• Five Ways to Get Teams Collaborating More Efficiently From Home

Online collaboration tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom helped us to make the transition to working from home during the pandemic. These tools don't come naturally to everyone though. How sure are you that your employees are using them effectively? Here are five tips to help ensure that things are running smoothly in your virtual meeting rooms and online team chats.

Know your tools

Just because the IT department is excited about a new collaboration system doesn't mean the rest of the company will be. The chances are that many employees will only use the basic features they've always used, such as cloud-based email and document storage, unless led by the nose. Get to know the more advanced features in your collaboration software and think about how they could help employees. For example, are people using the group virtual whiteboard feature in meetings? Do they know that Microsoft OneNote is a useful way to collaborate on group notes during video meetings? How about using the online transcription feature to capture meeting information into a knowledge base?

Organise training sessions to get others using them. More advanced implementation teams might consider recruiting evangelists in each department to promote the software's different features and help colleagues to take advantage of them.

Create a handbook

Formalise collaboration norms into a guidebook for employees. Many people still don't understand the basic rules of engagement in collaboration tools. For example, you'll find some people wanting responses to messages in online discussion boards immediately, even though collaborative environments promote asynchronous work where people can take time to get back to each other.

Here's one place where acronyms can help. Creating standard tags for use in messages within your company like, for example, EODR (end-of-day response) could be useful for setting expectations.

Another common problem is replicating company workflows in collaboration tools. It takes guidance from management to properly map unspoken procedures in the office into a collaborative environment with different tools and means of communication. Document processes including common workflows like onboarding in a handbook so that everyone understands what's expected.

Others have trouble interpreting tone and will take a brief, to-the-point email as negative feedback. Then, there are others who insist on posting inappropriate jokes or memes, which is a no-no. It's up to management to set clear guidelines about what's appropriate, and what happens to those who don't follow the rules.

Find alternative ways to measure progress

The tools you used to monitor performance in the office might not work as effectively when everyone is working remotely. Managers who judged performance by how long people were at the office might feel a loss of control when people retreat to online collaboration tools. Be prepared to explore different ways of tracking progress that might vary per employee.

You might be able to measure some task-based jobs by quantifying output, such as the number of invoices processed. Other knowledge worker-based jobs might need more nuanced measurement. Managers might need to measure the length of varying tasks in hours based on conversations with employees. Project managers that use Gantt charts to allocate human resources can help to make these estimates.

Make it fun

Even the best collaboration projects are still not like being in the office, with its natural banter and camaraderie. Introducing online social events can help boost morale. These could be as simple as a virtual team cocktail late on a Friday or a birthday celebration for an employee conducted via a Zoom session or Teams meeting.

Just try and make it appropriate for everyone. Nothing was quite so grim as watching a forty year-old man with a deadpan face and a voice devoid of humour apologise for having to run to another video call. "I've a group video hula-hooping icebreaker at five o'clock," he said…

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