Etiquette and Strategies for Real-Time Collaboration
Whether you’re relying on virtual whiteboards, group messaging, video conferencing, or real-time collaboration tools that allow multiple people to work with the same file or document simultaneously, all collaborators need to be proficient using the tools and understand how and when it’s appropriate to interact with their team members and collaborators. You need to make sure everyone understands why the online collaboration tools are being used and what the expected outcome should be. Some goals for online collaboration within a team or organization include the following:
Reducing reliance on email
Reducing the need for in-person meetings
Reducing occurrences of phone tag and time spent on the phone reiterating what was already discussed with other team members or collaborators
Improving group communication
Increasing transparency and maintaining a detailed log, transcription, recording, or history of all conversations, chats, and work done on files
Ensuring that the latest version of all relevant files, documents, data, and content is readily available to all team members and collaborators and that everything is stored within a single, secure, cloud-based location
Making sensitive content only available to authorized people in a secure way
Providing all team members and collaborators with the same set of tools to ensure file and data compatibility and accessibility, regardless of what hardware each person is using
Providing a way for people to communicate, exchange information, share content, and collaborate in real time from any location
Real-time collaboration works the best when a virtual workspace is available to a group of people who are assigned to work on a specific project or task. The content and communication within each virtual workspace should be related only to that project or task. In addition, don’t start a group discussion within a cloud service’s group chat and then continue the same conversation with only some of the collaborators on the phone, in person, or via email.
Communication that occurs outside the virtual workspace means that the cloud-based collaboration tools are not able to track and store a transcript and log of what’s transpired, which could result in a breach in compliance regulations. It can also lead to miscommunication or the loss of important information that hasn’t been properly documented and shared with everyone involved.
15 Tips for Getting the Most from Using Collaboration Tools
Use the following strategies to ensure online collaboration happens in an organized and productive way:
Define your team or group of collaborators and make sure everyone has access to the same online collaboration tools from their accounts.
Define the scope or overall goal of the collaborative efforts.
Get everyone up to speed using the collaboration tools that have been selected by the team leader. If someone doesn’t know how to access a video conference, share a file, or utilize group messaging, this could waste everyone’s time or result in easily avoidable user error that will make using the cloud-based collaboration tools less secure.
Set deadlines or milestones that everyone needs to work together to achieve. If necessary set a virtual meeting schedule as a new project or task gets underway. Use the collaboration tool’s ability to generate, manage, and share task or to-do lists for this purpose.
Set specific security guidelines, by defining what can and can’t be discussed or distributed outside of the collaboration team.
Have everyone agree to use the selected tool (or tools) to manage the designated task or project.
Set restrictions relating to what topics should or should not be shared with the entire team, and develop procedures for how individual team members should interact with each other within the virtual workspace. For example, instead of suggesting two team members converse privately on the phone, have them communicate via the cloud-based platform’s text messaging service, which helps maintain a transcript of all discussions.
Don’t waste people’s time. When a conversation between two team members needs to take place, don’t hold that conversation in a forum where everyone is present or has to participate (such as a group video conference, virtual meeting, or group text message session). Instead, converse one-on-one in a private virtual workspace, or send private messages to each other using the collaboration tool’s direct messaging feature.
When interacting using any real-time collaboration tools (using group messaging, voice conference calls, video conferences, or collaboration tools to work on a document, for example), instruct everyone to stay on topic. If one or more people bring up lunch plans, upcoming vacation plans, or what happened the previous night on their favorite television show, everyone will be distracted, and the workspace will be cluttered with information and content unrelated to the task or project at hand.
Assign a team leader or admin person to oversee how the cloud-based tools are being used, manage user accounts, and keep everyone focused. Define the role and responsibilities of the team leader or admin person, as well as the responsibilities of each team member or collaborator.
Have each user customize his or her account profile so it includes and displays their full names, job titles, profile photos, and any other important details that team members or collaborators need to identify with whom they’re working. Refrain from using a cute or funny nickname for yourself; that’s acceptable when using social media but not appropriate for a work environment. Account profiles are particularly important for large teams or entire companies that are using cloud-based tools to communicate and exchange information.
Have each user turn on notifications related to the collaboration tools so that everyone is alerted when a new group message is posted, something requires a user’s attention, a new file is uploaded, or when content is edited, for example. With notifications turned on, team members do not need to constantly monitor the workspace to make sure they don’t miss anything important. Instead, when something requires a particular person’s attention or the whole group needs to be brought up to date on something, the appropriate people receive an email or text message that prompts them to access their accounts.
Agree to a method for team members to share new ideas, comments, and constructive feedback in a way that allows everyone to be heard but that does not hinder progress. All team members and collaborators should be invited to participate and share, and feel comfortable doing so, without receiving harsh, unprofessional, or negative feedback or criticism.
Take advantage of a group scheduling or time-management tool when planning and coordinating schedules and virtual meeting times.
Have the team leader post daily, weekly, and monthly progress reports to keep everyone apprised of how far along the group is toward achieving desired goals or milestones. When it becomes necessary to tweak or re-evaluate a goal, deadline, or objective, everyone involved should be kept up to speed using the communication tools provided by the cloud-based collaboration service.
