"Collaboration" is one of those magic buzzwords that companies love. Understandably, when people work together well, they are faster and more productive, meaning greater output for the company.
But good teamwork also benefits employees. They communicate more easily with one another, avoiding frustration as they get their tasks done more quickly (and finish their workdays sooner — yippie)!
Clearly, effective team collaboration benefits all involved.
But what happens when teams work remotely? Successful collaboration when you're in different locations, or even different time zones, countries, or continents, can be tricky, potentially hurting employee engagement.
Enter digital collaboration. Digital collaboration helps remote and hybrid teams work together.
This article explains the importance of virtual team collaboration and reveals how to make it part of your company culture. We also give you some easy hacks and tools to implement digital collaboration in your own team.
What is digital collaboration?
"Collaboration" refers to working together towards a common goal, like a project deliverable. In "digital collaboration," people work together remotely, using modern technology to plan, carry out, track, and communicate about their work.
A modern collaborative team may have people working in countries around the world. Digital collaboration uses digital technologies to help teammates work together towards a central team goal, despite different locations and time zones.
For example, say your team has a deliverable — a marketing pamphlet. You have a copywriter in New York City, an editor in San Francisco, a graphic designer in the Philippines, and a project manager or team leader in Germany.
Four people, four roles, four time zones. How's this supposed to work?! Here's an idea:
- The project manager starts the project with a kick-off brainstorming session. Everyone can join via Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or a similar video conferencing tool. This is a chance to introduce the members of the team to one another, explain the project's objective, and detail a project plan with each person's role.
- The project manager uses the online project management tool, Asana, to create a workspace for the deliverable and define a deadline (Friday). They invite the copywriter, editor, and graphic designer to join the virtual workspace, so everyone can track progress. The project manager assigns each part of the project to a team member. The copywriter needs to have the copy done by Tuesday, the editor needs to have it edited by Wednesday, and the graphic designer needs to have it laid out by Friday.
- The project manager also uses a communication tool like Slack so stakeholders can quickly share ideas or ask questions, eliminating the need for tedious emails being sent back and forth. They can create a dedicated workspace in the collaboration app and invite the copywriter, editor, and graphic designer to join that chat. This is where people can exchange real time messages about the project as they work.
- Throughout the week, the project manager (and anyone else on the team) can check the status of each stage of the project via Asana. They don't need extra meetings (tough to coordinate across time zones) or emails — speeding up workflows! Once the copywriter marks their task complete, the editor knows they can start editing. Once the editor marks their task complete, the graphic designer knows it's their time to start laying it out.
This example shows what team collaboration can look like in the virtual space and reveals how technology makes it possible. Read on to learn how such collaboration helps successful teams eliminate silos, set clear goals, and improve problem solving and decision-making.
Why is collaboration important in a digital team?
Creating a collaborative digital team takes some effort, as the above example shows. You must onboard teams, implement technology, and ensure they confidently use the tools you introduce.
Is it worth the effort? Absolutely. Let’s review some of the benefits of team collaboration in the digital space.
When people work together better, they can get their jobs done more quickly, improving productivity. Individuals can get more work done in a shorter time frame, which also benefits the company at large by increasing overall output.
Take the example above. Say the graphic designer has a question about the content as they are laying it out. They can quickly ping the editor or copywriter on Slack to ask a question and get clarity. There's no need to wait for emails to be sent back and forth, allowing faster work.
Improved quality of communication
Miscommunication can be disastrous in the workplace, causing issues like missed deliverables or deadline delays. Digital collaboration makes it easier for remote employees to stay in contact and up-to-date on a project's progress, reducing the risk of such issues.
Again, consider the aforementioned example. The project management tool can be used to assign a specific deliverable and deadline to each individual team member. There is no question about what is due when and who is responsible for it. This transparency helps the whole team.
Improved employee morale
Good collaboration and communication make individuals' jobs easier. They don't have to sit around wondering what they're supposed to be doing or chase down other team members or managers to ask questions. This clarity can improve morale and boost engagement.
In the above example, the project manager can take a hands-off approach thanks to Asana. They don't have to micromanage and breathe down employees' necks. Instead, they have all the project updates they need via their team collaboration software
How to improve digital collaboration in your company
Ready to harness the power of digital collaboration? Smart move. Here are some of the steps to make it happen. We also flag some team collaboration tools you can use to implement each step.
