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Using Collaboration Tools to Transform Communication Within Your Teams

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Using Collaboration Tools to Transform Communication Within Your Teams
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Using Collaboration Tools to Transform Communication Within Your Teams

Communication is the bedrock of successful teamwork. However, it’s not as straightforward as giving employees instant messaging tools or scheduling lots of tasks on a pretty Kanban board. Communication is a culture as much as an action.

We all know this from experience. The teams with the best communication almost always get the best results, regardless of the circumstances, obstacles or the type of project. So what are the foundations of effective team communication? And more importantly, what are the specific aspects of communication which collaboration tools can measurably improve?

Well, in this article we explore both of these questions in great detail. Let’s dive in.

Effective team communication

What does effective team communication look like?

For a start, it’s essential to understand how other members of the team prefer to communicate. For example, some people only check emails and messages a couple of times per day, during specific windows; if you have an urgent problem outside this window, you know that calling them is the best approach.

Another foundation is transparency and honesty. Successful teams allow their members to admit when they’re wrong or if they’ve made a mistake. Everyone understands this isn’t about blame culture or pointing fingers—it’s about rectifying the problem as soon as possible and progressing forward. Same thing for asking “stupid” questions—successful teams know it’s far more important to clarify uncertainties than hold them in

Teams should also be comfortable having non-work (or “sideline”) conversations. Having an informal relationship doesn’t mean being best buds. It just means that once you’re generally comfortable in each other’s presence, you’re naturally going to have easier conversations in the workplace too.

Collaboration tools enhance your existing communication

Collaboration tools enhance your existing communication

It’s common for companies to think of collaboration tools as one of the keys to effective communication, but that’s not totally right. It’s still possible to communicate in complex teams without the latest digital tools, which some companies still do.

But there’s also a reason that most companies have transitioned to multi-purpose collaboration tools: it supercharges everything. If your team has fundamentally awful communication practices then shiny new tools might not help. But if your foundations are solid, then collaboration tools will elevate your communications—and the massive business benefits that stem from great communications—to a whole new level.

We’ve identified 4 key areas where collaboration tools can have massive impact on communication within virtually any company:

  1. Conversations
  2. Conflicts
  3. Transparency
  4. File access

Faster and clearer conversations

#1 Faster and clearer conversations

Email is still the dominant “messaging” tool of choice for most knowledge workers. It’s simple and virtually everyone—either publicly or privately—has an email address and knows how to use it.

But if you ask your colleagues what aspect of their job is the most time-consuming or irritating, or what’s the task they put off like the plague…email almost always comes in at #1. Collaboration tools like Teamly introduce instant messaging which teams can use as a direct replacement for most (if not all) email communication. Here’s why.

Because it is faster

It’s an obvious point but we need to make it: exchanging a dozen instant messages can take less than a minute and result in several decisions being made or uncertainties resolved. The same communication via email (or worse, an unnecessary scheduled meeting…) takes much longer.

When if you’re not responding to messages straight away, there is no downside to a faster means of transmission.

Relevant communications only

Emails overload our brains because they’re just too much. Most employees have a “maximalist” approach to email: we CC everyone that might benefit from reading the message, rather than those that definitely need to hear it—and no one else.

This is easier with instant messaging because you can send individual messages or create sub-groups for specific announcements or updates. And once those updates are no longer relevant, you can archive them.

Instant messaging is inherently more concise

Even within a small team that’s communicating all day every day, emails often can be exhaustingly long. The addition of greetings to every reply (“Hi Lauren, I hope that you are well.”) and the unusually formal language make writing (and deciphering) emails a chore.

Worse, there’s an indirectness that seems embedded into email communication. Rather than crisp, to-the-point questions or statements, we all seem to beat about the bush significantly. This problem is compounded when lengthy email chains take root: not only are they painful to read and mentally re-organize, but it can be hard to figure out what everyone actually wants. Life with instant messaging couldn’t be more different.

