Take your team from inbox to collaboration

There is a dizzying array of online collaboration applications available today that can satisfy the requirements of organizations with teleworkers, virtual teams, and freelancers.

What many of these online collaboration offerings do is gloss over the best ways to move users from depending on their email inboxes and other file stashes to migrating their documents and processes online. A good implementation is platform agnostic. The tips in this post can apply to cloud-based solutions or a solution you remotely access on your employer’s network . You’ll have some work to do around user requirements, “spring cleaning” , and maintaining user productivity.

Here are some tips to better manage moving your team from their email inboxes to online collaboration:

Gather business and technical requirements. Having seen successful and failed implementations of online collaboration solutions, the lack of previously obtained business and technical requirements sticks out as one of the constants in failures. A “build it, and they will come” mentality is counter-productive to the initial move to a collaboration. The solution you select needs to account for the user community, their technical experience, and how they need to use the collaboration solution to stay productive and do their jobs.

Acknowledge organizational culture. As I’ve written about before, culture can drive online collaboration but can also sink it. Corporate culture is one of the reasons why I am a proponent of upfront planning that involves the users who are supposed to be using the application. There will most certainly be cultural shifts so plan accordingly.

Take advantage of trial periods. With all the choices out there in online collaboration applications, the bright side is many if not all offer trial periods which make for a minimal barrier of entry for piloting online collaboration applications. When running internal pilots and trials, look for a wide cross section of users so you can get honest feedback on the solutions you are piloting.

Find a champion for online collaboration. Moving from old ways to online collaboration brings with it a lot of change and perhaps baggage so I like to recommend that organizations look for a “champion” amongst the ranks. This champion also doesn’t have to be a technical person or the “collaboration geek” . I’ve come to see the best champion for online collaboration is the everyday user who has seen the benefits of online collaboration in their work or where online collaboration has resolved a business problem they have.

Perform a “team clean” of your documents. Without a central repository for project information, project documents can hide on local hard drives, shared network drives, email inboxes, USB thumb drives and a number of decentralized locations. When making the move to an online collaboration platform for managing your documents, you need to do a “team clean” of all the project related documents your people stashed away. It’s from those stashes that you need to determine what are the official documents that will migrate to your new collaboration platform.

Audit your team’s existing processes. Outside of substituting for previously email-driven processes, your online collaboration application may also have a profound impact on some of your other project and business processes depending on your online collaboration application’s features.

Implement application security judiciously (and realistically). Document security is high up on the list for implementing an online collaboration solution. However, one of the signs of a poorly implemented online collaboration solution is being too locked down often causing users assigned to work with the application takes other avenues to accomplish their tasks. Application security can be a sensitive subject in some organizations so I recommend you spend the extra time to plan the appropriate security roles for your team members so they can be productive using the online collaboration application.

Appoint a site administrator at the team level. Project teams should have the knowledge within the team and access rights to manage their own online collaboration workspaces. Centralized administration over such user tasks as creating new folders and workspaces are better left on the team level versus having to send a request to a centralized administrator or group. Rapid responses to user requests are but one of the many ways to curry favor from users who have doubts about the new online collaboration application.

Build a usable folder and organizational schema. Moving documents to a new platform should be done with care and planning. It’s always good to work as a team during the “team document clean” and later to develop a folder and organizational schema that improves upon what sufficed in the past and is usable for the team.

Have you migrated your team away from email inboxes? Share your experience in the comments.Image by Stock.xchng user: svilen001


Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. His writing experience also includes writing technology articles for CNET TechRepublic and other sites. Will’s technology interests include collaboration platforms, enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), project management applications, and big data. Follow him on Twitter: @willkelly.

Originally published at willkelly.org on December 6, 2013. This post has been updated and revised.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Will Kelly’s story.