Elevator going up or elevator going down
PHOTO: Franck Veschi

The way we work has changed substantially. With remote workers, distributed teams, flex scheduling and disconnected work groups, the teams that drive innovation and productivity show little resemblance to their counterparts of just a few years ago.

However, bringing together top talent from around the country or around the globe, working with remote employees and even connecting with onsite workers with myriad responsibilities can still be difficult. Doing so in real time poses a new set of challenges for workers and team leaders, but technology is addressing those challenges.

As we continue to shift to multitasking and mobility in the work space, collaboration tools are key to maintaining productivity. For successful collaboration, everyone on the team has to be on board. 

But, as with all successful teams and processes, roles must be clear and tools must be useful.

To collaborate successfully in real time, the first priority has to be, well, priority. Bringing everyone together for an hourlong meeting to discuss something that could easily have been addressed in a short memo de-incentivizes team members from prioritizing the next meeting. And everyone involved in the meeting should play a mission-critical role in the topic discussed. 

For real-time collaboration to be successful, it’s necessary to start with roles and responsibilities.

Identifying Roles

As with all project management, determine who’s leading the process, who is organizing the meeting, who’s assigning tasks, who’s taking notes and who’s doing follow-up. The basics of project management are easily adapted for virtual real-time collaboration. Typically, there’s an overall project manager (PM) as well as one or more team leaders, who, reporting to the PM, assign duties to their group or team members. Team members may each have a specific role, or they may work together. It’s up to the PM and team leaders to determine who needs to be involved, when they should be involved and what they should be doing.

On the business side, documentation may be necessary; timelines and milestones may need to be established, assigned and marked as completed; and budget management may be required. Smart project managers can use collaboration platforms to manage the business end — freeing up workers to focus on innovation and productivity. But today, team members are using new collaboration tools to do more than check boxes and send out reminder emails; those tools are also helping with innovation and creativity processes.

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Finding the Right Tools

Once you have established roles and responsibilities, the right tools for the job are key. But before you start searching for a collaboration platform, start by identifying your needs. What type of project or collaborative effort are you trying to address? What needs are you hoping to fill? Just like compiling a list before you start wandering the aisles of the grocery store, create a checklist of what the platform should encompass to meet the needs of the team and the project before you start shopping.

Here are some of the needs you’ll want to consider:

  • Scheduling and workflow management.
  • Document management.
  • Group calendars.
  • Project and task assignments and milestones.
  • Database management.
  • Forums.
  • Timesheets and invoicing.
  • Platform customization.
  • Audio- and videoconferencing.
  • Team chat capabilities.

From there, search for the platform that has most of the capabilities you need today, but don’t discount what you may need in the future. A platform that gives you room to grow into invoicing, for example, may mean you will be able to stick with software you know as your needs evolve. The task of exploring collaborative tools and platforms can feel overwhelming. The key, oftentimes, is to start small (address one aspect of your highest-priority pain point), iterate, optimize, repeat.

For many team leaders, the pressing need for a collaboration tool comes midproject. At that point, you know there’s a solution out there, but you’re often too busy to do your homework and find the right platform for your needs. But don’t be tempted by the first tool you find in your search. The time you take to find the right tool for you team will be time well spent.

A great collaboration platform can grow with your business, and even offer opportunities to expand. Some of the most promising platforms can be customized to meet your specific needs even if you don’t have a coder on staff. Emerging no-code and low-code platforms allow you to do more with less — and do it more quickly. As your team begins grasp the capabilities of these simple yet sophisticated no-code and low-code platforms, you’ll be fostering your organization’s digital transformation.

You’ll want to look for something that meets your needs today, but don’t be afraid to overreach — look for a platform that has the ability to meet your needs in the future as well.

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Real Time vs. Real Estate

Businesses today value employees because of what they can do and what talents they have, not because of where they live. As the workscape continues to evolve, more teams are made up of people who work together in real time but not necessarily on the same piece of real estate. We are connected by technology, from large video-ready conference rooms to smartphone apps. We identify the roles and responsibilities of team members and assign tasks, and then we assess our connectivity needs and find technology that meets those needs. 

Find and use the technology that helps unleash your organization’s competitive advantage: true teamwork and collaboration.