4 min read

Collaboration: Navigating the Waters

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I have two email accounts and several other collaboration tools that I use to collaborate with my co-workers. And that’s just in my professional life. Let’s not get started on my personal life… Unless you’ve somehow managed to live completely offline — clearly you’re not or you wouldn’t be reading this — chances are your experiences are similar.

AIIM.org defines collaboration as “…a working practice whereby individuals work together to a common purpose to achieve business benefit.”

Collaborating in the workplace is not a new concept. People have been collaborating long before the advent of email or IM or video-sharing tools. What has changed is an increased need for collaboration and how we collaborate — more than ever there is a need to actively engage with our co-workers.

It’s a global thing.

More and more businesses have employees literally working around the globe. If you’re like me and work for a global business, working effectively with co-workers located in different cities and frequently even different countries can be a daunting task. Not to mention the challenges of managing different time zones.

So how can you manage these challenges? Email is one way. It’s easy to send off an email from your home office in Toronto to your coworker in Ireland, and the time of day matters not. What’s not easy is managing the constant influx of email.

“In 2015, the number of business emails sent and received per user per day totals 122 emails per day. This figure continues to show growth and is expected to average 126 messages sent and received per business user by the end of 2019.” Email Statistics Report, 2015-2019, radicati.com

122 emails. Per user. Per day.

What’s sad is that I’m not surprised by that number and I bet you’re not either.

Collaboration Nightmares

The daily unrelenting barrage of email is not the only collaboration nightmare. Does this scenario sound familiar to you?

While in a virtual conference call, you receive an urgent email, someone pings you via IM, and you’re tagged in a post in your workspace tool. All while you’re trying to update a project wiki page AND pay attention to and contribute to the conference call. This happens to me more often than I care to admit.

Collaboration Dreams

Let’s review that scenario I shared above. I mentioned the following collaboration tools: a video conferencing app, email, IM app, a workspace collaboration tool, and Wiki. Attempting to use all of them at the same time is not effective and not a good use of your time. Not to mention that it’s disrespectful to those you are in the video conference call with.

What if, instead, you chose to focus entirely and only on the call? The email can be read after the call, or better yet, during a predefined time that you set aside for handling your email — I typically start and end my day reviewing email. Before you join the conference call, turn off your IM application or set your status to Do Not Disturb. Reply to the message in your workspace tool later in the day. Set aside a block of time to regularly update your project wiki page.

I get that the above can be challenging to accomplish. Think of it as making collaboration work for you vs making you work to collaborate!

Make the tools work for you.

With so many collaboration tools at your disposal, how do you know which ones to use and when? It depends. Great answer, right? Ok, I agree. It’s a horrible answer. But it’s true. Which tools you use and when depend on a number of factors:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Who do you need to collaborate with?
  • How many people do you need to collaborate with?
  • Do you need to meet in real time?
  • Do you need to share documents for review?
  • Do multiple people need to be able to review and update the same document?
  • Do you need to track a project?

How you answer these questions will help you determine which tools you should use and when.

How I make my tools work for me:

Like I’ve mentioned, I have several collaboration tools that I regularly use. Each serves a distinct purpose. Without them, working with my global co-workers would be nearly impossible.

These are some of the tools that I use on a daily basis:

IM application
I use this tool for short, immediate conversations – to get a quick answer to a question or to touch base with a co-worker. I like to think of it as “water-cooler conversations”. It’s not critical to have a paper trail of the conversation.

Collaboration workspace
I use my workspace tool to keep track of important projects. I can have 1-1 conversations, group conversations, share documents, make calls, and participate in or host meetings. One of my favourite features of the workspace tool is the ability to have persistent chats. When I know that there is important information to share, I use my workspace tool over my IM application.

Documentation repository
I use this tool to store final or signed-off versions of documents. I also use it for tracking documentation reviews.

Online spreadsheet application
This is currently one of my favourite collaboration tools. Probably because I have a thing for spreadsheets. I use it to keep track of assignments, vacation schedules, and much, much more. I can share my various spreadsheets with others, who can contribute input.

Conferencing application
Although my online spreadsheet application is my favourite, I truly can’t imagine my work-life without my conferencing tool. I use it to host and participate in virtual meetings. I can share my video, share files, record calls, and much more. My conferencing application allows me to have live meetings with global co-workers. And although I’m not a huge fan of sharing my video, I have to admit that I do like the fact that I get to “see” the people that I work with. Without video, they would be nothing more than a voice.

Yes, I may complain about the number of emails that I receive. But in the end, email is still important, still serves a purpose, and is not going anywhere anytime soon. Currently, I use email to keep track of important discussions, to communicate with my co-workers about work items that are not project-specific — to share about a planned (or not…) outage, to reply to requests for information, and more. I like the find-ability of email and the organization possibilities.

Final thoughts.

If you’re to work effectively with your co-workers, collaboration is key. If you’re to work effectively with global co-workers, collaboration is critical. The right tools can help. Knowing what your goals are and how you need to collaborate will help you find them.


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