Companies are increasingly moving towards remote teams – whether completely or with some kind of hybrid model. One of the biggest challenges they face during this shift is keeping real-time collaboration natural, practical, and productive.
In a traditional work environment, employees can have a quick chat to catch up on a project or pop their head into an office to ask a quick question. If a task needs more people, they can gather around a table or whiteboard and collaborate in real-time.
In the digital world, it’s not so simple to work from home effectively. You need to put time, resources and thought into creating, maintaining, and fostering real-time online collaboration. Even when you think you’ve done everything right, you can still find collaboration slipping.
We’ve put together five signs that you can watch out for that may indicate it’s time to revamp your real-time collaboration and some top tips on how to fix it.
What Is Real-Time Collaboration?
Isn’t all collaboration real-time, that’s what communication is all about, right?
Actually, no. A surprisingly large amount of business collaboration is done through what is called “asynchronous communication”, rather than real-time (aka synchronous) communication.
Asynchronous communication is anything that doesn’t require the people communicating to be available at the same time. For example, if you send an email and your boss replies the next day – that’s asynchronous.
Real-time, on the other hand, needs all the people communicating available at the same time. For example, a video conference where you are talking “face-to-face”. As workplaces have become increasingly digitized and remote, we’ve seen the need for strong real-time communication skyrocket.
However, high-quality real-time collaboration doesn’t always come naturally, so let’s take a look at some signs it might not be working as intended at your company, before exploring how to fix it!
1. Miscommunication Across Different Departments of The Organization
“I don’t think I got that email…”
Something that nobody wants to hear on a call, but which happens all too frequently when real-time collaboration breaks down. When working as part of a remote team, which could be spread across a state, country, or even different continents, it’s vital that everyone stays on the same page.
If your company is experiencing frequent miscommunication between different departments, or even individual team members, this is a sure sign that real-time collaboration is not where it should be.
2. Tasks Needs to Be Done Several Times to Get the Desired Outcome
Another sure sign that your real-time collaboration is not up to scratch is having to repeat tasks over and over to get the right result. Having to do the same thing several times to get it right wastes time, money, energy, and resources. What’s more, it can be a major source of friction within teams and the company structure as a whole.
Repeating tasks normally occurs when something is missed in the initial brief (see point one), or the person who actually needed the task done hasn’t been part of the review process. Both are the result of poor collaboration! Teams with good real-time online collaboration don’t have to repeat tasks.
3. Decision Making Takes Too Long
How long should a decision take? Well, how long is a piece of string? Different decisions take different amounts of time, and rightly so – you can’t decide on a merger as quickly as you can decide which leads to follow-up.
However, as an experienced manager, you know when a decision is taking too long. Other things will start to slide and you’ll get that slightly anxious feeling while checking your email too frequently, hoping for an answer.
That said, it might not be the decision-makers fault. Making decisions requires access to information and relevant team members. If decision-making is slow, there is a good chance that one or both of these things aren’t happening, and both are ultimately down to poor real-time collaboration.
The decision-maker isn’t able to access what they need when they need it by collaborating with the right people.
4. Employees Showing Signs of Frustration
Everyone wants to do well – they don’t want to miss emails or repeat tasks as we talked about above. Having these negative occurrences at work, caused by poor real-time collaboration systems and tools, will inevitably lead to employees feeling annoyed, frustrated, and ineffective.
Employees may not tell you straight out, but as an experienced manager, you should be able to pick up on the signs of frustration. If you don’t pick up on the signs quickly enough, there is one you definitely won’t miss – their resignation letter landing in your inbox.
Having a high turnover of employees due to poor real-time collaboration will have a huge impact on your business. Not only the low morale, but the cost of replacing and training good employees you’ve lost is immeasurable.
5. Organization Lacks Creativity
Sign five follows closely from the previous one because when people feel frustrated and ineffective, they are going to lose their creativity. Why put in the extra if you aren’t even being given the tools for the basics?
If employees are always having to worry about whether the task they’re doing is right or if they’ve missed an email, they haven’t got the emotional and cognitive space to add any creativity.
While some people may be quick to write off creativity in more “traditional” workplaces, it is a vital part of any company. Creativity is what allows teams to be agile, to confront and overcome the challenges of working remotely.
In fact, a survey by IBM of over 1500 CEOs showed that creativity was ranked as the primary factor for future success—more so than management discipline or vision.
What To Do If You See the Signs of Poor Real-Time Collaboration?
So, you’ve identified the signs, but what do you do now? First, calm down. There are plenty of ways to fix the problems and boost real-time collaboration in your company. Seeing the signs doesn’t mean you’re doomed, it means it’s time to create new policies and invest in new tools to support your team.
