4 tips for building connected work teams with online collaboration tools

Anyone who has tried to manage a geographically dispersed work team knows how challenging it can be to keep the lines of communications open and efforts well-coordinated. Time zone differences delay communications, different communications styles cause misunderstandings, and activities are difficult to schedule. To complicate matters, it's not easy to make sure that everyone has the latest progress updates, project information and changes to customer requirements.

Too many companies are still relying on phone calls, emails and expensive on-site meetings to manage their team collaboration and keep projects on schedule. That's unfortunate when current technology can help build a connected work team and make long-distance collaboration so much simpler.

Here are four tips for using online collaboration tools to build connected work teams:

#1 Maintain one version of the truth

Many of the challenges in project management stem from individual team members not having the latest version of documents such as work orders, project status reports, or technical documentation. When team members don't have the latest information it's easy for them to spend time doing project-related activities that are no longer called for or that have already been done.

Tools like Microsoft SharePoint can allow you to maintain the latest versions of important project documentation, manage who can make changes to documents, and track those changes. There's never a question of who has the latest version when SharePoint is used effectively. Having documents stored centrally on SharePoint also helps make documents easily accessible to every member of the team.

#2 Schedule effectively

All project management teams need to hold meetings in order to be effective. The larger the team, the more difficult it can be to find a time that works for everyone. Companies using email to manage schedules will often send a round of emails asking everyone to send back the time that works best for them. It's the meeting manager's responsibility to sort through these emails and pick a time. This is a highly inefficient process, and by the time everyone had responded to the request, it's likely that many schedules have changed. The scheduling process begins again, or the meeting proceeds with critical team members absent.

You can avoid the inefficiencies and irritations of scheduling meetings by making sure your team members understand how to share their Outlook Calendar. This will help the meeting manager schedule meetings at a time when those who absolutely must attend are available.

#3 Hold effective online meetings

Meetings can be made even more effective by using tools like Microsoft Live Meeting that allow the team to share documents and presentations related to the status of the project. Running presentations online helps engage team members in the discussion and ensure that every team member is focused on the matter at hand and not skipping ahead.

#4 Increase accessibility

When a team member needs to contact another about a project detail, emails and phone calls are the traditional route. But emails are too easy to ignore or overlook, and a phone call often results in a lengthy game of phone tag. Newer technologies such as text messaging can be used, but if the other party doesn't respond, you're left to wonder if the text was ever received.

For simpler projects and every day team work, easy to use tools like Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online can make sure everyone has visibility into project status and customer requirements.

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