Collaboration tools
May 11, 2020

How to improve your workflow with digital collaboration tools

By Simon Daniels

Working online from home can be a lonely existence without digital collaboration tools to help you still work with others. But many teams are finding that this requires more thought than just signing up for a free trial.

So, to help us review both which digital collaboration tools to consider and how they can improve your workflow, welcome back to Simon Daniels. You may recall that Simon is a Marketing Operations leader who helps others navigate the world of marketing technology.

Simon has shared with us before on topics including shiny object syndrome & working from home. Now, he will build on that advice, with this review of the need for effective use of digital collaboration tools in your teams’ workflow. Over to Simon…

A Cambrian explosion in Digitisation

Much has been spoken and written during the current crisis on the rapid changes that many organisations and individuals have had to make. Changes to their working practise as a result of lockdown and remote working.

Those include some great contributions to this very blog, which I would highly recommend taking a look at if you haven’t already, covering distance leadershipworking from homeonline workshoping and innovating whilst socially isolated.

Part of this narrative also includes the notion that the situation in which we find ourselves is driving a Cambrian explosion in digitalisation that might otherwise have taken years to achieve. Various memes and other witty observations have been circulating in this vein, not least this pointed contribution from Marketoonist Tom Fishburne that sums it up very neatly.

Digital Transformation cartoon | Marketoonist | Tom Fishburne

There’s a funny image circulating right now of a survey that asks, “Who led the digital transformation of your company? A) CEO B) CTO C) COVID-19.” COVID-19 is circled. COVID-19 is accelerating digital transformation at many companies, knocking through long-standing resistance and silos.

Adam Sharp, CEO of marketing technology consultancy Clevertouch, has even suggested that the two biggest recent impetuses for innovation in marketing have been GDPR and the coronavirus. Harsh but probably true.

Adjusting the way we work

Much of the advice on remote working (including my own humble contribution here) centres on advice such as regular “stand-ups”. The importance of creating the right working environment, adopting good habits and more.

A further area of recommendation that I would add though revolves around workflow and collaboration management. This is all the more crucial in a remote environment.

When the normal face to face and serendipitous interactions that normally fuel progress on a daily basis can’t happen, something needs to make up for their absence. This is where a new, or at least newly prominent, class of cloud solution for managing team collaboration can play a part.

Digital Collaboration tools for teams

While this post isn’t intended to be a review of these solutions, here are a few examples that fit into this space:

Like any software category, each of these tools has their individual strengths and approaches and so it’s important to evaluate them against your own requirements. Most offer free trials or evaluation periods and some have a free entry-level version, making them easy to try out.

Improving your team workflow

Returning to the theme of how you work. At their heart, all of these tools offer a purpose-built environment for workflow management:

  • Task logging – capture individual actions to be undertaken, usually grouped into projects and with sub-tasks where necessary
  • Assignment – clearly indicate who is responsible for completing a task together with others who have an interest in it
  • Timing – tasks are given due dates so that next actions are easy to identify and progress can be tracked
  • Status tracking – as tasks are assigned and work commences, the status can be updated to indicate progress and completion
  • Communications – all updates, queries and related information is held against each task, making it easy to keep everything together in one place

Clearly it is possible to achieve all this with spreadsheets, emails, file sharing and so on. As everyone will have experienced though, anything more than the simplest tasks soon dissolves into a blizzard of email threads and document updates. In that blizzard, you can’t be sure where the current version is located nor what’s the latest status.

My particular bugbear is email threads that end up encompassing multiple disparate items being progressed or worse turn into a discussion on a topic unrelated to the original subject line. 

Now is the time to adopt & learn

Workflow tools mitigate against this and a multitude of other issues by keeping tasks and related messaging and materials separate and focussed. Used properly (and that certainly takes some effort in terms of adopting agreed, robust and consistent working practices) they make collaborating across remote teams much more efficient and effective.

The point though is that teams should be using these tools regardless of their physical proximity. Workgroups distributed across sites or geographies will particularly benefit. This is where we can find the silver lining in the current situation; as the adage goes, never waste a good crisis. Adopt these tools while they are especially needed and commit to sticking with them afterwards to advance your digital transformation.

Many thanks for that encouragement Simon & I’m sure readers will find your advice helpful. If any reader has adopted one of these solutions successfully & would like to share their experience, I’d love to hear from you.

Let’s all keep learning & improving together.