What we’re talking about here is the use of online collaboration resources such as Microsoft Lync and Skype that enable voice and video interaction, desktop sharing, whiteboards, messaging and online presence visibility. There are lots of them out there. So whether your driver is organisational collaboration and productivity, or you’re simply trying to reduce the travel budget, read on…
Most medium and large organisations have started the journey to online collaboration. Significant benefits are claimed, and can indeed be achieved. You will save money on travel, and equally importantly, time spent travelling. However, many companies miss out on the full teamwork, productivity and decision-making benefits because the use of tools, such as Microsoft Lync, has not become the routine “way we get things done around here”. Why not?
This article points to three areas that tackled properly will dramatically unlock these benefits for organisations.
- Pressing pause on old habits of interaction
- Prioritising individual competence and confidence
- Recognising situational dimensions of technology
If these benefit blockers are an issue for your company there are ways for you to follow up with us at the end of the article.
Pressing pause on old habits of interaction
Companies use online collaboration to replace formal F2F meetings without adapting the meeting format and rethinking participant behaviours. It’s a bit like jumping in an unfamiliar car. You have to invest a little time to figure out where everything is in order to be as comfortable. A few of my personal observations would include; online time becomes compressed so agendas need to be more purposeful; some physical behavioural clues are missing so participation may be a bit clunky unless it is actively managed; and, content needs to be really engaging because there are just too many distractions if you’re not confined to a meeting room!
Informally for everyday interactions individuals will stick with what they know, typically audio conferencing, if they are not supported to make the change. Greater team working, productivity and decision-making benefits multiply when online collaboration becomes informal and widespread. There’s an element here of leading by example, but why not also be explicit and let people know that online is the preferred way to get hold of your team mates.
Prioritising online collaboration competence and confidence
Some familiarity with the software is essential to underpin the collaboration benefits. At a minimum people should be able to set up the audio/video options, share documents and use the messaging facility. If it’s a more formal meeting then sharing screen control and managing participant input becomes important. There seems to be a mind-set out there that we’re all born IT literate these days. Unfortunately that’s not wholly true… “Can you see me now? What about now? Now?”
Beyond technical competence, many people are simply reluctant to use video because it’s unfamiliar and they feel self-conscious. You may have colleagues who gaze rigidly at the camera from short-range, or appear at disconcerting angles! At some level this is the fun of learning, but in the short-term it can distract other participants and reduce the impact of their own contributions to the meeting. It’s different to Skyping Aunt Matilda in Oz and may need some feedback and coaching on business best practice before it feels like just another natural thing to do.
Recognising situational dimensions of technology
Office layouts are still catching up with small group (2-4) online collaboration. Calls may be discouraged in open plan areas so that spontaneity suffers driving down productivity. If that’s true, take your laptop for a walk or consider enabling tablet and phone versions of the software as an option.
For larger group situations it inevitably takes more thought. For example, I regularly facilitate a three-day meeting between London and Houston with 10-15 participants in each location. Over time we’ve solved issues such as team building activities, managing break-out groups, and numerous technology glitches such as the online collaboration tool not interfacing with existing videoconference facilities. As organisations extend collaboration into their supply chains and trade associations we’re starting to see new challenges for using these resources effectively and securely. I’m looking forward to future developments.
What’s your biggest challenge with online collaboration? If you’ve read this and would be interested in taking the conversation further drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or Contact Us via the site
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