Instant messaging is designed to look and feel like a human conversation. Users don’t feel the need to “introduce” each message with a meaningless greeting. Instead, they are concise: partial sentences and emojis replace long-winded paragraphs and stuffy language. If a team member misses a long conversation, they can quickly scan through since it’s easier to read than email chains—at least, it is with Teamly!

Fewer conflicts and faster resolution

#2 Fewer conflicts and faster resolution

Two serious time-sinks with teams in any industry are:

  • Trying to find missing emails or documents which contain useful information.
  • Uncertainty over exactly what was said, done, or shared in the past.

Well digital collaboration tools resolve both of these problems. Users can easily search through their instant messaging history, for example, and find past conversations and put them into context. This is significantly faster than through email, especially since users are prone to “decluttering” (aka deleting emails or storing them in obscure locations) on a regular basis.

Similarly, most instant messaging tools allow users to easily browse all historically shared files. This is even easier within a storage platform like Google Drive. If there’s a disagreement over milestones completed or work done, project management tools like Teamly allow users to sift through all historical files (including edits) to see exactly what happened and when.

While sometimes it happens silently, these minor conflicts can add up. Using collaborative tools keeps things fast and friendly.

Greater transparency

#3 Greater transparency

While it’s hard to collect quantitative data, there is no doubt that the introduction of digital collaboration tools—if well-managed—has a massively positive effect on employee morale and transparency of communication.

One of the beautiful things about most collaboration tools is that they break down barriers. Employees get to see more of the important conversations. They see the bigger picture and better understand their own role within projects, as well as the relative importance of certain deadlines and tasks.

Since access to files and folders is less restricted and easier to manage, more information becomes “public” and transparent within the team. More open communication leads to higher morale.

Video conferencing tools are especially powerful for improving morale and the willingness to participate among remote employees. There’s much more basis for “informal” chatter and a heightened sense of community, especially within geographically disparate teams.

Redundant communication is effectively eliminated

A side effect of increased transparency is the proportionate drop in redundant communications. By using a project scheduling tool, everyone knows what progress everyone else is making and when work is due. There’s therefore no need for constant backs-and-forths about progress updates and deadlines.

Similarly, a searchable message history means we never need to ask the same questions (or give the same explanations) multiple times, or even to multiple people—done once, the data is stored and readily accessible forever.

File access & sharing

#4 File access & sharing

The clue is in the name: collaboration tools. Google Docs and Microsoft 365 are by far the biggest names in any industry for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. They are also brilliant methods for storing and accessing files.

Platforms like this allow users to edit documents in real-time, reducing the complexity of collaboration. It’s night-and-day compared to the constant saving, re-naming and re-sharing of offline documents. Once more this minimizes redundant communications, since every stakeholder can see the real-time status of files and doesn’t need to request updates.

Perhaps best of all, you can easily control who has access to which files and moderate levels of access.

If you bring on a new team member, simply add their email to the system and they’re good to go. Team leaders can set the permissions for every member, depending on what level of access is required.

Another awesome feature of this kind of collaborative tool is searching files. When using Google Drive, for example, you can simply pop in some keywords to find your document—this can be the document name or keywords contained somewhere within the document.

So what’s the impact on communication? Communication breaks down when access to files is restricted:

  • “I can’t read this document until they give me access”
  • “This isn’t the latest version of the file”
  • “I emailed it to you—didn’t you see it?”
  • “Where is this file? I can’t find it anywhere!”

The use of high-quality collaboration tools eliminates these bottlenecks and allows projects to run more smoothly, with less blame game and messy communication between colleagues.

Conclusion

Throughout this article we’ve talked about various strengths of collaboration tools that have, generally, been around for a long time. Instant messaging, cloud storage, task scheduling, and so on.

While each of these can have a powerful impact on a team’s ability to improve communication, a unified platform is greater than the sum of its parts. Teamly is an all-in-one project management software that encompasses everything we’ve discussed in this article and more.

If your business is looking to use collaboration tools to transform team communication, then an all-in-one, fully-integrated platform like Teamly is the simplest and most effective way to go.

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