Develop a Meeting Plan
Virtual meetings, video conferences, and real-time collaboration sessions (where multiple people work together simultaneously) provide forums for people to exchange information, brainstorm ideas, and work as a cohesive group, even when everyone is in a different location.
To maximize the use of any virtual meeting or video conference tool, it’s important for the meeting host to create a detailed plan in advance of the meeting. Use these steps to create a plan:
Put someone in charge of the meeting.
Define meeting objectives.
Determine who needs to attend the meeting, conference, or virtual gathering, and what each person’s responsibilities or role will be. Convey this information to the participants in the meeting invitations or using a direct email message, for example.
Determine a date and time when you know most or all invitees will be available. This task is made easier if the company or team uses a group scheduling program.
Set a date and time for the meeting and send out invitations using the tools offered by the tool you’ll be using. Put someone in charge of managing RSVPs and reassigning meeting responsibilities if one or more people can’t attend.
Create a detailed meeting agenda that includes time estimates for each phase of the meeting.
Determine which meeting tools (white board, screen sharing, group chat, and so on) are necessary and outline how each will be used during each phase of the meeting.
Prepare and gather all documents or files that will be presented or used during the meeting. This might include PowerPoint slides, spreadsheets, or relevant documents.
Just prior to the scheduled meeting, make sure all documents and files are ready to present, and test out the technology to be used.
At the designated meeting time, have someone take attendance and make sure all invited participants are signed in and ready to go before the formal meeting starts. Work out any connection issues to the meeting platform.
If necessary, set ground rules for who can speak and when, or how and when the platform’s group messaging or file-sharing tools should be used.
Follow the meeting agenda as closely as possible, which allows everyone to stay on schedule for the rest of their day.
Invite questions or feedback at a designated time during or at the end of the meeting.
At the conclusion of a meeting, define what needs to be done next by participants. If necessary, set up the next meeting or a detailed plan of action for moving forward.
Follow up after the meeting with a summary of what transpired, distribute copies of relevant notes and files, and provide a link for participants to re-watch the video conference (if applicable). Make sure all participants understand how and where to access data, documents, files, and notes that were created or referenced during the meeting. The conference’s link can also be provided to invitees who could not attend the live meeting or conference but who need to catch up on what was covered.
Strategies for Effectively Using Chat or Group Messaging
When people use text messaging, instant messaging, or group messaging in conjunction with social media to interact with friends and family, there really are no rules. This applies to Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and countless other social media services, as well as text messaging from any smartphone. In other words, you’re free to say whatever you want, whenever you want, with few or no consequences. You’re also free to use sentence fragments, slang, sexual innuendos, nicknames for people, all sorts of abbreviations, and emoji characters to help you communicate.
The text message, instant message, or group messaging service you use at work function pretty much the same way as the messaging tools offered by popular social media services, but the way you’re expected to communicate is very different. When you use these communication tools in a work setting, even if the people you’re communicating with are also your friends, it’s important to always maintain a professional demeanor.
It is the responsibility of the administrator or team leader to establish specific rules, policies, or guidelines for users to follow when engaged in work-related conversations using the designated text message, instant message, or group messaging service adopted by the company or team.
The following are strategies to use while using any type of messaging tool in a work environment:
Always stay on topic.
Create separate chats or message threads for specific subjects or projects.
Refer to people within messages using their full usernames, not nicknames.
Make sure everyone using the messaging service has completed their account profiles. Profiles should display full names, positions, and photos along with other relevant information. This is particularly important within large organizations where not everyone knows everyone else by name.
Use complete sentences that do not include abbreviations or inappropriate emoji characters.
If whatever you want to say would not be appropriate to say in person, on the phone, or via email with the person you’re communicating with in a work setting, don’t say it in a text message, instant message, or group message.
Avoid discussing any highly personal or controversial topics that are outside the realm of what’s work related.
Only include people in group message threads that need to be included and who are authorized to have access to whatever information will be discussed.
Remember that the messaging service you’re using for work automatically maintains a complete transcript of all conversations, which is readily available to the account administrator and your superiors. Avoid saying nasty, discriminatory, or racist comments about your employer or coworkers.
For communication of something that only one other person within that chat needs to know, use the application’s direct message feature. Don’t share the message with the entire group.
If the messaging service permits, create descriptive chat room names or titles that are relevant to the topic being discussed.
Keep all conversations on one designated messaging service. When it comes to work-related conversations, avoid using social media platforms that aren’t company sanctioned or your personal social media accounts to communicate with co-workers or clients.
Avoid incorporating inside jokes or references that only select people in a group would understand or relate to.
Keep in mind that with most services, once a group message is posted or someone receives a direct message, the recipient is alerted immediately on their computer or mobile device. If you’re working with a group spread out over multiple time zones, or one person is working late into the night, refrain from posting messages that could disturb or wake people, unless it’s extremely important.
Ask each user to customize the notification settings in their accounts to prevent unimportant message notification messages from disturbing them when they’re busy with other tasks during the day or when they’re trying to sleep at night.
Never have arguments or unprofessional disagreements in a group forum.
Remember the age-old saying that goes “Think before you speak.” This guideline also applies when communicating through a messaging service. Before clicking Send, determine if your outgoing message could be misconstrued or misinterpreted in anyway.