With new communication technology invented almost constantly, there seems to always be a new — and theoretically better — way to collaborate with coworkers.
Despite differing opinions about communication technology, one thing seems to be well agreed upon: collaboration is key to a successful work environment.
According to a 2015 study performed by Dimensional Research, 94% of the surveyed employees agreed that collaboration is vital to their work.
Additionally, findings by Google Researchers revealed that successful collaborators tend to solve problems more efficiently, increase company profits and feel happier at work.
So no matter what position you hold in the workplace — whether you’re an entry-level worker, a long-term veteran, a manager or the CEO — you will personally and professionally benefit from learning to collaborate with your colleagues in a progressive way.
Explore Popular Collaborative Technologies
Even though not all workers agree upon the best forms of communication technology, 83% admit to depending on technology to collaborate, according to Dimensional Research’s study. Eighty-two percent agree that losing their collaboration technology would impact their work.
So even if workers don’t always agree upon the best kinds of communication technologies, they are largely in favor of using them. To choose the best one for your business is really a matter of trial and error.
A good place to start is with document-sharing platforms. These are some of the most commonly needed tools in today’s fast-moving workplaces.
Dimensional Research’s study lists these as the most popular:
- Google Drive
For your own professional development, get to know each of these programs, or at least as many as you can.
All document-sharing platforms have similar basic features, so the more comfortable you become with a few, the more easily you can adapt to them all — including those your future workplace(s) chooses.
Embrace Technology In and Out of the Office
In addition to document-sharing platforms, technologies that allow real-time communication are becoming increasingly common.
Many teams now have international employees and/or hired freelance workers who work remotely. It can be challenging to make such a widely distributed work community feel like one cohesive unit.
Audio and video technologies help create that desired team cohesion.
Technologies like Skype, Google+ Hangouts and Facebook video calling go beyond the standard, audio-only conference call by allowing speakers to see each other. However, among virtual teams, more advanced technologies may be necessary.
Professional services that are secure and allow larger teams to communicate are growing in popularity. BlueJeans corporate webcasting, for example, is an up-and-coming interactive technology that allows collaboration between up to 100 employees no matter the location with industry-leading compatibility. It’s secure and supported on any device, making it safe and easy to use.
Determine the Best Technology for Your Team
Strangely enough, millennials tend to struggle more with work-based collaborative technologies than baby boomers, according to the Dimensional Research study.
This is, in all likelihood, a result of millennials being more comfortable with social media technologies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest — only a few of which made the list of most popular document-sharing platforms.
For professional teams to work together more effectively, one of the first steps must be deciding which technologies the team will use to collaborate on the project at hand. Limiting the number of tools used can help reduce confusion and frustration, and ensure that all project-related data and ideas are in designated, easy-to-find places.
To decide on your technologies, you and your fellow teammates must first acknowledge potential differences in preferences between generations and put those biases aside. Next, you must simply choose just one or two technologies to try based on anticipated project needs.
As with any project, once it is completed, it’s a good idea to sit down and discuss the collaborative hits and misses with your team. Technologies used should be a part of this discussion.
After the project is over, ask your teammates what they liked and disliked about the document-sharing platforms used. Based on your discussion, decide as a team whether to use those same technologies for similar future projects or to try out new ones.
Make Time for Meetings
While pursuing a collaboration “groove,” watch out for the overuse of collaborative technologies. As important as collaboration is, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by incessant bombardment from colleagues.
One of the simplest ways to reduce this collaboration stress is to take proactive action against it. Before starting the project, hold a face-to-face meeting with your colleagues. In this meeting, be sure to define each team member’s role in the project, to set clear and agreed-upon goals, to assign deadlines and to ask and answer any questions or concerns.
As the project continues, hold regular meetings. In these meetings, discuss what’s working and what’s not — with regard to communication, technology, project-specific challenges and the like.
These intermittent meetings will not only answer questions and preemptively solve potential project setbacks, but they will also reduce the chances of overusing your communication technologies and create a feeling of support among team members.
Define Team Roles and Responsibilities
If responsibilities are ambiguous, productivity and collaboration will suffer. At the start of each project, teams should designate specific roles and tasks for each team member.
Delineating tasks gives team members a sense of ownership over their work and ensures that no one is left with an unreasonable amount of the workload. Understanding each other’s tasks and expectations also helps team members collaborate appropriately.
So in your first project meeting, make sure this topic is discussed. In addition to assigning the specific responsibilities of each team member, be sure to also clarify the roles of each.
For example, writing the budget section of a proposal is a specific responsibility. Acting as the budget expert, though, is a specific role that isn’t necessarily limited to the budget section writer. By clarifying which person — or people — on the team are to be called upon as budget experts for this project, you are preemptively keeping the wrong people from getting bombarded about such questions.
This role-assigning tactic is often overlooked, causing one poor worker — generally either the project lead or the nicest guy on the team — to be constantly trying to answer all his teammate’s questions when really, he shouldn’t be the sole person of reference.
Get to Know Your Team
If you truly want to be part of a successfully collaborative team, you must recognize that there’s more to collaboration than just having the right technologies. The members of a team — both in and out of the workplace — should be familiar and comfortable with one another.
Ultimately, it’s up to you as a team member to make an effort to get to know your colleagues.
It may sound intimidating or uncomfortable — especially if you’re the new person in the office — but be bold! Invite your colleagues to an after-hours cocktail. Be the person in the office who starts a weekly bowling night tradition. If you’re nervous, notice that these suggestions include “workers,” plural, meaning you don’t have to start with an awkward one-on-one.
In the meantime, while you’re plotting your social scheme, get in the habit of simply asking your colleagues how they’re doing. Some will say “fine” and move on, but others will tell you about their day, their kids, their boyfriends and so on. By taking this basic step in socialization, you’re laying the groundwork for an out-of-work invitation, learning a little bit about them and showing them that you’re trying to be a pro-collaboration colleague.
By getting to know your coworkers in more than a strictly “all business” sense, you get to learn more about their individual personalities. This, in turn, helps you to understand them, connect with them and, ultimately, work with them more effectively. And, as an added bonus, you may discover common interests and build new friendships.
Do Your Part for Collaboration
Working collaboratively can be a challenge among the varied generations that make up today’s workforce, but it’s far from impossible. Do your part as a team member by staying open-minded to your colleagues’ ideas, continuing to try out new technologies and being hands-on about making your team a team that “clicks.”