1. Take a strategic approach
Don't expect collaboration to happen overnight just because you've introduced a new tool or app to your team. Take a strategic approach. First, do a technology audit to determine what technologies might benefit your team. Then, you can:
- Introduce the tools to your team. Explain what tools you are implementing, their purpose, and why you are implementing them. Highlight the benefits. For example, Slack means fewer emails (yay!).
- Provide how-to training. Use Loom to record both your voice and your computer screen simultaneously and craft personalized tutorials showing your team how the tool works.
- Set a deadline for implementation. Give your team sufficient time to learn the new tool. If it's replacing another tool, clarify when the other tool will no longer be used and by when everyone is expected to use the new tool.
- Collect feedback from your team. Ask about their experience with the new tool. Are they using it? Is it helping them? Do they need more training? Use an online survey tool like SurveyMonkey to collect feedback.
2. Create an inclusive remote working environment
Again, digital collaboration is more than implementing the right tools. It's also about adapting your workplace culture to new collaboration strategies. You want to create an inclusive working environment that takes into account the diversity of your entire team.
For example, you should consider team members' time zones when planning virtual meetings. Time.is can help you nail down time zones according to the person's location, so you aren't scheduling a meeting at 3:00 a.m. in someone else's time zone!
Also, consider work hours. Remote teams are not necessarily full time. You may have part-time employees or freelancers, for example. Be aware of each person's working hour limitations, and plan accordingly.
Finally, support an inclusive but organized remote work environment with the right policies. For example, encourage employees to sign out of collaboration tools (like Slack) or mark themselves as "Away" outside of their chosen working hours. Then, respect those boundaries.
3. Use collaboration tools that don’t become a distraction
When it comes to picking collaboration tools, don't go overboard. If you implement too many, people will get confused and distracted. It's tech overload. When you first introduce your collaboration tools to your team, take these steps:
- Designate one tool per purpose. Don't double-up on tools. For example, if you decide to use Notion for document creation, editing, and sharing, stick to Notion. Don't use Google Documents on top of it.
- Clarify each tool's purpose for your team. Create a guide to the tech tools used and what each one is for. Make sure everyone has access to this primer (and, if needed, use this master tech list to include log-in details).
- Restrict the use of alternative communication or collaboration tools. Don't use tools beyond those specified in the guide mentioned above. You want to establish a clear standard and ensure everyone is using the same tech, creating a collaborative culture.
4. Make file storing and sharing more centralized
One of the biggest challenges of team collaboration in the digital workplace is sharing information. When strategizing your collaboration approach (see step one) for this hurdle, consider knowledge sharing options. Here are some tools that can help make it easier:
- Digital storage solutions. Digital storage solutions like Dropbox make file-sharing possible anywhere, anytime. No need to pester colleagues with emails asking for access.
- Cloud-based document creation. It's also possible to create documents directly in the cloud using tools like Notion or Google Documents. Allowing for real-time editing and updates, so people don't overlap document versions.
- URL sharing tools. OSlash is a URL organization and sharing tool that makes it easy to remember, find, open and send URLs. Take complicated URLs and transform them into simple tidbits like o/onboarding or o/invoicing. So you and your team can get from where they are to where they want to be in an instant, saving time and effort.
5. Make meetings more efficient
Coordinating meetings in virtual teams can be difficult, especially when people are in different locations. A tool like Calendly makes it easier. Simply input your availability into the tool and then send people a URL where they can book an available slot that works for them.
Once you've got a meeting on the books, there are some additional steps to take to make it run smoothly. Make sure to prepare in advance, setting a clear meeting agenda with designated goals, point persons, and actions for each one. Evernote is a great tool for recording meeting minutes and then sharing them digitally.
During the meeting, make it a productive session by practicing active listening. If you're on a Zoom video call, for example, this could involve nodding your head. The speaker can then see that you're paying attention. Follow up with concrete questions or comments.
Make digital collaboration easier with OSlash shortcuts
Create a more collaborative environment in the digital workplace and boost team performance with OSlash. Nobody wants to spend their precious time hunting down URLs. OSlash lets you easily share shortcuts that are short and simple to remember.
Send along instant shortcuts like o/payslips, o/standup, or O/design. Your team will get the information they need in a snap. That means less time wasted on tedious URL searching, and more time for actual productivity. Start saving time now.