Three Key Types of Collaboration

• Collaboration

When you think about collaboration, your mind probably first goes to tools like chat, email and video conferencing. While essential to a modern office, seeing these as your only collaboration options is shortsighted.

People collaborated for a long time before digital tools came into the workplace. Digital tools add some new capabilities to collaboration, but the core essence remains–communicating information and having discussions about work. Collaboration used to mean getting everyone to sit in the same room, but it’s changed a lot since then.

However, many modern organizations have flooded employees with anything labelled as a “collaboration software”. The problem is that we haven’t developed a strict concept of the types of collaboration and which tools aid each type.

When you throw apps at employees without accounting for what type of collaboration they are doing, it takes a toll on productivity. Most collaboration tools are built for instant, synchronous communication which means bells and whistles going off all day long.

Here are three ways to think about the different types of collaboration you can facilitate at your workplace.

Types of Collaboration

1. Based on mode of communication

Digital collaboration

A lot of collaboration is filtered through digital tools these days. Chat tools, emails, phone calls, video calls, productivity applications, and many others come under this type.

When to collaborate digitally?

Digital collaboration has become an essential part of any organization. Most of today’s workplaces rely on multiple types of digital connections. Digital is great because it is cheap, allows for collaboration across distances, is easy to store, and has a shared history for retrieving information. It can also sync up with other digital tools so that conversations can quickly become projects or processes. File sharing, drafting documents, sharing URLs, knowledge sharing, and project discussions are best done digitally.

In-person collaboration

Despite the takeover of digital collaboration tools, there’s still a place for getting face-to-face with someone in the physical realm. These discussions must be co-located and happen in real-time. Most face-to-face collaboration happens in planned meetings, but it can also be spontaneous as people sit around a lunch table or chat at their desks.

When to collaborate in-person?

If a particular conversation involves complicated discussions, it’s better to collaborate in real-time at the same location. Such discussions take a lot of time if done digitally, and you also run the risk of making bad decisions. There are countless email threads that spread over multiple days that could have been quickly fixed with a quick meeting.

In-person collaboration is also beneficial when you are working with people from other companies who don’t use the same digital tools you do.

2. Based on time of response

Synchronous collaboration

In synchronous collaboration, everyone participates at the same time. There is a continuous exchange of information and all the attention is on the discussion with no interruptions. Synchronous collaboration can be in the form of chat, video calls, or in person.

When to collaborate synchronously?

Use synchronous collaboration when you need to get the immediate attention of someone, or if want to hash something out. Some collaborative styles lend themselves to short bursts of time when everyone is contributing towards the same goal at the same time.

A common problem with this method is reduced productivity when overdone. People tend to get distracted from their current task by constant message notifications. To avoid it, enter into synchronous collaboration only by choice, and not by default. You shouldn’t expect everyone in your team to instantly drop what they are doing and respond. However, if it is scheduled, then it can be very effective.

Asynchronous collaboration

With asynchronous collaboration, workers can choose when to jump in and out of conversations. The information reaches the other person instantly, but there is no obligation to respond immediately. Asynchronous collaboration happens in the form of emails, news updates, status updates, and knowledge sharing.

When to collaborate asynchronously?

You can communicate asynchronously in situations when you don’t need the immediate attention of someone. It’s also helpful if you are discussing something that requires additional time to process and respond to. Asynchronous communication opens up the possibility of better communication across time zones as well.

3. Based on location

Co-located collaboration

Most employees in an organization are located at the same office. Having a live discussion with other people has its own advantages. You have more scope to speed up the task by having a detailed discussion.

The only drawback with this method is not having a record of the entire discussion to revisit later. It also encourages shadow communication.

How to collaborate with a co-located colleague?

To make collaborate better with someone near your desk, talk to them in person. You get their undivided attention resulting in a faster collaboration. But encouraging this too much can make your workspace very distracting.

Remote collaboration

Many organizations have offices in multiple geographical locations or even different floors in the same building. Sometimes, the same team is spread out in different countries for purposes like proximity to clients or flexible laws.

How to collaborate with remotely located colleagues?

To keep up with different work hours of different employees, you can effectively collaborate with a remote team by identifying the ideal work hours. When teams understand each other’s work routines, setting up meetings and having conversations are quick and easy.

Make your own recipe

Collaboration has changed a lot in the last two decades. Where it was once just what happened in a conference room, it’s now happening everywhere, all the time, and in lots of different apps.

Modern companies need to understand that they need new tools and new rules for how to use them. Each type of collaboration requires a different set of expectations and guidelines.

Let’s say that you introduce a messaging tool as the answer to all your collaboration challenges. The problem is that messaging tools are only great for times when you want to have digital, synchronous, and remote conversations. In situations where collaboration is better done in in-person, asynchronously, or co-located, a messaging app is actually a hindrance.

Most organizations use all the above types of collaboration either knowingly or unknowingly. But understanding the different types helps you choose smart collaboration software and be more productive by avoiding unnecessary distractions at the workplace.

What type of collaboration do you struggle with the most, and what’s the right tool for you?

Related Resources


Definitive Guide To Collaboration Software | 15 Benefits of Collaboration Software | Best Collaboration Software 2020 |