It’s getting easier to work from anywhere now. Cloud services, VPNs, Skype; communicating with a team built from around the world is now achievable.
Collaborating over great distances can cause problems, however, and become a very inefficient way to work if you don’t set up a good system to ensure work flows are maintained and information isn’t lost.
There’s a couple of basic things you can do to make collaborating across the country and the world a productive and effective way to work together.
1) Make heavy use of presence technology.
One of the things that is hard to replace when working in disparate locations is a fluid communications environment. In other words, it can be difficult to have snap meetings and discussions, and it’s those spur-of-the-moment conversations where some of the most creative ideas emerge in a conventional office environment.
So make heavy use of presence solutions in order to be able to see immediately if co-workers are at their desks, and if they’re online, how available they are for a snap discussion. This ability to federate presence technology with people that are not on your network is also possible – which makes collaborating with suppliers, customers and any other business critical contact much easier.
2) Screen sharing and document sharing are the collaborator’s friends.
Most productivity solutions now allow document sharing, if not screen sharing, and this simple feature is a massive boon to groups working across states or oceans. Being able to see the edits that your co-workers are making to a project in real time helps keep everyone on the proverbial same page, ensuring the work is efficient and effective.
Collaboration can open up all kinds of opportunities that wouldn’t be there otherwise, but it does require careful planning to ensure that the team is as productive and as effective as they would in a conventional team environment.
3) Avoid extreme times for meetings.
The most obvious of all, but one that is often forgotten; what is a reasonable time for you isn’t necessarily a reasonable time for the person you’re working with. Once I was asked to attend a meeting on Christmas Eve. “Fair enough,” I thought. “I’ll get it done in the morning and then head home to enjoy a good family dinner.”
The problem was that the meeting request came through, and it was for a reasonable time of morning for the person I was collaborating with, but turned out to be 8 PM Christmas Eve in my time. Obviously a bit of respect for other people’s time zones will go a long way in making sure that there isn’t resentment around the collaborative process.
This applies to conference calls too. While it can be difficult to find a time (especially if the team is split between three different locations) you don’t want people working off-shift too often.
4) Be meticulous with record keeping.
One of the most common things that will go wrong when collaborating across disparate locations is that a project will be decided on, and then both people will start to execute it, only to find out hours or days later that they’ve been doing the same job. It’s critical to be clear about the division of roles and projects, and keep a clear line of documentation so that everyone knows what everyone else is up to.