Digital collaboration: how to make the shift successfully

5 people in an office using laptops

Written by Jessica Thiefels , Founder and CEO, Jessica Thiefels Consulting

While remote work was long on the rise before the COVID-19 pandemic, the past few months gave the global workforce a collective push into working from home. And it’s a trend that may have lasting effects.

“The pandemic is forcing investments in industries where telework is possible, with more people learning how to use remote technology. As a result, we may see a more permanent shift toward telecommuting,” predicts the Brookings Institute.

As a business leader, managing a remote team and ensuring digital collaboration can seem daunting, especially without prior experience. However, your staff doesn’t need to be in the same physical location or office to ensure productive teamwork.

The key to success for digital collaboration lies not only in preparation but effective execution. Use the following to ensure that your remote team can successfully collaborate to deliver results.

Research digital tools thoroughly (before implementation)

While there certainly are industry leaders when it comes to the suite of collaborative tools (refer to this list for popular options), each tool is different and unique in its own way. The key is finding the ones that serve the needs of your team.

To do so, assess your current technologies to determine what you need to shift to a remote workspace. For example, perhaps your email and chat programs work well, but you need a cloud-based project management system to replace in-person whiteboard sessions.

Once you decide what you need, vet all your available options. This is especially when platforms or tools require a significant investment. With proper research, you’re more likely to convince decision-makers to allow you to purchase the product.

Keep these factors in mind during the research phase:

  • Check reputable third-party review sites for unbias evaluations, (as well as relevant pros and cons, and competitor comparisons).
  • Ask the company for current client testimonials.
  • Look for hard data, case studies, or other irrefutable proof of success.

Communicate clearly and define processes

When establishing remote workspaces and the processes involved with digital collaboration, instructions must be explicitly outlined, leaving no room for misinterpretation. When you don’t have the luxury of checking up on an employee in the office and seeing a project evolve, your processes become even more critical for successful collaboration. For example:

  • When someone completes a task, how should they notify the team?
  • When should issues be escalated to a manager?
  • What’s the best way for your team to use digital tools and platforms for project continuity?

Outline and explain all processes and make sure everyone understands them. Don’t forget to communicate any new needs, changes, or feedback in real-time, so everyone is up-to-date, making collaboration more effective.

Finally, don’t confuse brief communication with clear intent. In a recent article about effective remote collaboration, I shared: “Brief messages are often believed to be clear messages, but employees may waste time trying to decipher it. Be as clear and explicit as possible when communicating, especially when it involves deadlines or project details.”

Clarity can happen in two sentences or ten—so don’t write long emails if you don’t have to; instead, focus on whether your message is being heard.

Empower employees to work within new roles and responsibilities

When shifting to a remote work environment, your org chart and everyone’s role will inevitably change as well. Digital collaboration is different than in-office teamwork, but instead of focusing on the changes, unknowns, and growing pains, empower your employees to accept their new roles and responsibilities.

One way to empower your staff is to ask and listen to their opinions. According to research from Salesforce: “Employees who feel their voice is heard at work are nearly five-times (4.6x) more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.”

As you go through this transformation, ask your team what they felt worked about the past workflows and what they’d like to see instituted in the future. Don’t forget to check-in with your team members individually to make sure collaboration is happening regularly and effectively in this new environment.

Focus on delivering business value

It can be easy to get caught up in micro-level tasks, such as implementing new technology or administrative duties. However, to effectively make the shift to digital collaboration, remind your team to always keep the big picture in mind and strive to deliver business value in all that they do.

Arvind Raichur, CEO of MrOwl, explains this notion well: “Companies that want to survive and thrive must ask this question: ‘How can we maintain momentum during times of change?’ And one answer that can drive success and sustainability is to cultivate a corporate culture that ensures alignment with your company’s bigger picture at every level of your organization.”

While in the interim, it’s going to take all hands on deck to work out the nuts and bolts of new processes. As you look ahead, remember that the most impactful collaboration happens when your team is focused on delivering value.

Aligning your digital collaboration strategy with your business’s direction will ensure no siloes develop while keeping everyone productive and goal-oriented.

Make the switch to digital collaboration

The workforce is going remote, and the organizations that innovate and adapt will have a competitive edge. At the foundation of a successful remote or distributed company is effective digital collaboration. Use the above strategies to transition to a remote workplace and ensure your team can work together and still deliver results for your business.

 


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