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How Collaboration Tools Should Work: A Case Study

It's easy to get overwhelmed by all the technology and hoopla around team technology. Let me state once and for all: none of it matters if your team won't use it or it doesn't help drive your business. Still, not everyone sees the possibilities so I thought I'd share a case study with you of how a real company uses real tools.

Laura Monroe is the busy brains behind Creative Agent Solutions, where she overseas a whole operation that works virtually. In fact, they supply virtual assistants to the Real Estate business. Imagine the workload- project management, scheduling and tracking, selling to her clients and making sure all of her contractors and customers can reach her-- and it's all done remotely.

Naturally, she needs the tools to do this and so she's chosen Glasscubes, which is designed especially for telecommuters. (This is not an endorsement of any particular tool, by the way, although they do get points for their name being comprised of proper English words, spelled more or less correctly). There are plenty ofother tools out there she could use ranging from Google Apps to Basecamp to CubeTree, WizeHive and SocialText and dozens more. The point isn't what she uses so much as how she uses it.

As a small business owner, she works with customers and internal folks. She needs a program that allows her to place all the information at her fingertips as well as allow others to access critical information when they need it. She needs a calendar tool, a scheduling tool that can be shared, a way to instantly communicate with team members and a way to share documents and other information. For her, Glasscubes provides a clean, user-friendly way to add information , add users and update information so it works.

That ease of use is critical with any tool if you're going to get people, especially contractors and customers that you can't verbally threaten like real employees,to use it. What works for one person won't necessarily work for everyone. Remember, one person's "ease of use" is another person's nightmare so try them out with your team before committing.

Laura has some advice for those who really want to collaborate and not just geek out. "Collaboration takes time: it takes time to plan, implement and execute. The last thing remote managers need is a time consuming tool that takes even more time to learn, add information to and then teach other users the "new system" (words that send chills up most thinking peoples' spines..)

Here are some of Laura's tips for using collaboration tools effectively, whether it's with employees, contractors or customers:

  • Consider work styles and communication barriers when working remotely. Engineers have different ways of thinking and working than HR folks (to say the very least).
  • Having a single tool for everyone to use creates a feeling of teamwork and builds cohesive groups. Not only is everyone literally on the same page, but there is a common language for sharing information,solving problems and getting answers in a hurry.
  • Make sure everyone really knows how to use the tools. Telling them once won't do it...coaching is part of the game.
  • Remember that the rules of social interaction that would apply live, apply online as well. These are people and the tools you use should reflect that.
The experience of Creative Agent Solutions has been positive. They found a tool that fits their workstyle, had very little learning curve and then they make it part of the way they work every day, just the way this is supposed to work. Nice work, Laura.

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photo by flickr user the italian voice CC 2.0
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