Successful virtual collaboration in 10 steps
Jul 09, 2020
As an IT company we have been working in a digital environment for a while, mainly internally. The preferred way of collaborating with customers in workshops was and is in person. When the Corona crisis hit Europe around February / March this year we were already working with a customer in Far East planning on the next workshops regarding change management. Also for us it became clear that those workshops could not possibly happen in person the way we kicked off in January. Therefore, we decided to propose a virtual setup for those workshops. Surprisingly, afterwards around 50 per cent of the participants said that the virtual workshops were just as efficient as workshops in person!
We have summarised our principles of virtual collaboration in the following 10 steps.
1. Expect hesitation & scepticism at first.
We experienced some hesitation to the setup of a virtual workshop series to look deep into a customer's processes. There were doubts from both sides that everything would work perfectly. After the second workshop also our customers got acquainted to the way of conducting the sessions.
2. It is a learning process for everyone involved.
In case you're conducting several workshops in a row it is helpful when at least one person on each side is a regular participant, so technical or sharing issues that might arise in one meeting can be solved and learned from in the next meeting.
3. Make use of the functionalities collaboration tools offer.
There are several suitable collaboration tools available on the market. Our team at Lufthansa Systems Airline Consulting has been using MS Teams extensively for internal collaboration, therefore we also set up a space in this tool for our customer workshops. All functionalities needed are united in one space and the integration of other functionalities like Wikis or collaboration whiteboards to access as well as collect information with all team members are easily possible.
- Desktop sharing can be used for interactive presentations as well as collaboratively amending documents.
- Discussions to a specific topic are consolidated in one post history and therefore enable concentrated threats.
- Uploading and downloading documents to a common shared drive connected to the collaboration tool leaves no need for an extra space to share documents.
In general, most collaboration tools and the previously mentioned functionalities have the distinct advantage to reduce email traffic.
4. Give clear instructions and communication on the process to avoid complications.
Such instructions can be related to switching on the camera, muting when not speaking to avoid interferences or sending requests/ questions via chat in case of big calls.
5. Have clearly defined roles and communicate them.
Moderator, presenter, subject matter experts, record keeper and participants, should be clearly defined and communicated beforehand. This way the person itself knows his/her specific tasks. Also, have a backup plan or know how to improvise in case a team member has technical difficulties.
6. Build a relationship as much as you can.
For successful collaboration, mutual trust is essential. To achieve this it can be helpful to switch on the camera for a more natural interaction, at least to start & end a workshop for saying hello and engaging in short social chats.
In general, trust is easier built in personal meetings. If possible, stick to a kick-off meeting in person to build the basic trust among team members.
7. Facilitate collaboration by setting up rules.
Our concept includes the setup of some meeting rules. These can be rules as simple as how and when each participant should amend documents in a shared folder, needed as safety measure in some tools not to overwrite someone's content or how documents are named. Documents in shared folders should have a clear structure and naming. There should only be one template with small variation not to confuse team members, as it might be an unknown situation anyways. Using the comment function within shared documents or the function "Track changes" can be helpful to not miss out on changes happening quite quickly.
8. Test your technology in advance & stay flexible.
Test the technical setup, customer access and all needed functionalities for actions you would like to perform in the virtual sessions beforehand with the customer (1-2 representatives). Also considering IT support in the first sessions could ease any difficulties that might arise. Anyhow, it is important to stay flexible and be happy to improvise in case things do not work out as planned.
9. Make use of the advantages of virtual workshops.
Mutually editing the documents in and outside of meetings saves the hassle of too much copy-paste work and chaos in document versions. When working across different time zones make use of those.
Our customers also found that it is more flexible & time saving to consult extra people during a meeting or conversation in a virtual meeting by just adding them to the online session (of available) instead of walking over to try and get them.
10. Get in touch with us to create your virtual workshop concept.
We are happy to hear about your challenges and work out a concept with you that works best for your requirements. Be it analysing problems, creating new content/ solutions or regular project meetings, we have experience on virtual collaboration, even with actions that rely heavily on exchanging ideas and opinions, such as change management or design thinking.
Finally, we are certain, even if you have not done this before and have doubts. We are happy to set up a virtual consulting environment for you and guide you through the process.