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Smooth collaboration across multiple locations is becoming increasingly important and distributed teams (or digital or virtual teams) are no longer a rarity. Concepts such as New Work, Work from Home (WFH) or Remote Work are also pushing the virtual teamwork trend. These are just a few reasons why collaboration tools are indispensable. In addition, collaboration software not only improves collaboration in geographically dispersed teams but also ensures faster and more efficient collaboration when teams work at the same location or even in the same building or office.
Collaboration software supports (project) teams with real-time information that is consolidated on a central platform and thus available at any time, across all devices and from any location. Collaboration in the cloud in particular is the ideal solution for digital collaboration, eliminating the cost and effort of maintaining and servicing in-house servers and the time-consuming installation process. Web-based project management software apps for Microsoft Outlook, the browser and smartphones ensure successful (virtual) teamwork.
In this article we will introduce the basic concept and definition of collaboration and e-collaboration and give you an overview of the challenges and success factors of virtual collaboration. Finally, we’ll give you practical tips for efficient teamwork with the collaboration software InLoox and insights into the advantages of a collaboration tool.
Interdisciplinary and cross-departmental collaboration is considered an important factor if you want to implement innovative projects successfully. This is why collaboration is on everyone’s lips these days – it’s used so much that that a lot of people no longer even know what collaboration even means.
Collaboration is not just a term, it’s more like a concept. This concept can be defined as follows.
Collaboration is a concept of cooperative and interdisciplinary teamwork between several employees of one or more organizations. The focus of the joint effort is directed at a common goal and thus controls and synchronizes all efforts."
Collaboration is characterized by the following features:
Collaboration and cooperation are often mistakenly used synonymously. However, collaboration and cooperation are two different concepts and it’s important to differentiate between them.
Collaboration describes the joint and synchronous work of several people or a project team on a task or partial outcome. This flexible form of teamwork differs significantly from cooperation: Cooperation divides a task into several subtasks, each subtask is performed by different people at the same time. In short, the concept of cooperation reflects the classical project management approach. Collaboration is when teams or team members work together to complete the same task.
The digitalization of the workplace continues to make great strides and trends such as New Work, remote work or WFH are already part of the standard vocabulary. Information is digitized, processed, consolidated, and ideally made available in a central location. Against the backdrop of our globalized world, collaboration is gaining an important digital element, becoming e-collaboration.
E-collaboration is the digital collaboration of virtual or geographically distributed teams."
It’s indispensable for organizations to enable collaboration beyond borders and time zones. So-called distributed teams (or virtual or digital teams) are no longer a novelty or an exception. The different ways you can collaborate are limitless nowadays. Here’s a short excerpt:
All these – no longer new – forms of collaboration increase the need for collaboration platforms or collaboration tools that make project information available in a central location and in real-time and enables the collaborative editing of documents and project information.
No matter if it’s a platform for video conferences, classical email solutions, chat tools or platforms for internal communication (enterprise social networks (ESNs)), more and more software solutions are entering our professional lives and project work, enabling us to work more efficiently. This development is accompanied by the changing nature of collaboration and brings about new challenges. These challenges are intensified in distributed teams, which collaborate across locations and time zones.
One of the biggest challenges for (virtual) teams is transparent and continuous project communication. If the team members are not working together in the same office or building, fast and informal exchanges at the water cooler or across desks is no longer possible. It’s important to find new and innovative ways to maintain the flow of information in team meetings. To ensure that all information relevant to the project and the respective tasks are always accessible to all team members, you need to define a clear communication process.
It’s not just indispensable to ensure transparent communication but responsibilities and competencies need to be communicated transparently as well – not just in distributed teams. It’s important that each team member knows exactly who has to do what and when. The current status of the respective tasks as well as the overall project status should be made available to everyone. A collaboration platform can help you achieve more transparency.
Different countries, different customs: Geographically dispersed teams often have different cultural backgrounds. Cultural diversity has many advantages but can also easily lead to misunderstandings. That’s why it’s particularly important to create a culture of open communication in the project team. Everybody should feel comfortable to express their expectations and challenges and cultural differences should be addressed openly to prevent misunderstandings.
Another challenge that shouldn’t be ignored is team building. After all, how can you build trust within the team without regular personal interactions between the individual team members? So instead of traditional coffee breaks or team lunches, it’s important to find a virtual alternative for informal exchanges. It’s also important that the individual team members get to know each other personally before the project starts. That can be achieved with a kick-off meeting for example.
If you address the above-mentioned challenges correctly, they can actually become the key to successful virtual collaboration and teamwork. There are several factors that contribute to successful collaboration in distributed teams.
Checklist: How distributed teams can collaborate more effectively
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