COVID-19 has radically changed the lives of millions of people around the globe. Even for those of us who remain healthy and fully employed, the pandemic has necessitated some serious adaptations to the way we operate. Though online collaboration was growing and many businesses were expanding to offer remote work options before the outbreak, this global health crisis has rapidly accelerated the move to fully digital operations in many companies, at least for now. The move to online collaboration presents, of course, both advantages and challenges.
The challenges of online collaboration
We won’t deny it: online collaboration has its challenges, especially when you make the transition suddenly and unexpectedly. Here are a few of the biggest disadvantages of online collaboration.
A rapid shift to digital collaboration can leave team members feeling disconnected from one another and from the business itself.
We don’t often put much thought into the casual interactions that happen among coworkers in a shared physical space, but in a healthy workplace, conversations around the coffee pot and in the hallways add up to create a sense of belonging and camaraderie among team members. The sudden absence of those casual interactions can leave coworkers feeling isolated and out of touch.
The routine of coming in to the office every day provided an anchoring ritual that solidified each person’s identity as a member of the team and part of the company. Working from home with little idea when they’ll be able to return to the office may create a sense that employees are on their own with little support from the organization.
A good manager can foster connections among coworkers and with the company by investing time in team building.
One of the best things about collaborating in person is that you can usually get answers immediately. If you have a question, you just walk to your coworker’s desk and ask. If a teammate is slow to respond to your email, you can just pop into his office and get a verbal reply. In a recent survey by Slack, remote workers around the world consistently listed communication as one of the most important elements of good collaboration. With online collaboration, you’re dependent on others to respond in a timely manner, and your team has to negotiate strategies for dealing with urgent questions from multiple remote workspaces.
If your team was accustomed to collaborating in person before the pandemic, you probably didn’t have the tools in place for effective digital project management. Even in many modern offices, project management is a combination of digital tools and physical ones, and there are usually lots of paper files being passed around. Quickly adopting a more comprehensive digital project management tool could be met with resistance and confusion as team members struggle to learn new technology or even to accept the need to make changes in how projects are managed. Though change can be difficult, this can be mitigated by getting employee input before a new system is implemented and by selecting technology that is as intuitive as possible.
The advantages of online collaboration
Though online collaboration can be challenging, there are also many advantages. Once your team gets accustomed to it, they’re likely to embrace online collaboration even when it’s possible to return to the office.
Online collaboration with digital tools provides a degree of flexibility never before thought possible. Many workers have found themselves suddenly responsible for children’s remote schooling and are sharing home office space with another adult. Some have had to temporarily relocate or travel to assist relatives. With online collaboration, your team can work at any time, from anywhere. Mobile apps allow for quick check-ins and responses even when an employee is away from their computer.
Online collaboration contributes to productivity, and not only because it allows for increased flexibility in working hours and location. Even before the Coronavirus pandemic, a Deloitte survey suggested workers were both happier and more productive when given effective digital collaboration tools. Good communication tools, an important element of online collaboration, also increase productivity.
Wait, how can project management be a pro and a con? It all depends on how you go about it. While an office-based team may struggle at first to effectively manage projects online, moving your project management to the digital sphere can improve project management significantly. Deploying a digital workplace tool that’s a good fit for your team can improve visibility and communication on your projects, allowing everyone to do their jobs better.
Make online collaboration work to your team’s advantage
Millions of teams around the world are collaborating online, some more effectively than others. As we’ve already suggested, the key to successful online collaboration is choosing the right tools. You can take advantage of all that online collaboration has to offer by adopting a great digital workplace for your team. A digital workplace is a virtual space that allows your team to carry out all the functions of their work without switching among a bunch of apps or monitoring half a dozen communication channels.
One of the most important advantages of a digital workplace is the kind of communication it enables. Everyone on the team can see relevant project details and comment on them in real time, in the context of the project. We think this kind of contextual communication makes Kissflow an ideal digital workplace for online collaboration, and its user-friendly, no-code interface means your team can get to work quickly. While the switch to online collaboration has been challenging for many people, it will continue to shape the future of work long after the pandemic is behind us. By choosing good tools and using them well, you and your team can leverage the advantages of online collaboration while avoiding its dangers.