We all are aware of the ways in which our lives are affected by modern technology. However, many small business owners may not yet be taking advantage of the incredible value available in modern collaboration tools. As you work, you may have partnerships or vendor relationships with a wide variety of stakeholders, as well as any employees or contractors who work with you. These tools give you an unprecedented ability to communicate, collaborate, and cooperate remotely and in real time.
Integrating Modern Collaboration Tools: 3 Easy Steps
Step 1: Pick an Instant Messaging System
While email will probably continue to be one of the most useful forms of instant communication, its omnipresence means that few people can rapidly respond to an email reliably. If you work with others in your small business and are in need of quick, simple answers at times, systems like Slack allow you to clearly organize different “channels” for communicating with a large group, a sub-group, or another individual. The standard practice is to send one-line, quick-question sorts of queries, and people use a status switch to show you whether they are around to respond right now or are unavailable.
When you are in the quick-pace world of a small business, it is sometimes important to cut through the dozens of unread messages in an email inbox and get a single answer to a linchpin question. Work with your employees, contractors, or frequent-communication clients to set up standards for when Slack or another instant message platform is appropriate, and when you’re more likely to use email. You’d be amazed by how much productivity you can generate by carefully using instant messages for urgent needs during the workday and email for more complex requests. Always keep the phone in the mix for things that simply need a conversation as well, but this popular collaboration tool can really add a new facet to at-work collaboration.
Step 2: Choose a Document Sharing System
Whether you move into the OneDrive universe or the Google Drive universe, or you sync your systems using Dropbox or another system, document sharing is a core part of modern business. When you need to collaborate on contracts, website copy, budgets, or other documents, use one of these software solutions to make it possible to constantly update your documents, even if multiple people are making changes.
Google Documents, for instance, allows you to visit the “version history” of your document. In this tab, you can view each version of the document, as well as which Google Account was used to edit it, and that can really help with understanding the lifecycle of documents if you are working with multiple other people to produce your final document.
Sharing finished documents is essential as well, even if your collaborative efforts aren’t an endeavor to create the document itself. Rather, a good document sharing system will allow you to help clients, vendors, and anyone you work with to stay in the loop and informed. The more clearly you communicate, the more professional you seem, and that can create a major source of positive reputation.
Step 3: Organize Your Workflows in a Project Management System
Perhaps you are through the difficult first months or even the first year of your business. At this point, you know you are onto something, but you may not be sure how to continue increasing your profit margin and creating a high value for your customers. One way to make sure there are no breaks in your process is to organize your workflows in a project management system.
Programs online like Trello and Asana give you a collaborative, organized “to-do list” with features that help multiple team members at your business each move projects along at a steady clip. In Trello, for instance, you can create different headings for different stages of the process, so that your designer or QA person will immediately be able to see any work that has arrived at his or her “stage of the process.” They can then expedite getting that work out to the next person who needs to contribute to it.
While these software products often get people working very quickly anyway, if you have any slowdowns in the workflow, you’ll know exactly where they are happening, since all the team members can see how all projects move through the system. You can implement clear due dates or have strategy meetings for making the work progress better and faster, now that you have this information about where the breaks in the system actually are.
Step 4: Tweak Workflows and Communication Pathways For Optimal Results
Not every business will experience the same results from these implementations. The key step, once you’ve tried each of these products or other programs like them, is to evaluate what is working for you. You’ll find one of three scenarios to be true:
- The new software is working great and helping you achieve your business goals.
- You aren’t quite achieving the collaboration you want, but it doesn’t seem to hurt to have the software.
- The software is definitely not the right choice for you and your team, and something needs to change.
Don’t be afraid of learning that something isn’t working: that information is valuable! By discovering that one of these systems doesn’t work for you, you can explore both software-related and people-related reasons why that might be the case. The software might be a “free version” that cuts you off quickly and stops functioning, or your team might be actively resisting using the instant messaging system you’ve created. Either way, set about finding and solving the problem.
On the other hand, even a functional solution can get more sophisticated. Maybe you start with one or two of your typical workflows integrated into Asana or Trello, but when you see their success, you start adding more workflows so that everyone’s work tasks are accounted for in the system. If something is working, look at ways to make it continue to work, or work even better, over time.