Dispersed teams are the rule, not the exception nowadays. Information technology and the internet have helped facilitate communication and have fundamentally changed how teams collaborate. For businesses, it’s now vital to embrace a social and collaborative strategy if they want to keep their competitive edge.
Collaboration tools have many benefits which go beyond enhancing productivity and efficiency. Here are 5 ways technology can help your business improve collaboration:
Improve Customer Service
Collaboration is more than just internal teams working together, it also includes working with external stakeholders, such as distributors and customers. A good support service is extremely important to retain customers, which is why you should invest in it. Customers expect service around the clock, or at least expect that customer service processes their requests within minutes. Most firms have a ticketing system for support requests, but as this functions on a first-come-first-serve basis, it sometimes takes a while before requests are dealt with. Social media can aid the support when it comes to impatient customers. It’s easy to overlook a ticket, but it’s harder to oversee a tweet or direct message. Of course social media can also serve as a means to integrate the customer into the product life cycle and get direct feedback from them. A word of caution, however: given the fast paced nature of social media, make sure you have someone who is dedicated to handle your social media channels – this is not something you can manage on the side. It requires full attention 24/7.
One of the most important aspects of a business is innovation. Only if you constantly improve and innovate can you increase your bottom line and expand your business. Social collaboration tools support teams in creating and developing ideas together. Collaborative tools you can use to facilitate this are, for example, Wikis, mind mapping, virtual whiteboards and more. Microblogging sites such as Pinterest can function as whiteboards where you can ‘pin’, i.e. collect, interesting content and sort it into several collections.
A disperse work force has many advantages, but it also has its pitfalls. Creating a sense of belonging and team spirit is harder when team members are spread all over the world. For example, the headquarters of InLoox is located in Munich, Germany, but we also have an office in San Francisco and several distributors across Europe. Our teams in all locations have weekly video calls to keep each other up-to-date and as it is ‘face-to-face’ it creates a feeling of being ONE team.
The biggest impact that technology has made on collaboration is the way teams communicate with each other. It’s much easier to schedule meetings and calls thanks to applications that allow team members to share their calendars and schedules with each other. For a project manager, that’s a great way to calculate the capacities of their team members, i.e. who is available, when and for how long. Another tool that enhances communication is instant messaging, which allows for immediate communication without a time lag. Sometimes it’s much quicker to send someone a short IM instead of sending an email and having to wait and wonder whether they have seen it yet or not.
Some might ask: “What’s wrong with email?” Well, technically there is nothing wrong with email, but there are much better ways to send documents, for example. Remember that each email attachment takes up space on your database. With the right documentation program, you can just link everyone to one document that is either saved in your internal database or hosted in the cloud. This also has the advantage of preventing confusion of having several different versions of a document as you can simply update the document – the link is still the same. Collaborative document applications let teams create and edit documents and most importantly backtrace the process so that everyone can track the changes made to the document.
Remember that different people have different learning curves and even if your team members are willing to embrace the new technology, they need time to familiarize themselves with it and learn how to actually use it. It may take a while before the technology is fully implemented into an organization but it will pay off and greatly contribute to your efficiency and productivity.