difficult.
Besides lack of context some of the other challenges to seamless collaboration come from:
Information Overload from Chat Channels
Slack became a popular chat app calling itself ‘Email Killer”. It was a good moniker. Teams were getting overloaded with emails from internal communications. Communications were getting bogged down by slow responses to emails. Slack popularized the idea of chat channels as a solution to this problem.
Teams could start chat channels on various topics pertinent to their jobs. For example, there could be a Marketing Channel or channels based on specific customers and so on. Now team members simply had to be members of channels that mattered to them and they could keep up with the conversations without having to email back and forth. It was fast and simple, only until it wasn’t.
Soon people realized that they had to constantly keep up with all the chatter in the various channels they belonged to, whether those conversations were relevant to them or not. They could not drop out of channels they were included in for fear of missing out on something important to them. But this process of keeping up with all the ongoing conversations soon became a full-time job, distracting from the real work that needed to be done.
Even though tools help fast communications with all remote team members, the lack of human connection makes it difficult to form relationships that are critical for a team’s success. We don’t realize how much information we exchange through non-verbal cues. How trust is built through small conversations. How people can be motivated by listening to a confident leader and watching her body language. Video conferencing has been used as a proxy but with limited success. Some things just cannot be made virtual.
Steps to Mitigate Challenges to Seamless Collaboration
Using the right tools for collaboration go a long way to mitigate challenges to seamless collaboration. However, tools used incorrectly increase workload, cause frustration and stress and impede the workflow instead of simplifying it. A lot of care needs to be taken in selecting the right tools and properly onboarding team members to use the tools, with constant monitoring of the success of the initiative.
While tools are important the right leadership is critical to make teams work, whether remote or in person. Some of the attributes of right leadership include:
When the team is working remote it is very important for management to communicate frequently. While weekly meetings were sufficient when everybody was at the office, perhaps daily conference calls should be considered to make sure everyone is on the same page. This also helps team members communicate with management any process or tool bottlenecks impacting their productivity so immediate remedial action can be taken.
While a 9 to 5 workday with specific times for lunch break worked well before, more flexibility may be needed when dealing with team members working from home. With schools closed children that are remote learning may need more help from their parents. A flexible approach based on deliverables may be needed, rather than a rigid time-based one.
While many companies invested in structured training at the office, a lot of information was shared informally between experienced and new employees sitting next to each other. This is no longer possible when employees don’t work from the same location. Management must be cognizant of this and provide opportunities for coaching and mentoring by freeing up time of their employees.
Tools for Seamless Collaboration
With increased adoption of cloud-based SaaS tools, companies now have many tools available that they can use to enable seamless collaboration.
Clariti is ideal for small businesses that would like to boost team collaboration. The free app allows you to drive business productivity by staying organized using Clariti Folders.
The app is the best alternative to Microsoft and Slack, thanks to the integration of email, chat, calls, cloud storage, and To-Do features under one roof. It is the perfect tool to choose when you want to promote team messaging and replace the delays caused by emails.
Clariti goes the extra mile to provide links between new communications and existing emails or messages. Doing so helps preserve context and takes away the need to search for information because it is automatically organized.
Zoom is one of the best videoconferencing apps that you can use for face-to-face meetings. Whereas it lacks a well-established chat feature, the video quality is quite appealing, and you would find it worth your time.
Features that you will find most convenient on Zoom is scheduling meetings and informing the attendees in advance. If you run many meetings but do not have an assistant, you can connect Zoom to your calendar. Schedule crucial meetings in advance and have the attendees start early preparations.
Flock has excellent features like group messaging and project management tools. It can integrate over 60 apps. It is convenient, real-time, and with just a click, you can get to video calls and connect with other people.
Trello is an app that is popular in project management. It is also a communication app. It makes the project more manageable by assigning, monitoring, and messaging your employees at a centralized place where you can collaborate and know what each one is accountable for.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated changes already afoot in adopting tools and processes to increase business productivity and reduce employee stress. While there are many challenges, organizations have successfully transitioned to their employees working from home. Many organizations plan to continue with this model even after the pandemic is over. Management must invest the time now to develop best practices and implement best-in-class tools and proven processes to successfully continue with this new way of working.