To start improving real-time collaboration at work:
1. Model Good Collaboration
Are you guilty of expecting employees to collaborate but not doing it yourself? That’s sure to lead to failure. Real-time collaboration starts from the top, where people in managerial positions should share knowledge, learn from one another, share resources and offer practical help both up and down the ladder.
2. Create Mentoring Programs
Sometimes real-time collaboration needs to be kickstarted using a more hands-on approach rather than just sitting back and hoping it will happen. The foundation of mentoring is knowledge sharing, which is a key skill for real-time collaboration.
3. Upskill Your Team
Your company can have all the processes, structures and tools for collaboration in the world, but if an employee doesn’t know how to use them, it’s useless! Invest time and resources into the skills employees need for real-time collaboration. This isn’t always “how to use the video meeting software”, and can include “softer” skills such as:
Conversational skills to drive meaningful discussion
4. Create a Community
Remote teams might never meet in person, making it much harder for them to form social bonds. It’s these social bonds, however, that often lead to the most productive collaboration. Therefore, it is up to you to create the opportunities employees need to get to know one another.
This is most commonly done through team-building activities and experiences – just make sure it’s appropriate for your employees. For example, nobody likes being forced into a game on Zoom first thing in the morning.
5. Build Digital Social Spaces
Another way to foster social relationships, and therefore improve real-time collaboration, is to build social spaces in the digital world. These are essentially online water coolers – places where employees who might be thousands of miles apart can talk casually.
The simplest ways to do this are to leave time at the top of a scheduled meeting for team members to catch up and create dedicated channels, such as a social team chat. This brings us to our final point, the tools you need to build these spaces.
6. Get the Right Tools!
Real-time collaboration requires a certain set of tools and it’s your job to make sure employees have access to them. You can’t expect team members to collaborate in real-time if their calls cut out and their messages aren’t sent.
Spend some time finding the right tools to support your business’ real-time collaboration. If you aren’t sure where to start, never fear, we’re going to explore what you should be looking for in real-time collaboration apps.
Real-Time Collaboration Apps
One of the most important parts of improving your real-time collaboration is getting the right tools for the job, which in the digital age means one thing: collaboration apps! The exact app you get will depend on your individual needs, but there are a few real-time collaboration features to look for in any software you might consider, such as:
- Video Meetings – this is the bread and butter of many companies’ real-time tools and is perfect for one-on-one or group meetings. It allows for the fast and efficient flow of information and is vital for good collaboration.
- Voice Calls – while often overlooked these days in favor of video calls, voice-only calls can still be incredibly useful for fast informative collaboration without the pressure of the screen.
- Collaborative Notes – real-time document collaboration software is vital for any remote team since it allows multiple employees to work on the same problem at the same time. Whether that is hashing out ideas, reviewing text, or making notes for a meeting.
- Collaborative Tasks – real-time tasks form the basis of many companies’ productivity protocols, allowing employees to track their progress. Collaborative tasks make working together on a project just that much easier.
- Collaborative To-Do Lists – just as with tasks, to-do lists are vital for staying organized as a remote team. Being able to draft them collaboratively means nothing is overlooked and everyone stays on the same page.
When looking for real-time collaboration apps, you’ll soon find that there are plenty of fantastic options for each of these features. However, think carefully before creating a leaning tower of a tech stack to get the tools you need – one tool to cover all features is almost always a better solution.
That is why we think Spike is the best solution for real-time collaboration. Spike offers all of the key features that we mentioned above, as well as advanced asynchronous communication tools, such as:
- Conversational Email, which brings the power of business email into a more user-friendly package.
- Priority Inbox to sort all your incoming messages before they clog up your day. See only what’s important, while everything else is sent to the “Other” folder.
- Voice Messages for when you need the convenience of a voice call and the benefits of asynchronous communication.
Not to mention a whole host of productivity tools, from a powerful Calendar that aggregates all your schedules to custom Groups to keep everyone in the loop.
Watch for the Signs and Take Action
The world of work has shifted, with remote or semi-remote teams becoming the norm. That means as business owners and managers, you’ve got to stay ahead of the curve to keep real-time communication on track and working for you. Make sure to watch for the signs before anything goes to badly, just look for:
Frequent and common miscommunication
Slow, bad decision making
A lack of creativity
If you do spot any of these slips, consult our list on what to do, from modeling behavior to building digital spaces. Most importantly, make sure that you have given your team the skills and tools that they need for effective real-time collaboration.
For more information on collaboration, communication and productivity in the workplace, check out the Spike Blog today. If you’ve got any of your own tips and tricks for keeping real-time collaboration working for you, let us know by tweeting @SpikeNowHQ.
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