Collaboration tips in the workplace

Opinionated list of collaboration tips in the workplace!

Calendar sharing

In a remote environment, it can help your teammates to know where you are located or what meetings you are attending. At a minimum, your teammates should know whether or not you are available at a specific day/time.

What to do:

  • Block your calendar when you are busy. It doesn’t have to be a meeting: for example, I block my calendar for an hour every month to enter invoices.
  • Share your calendar with relevant teammates. Default is to share free/busy information, but you can share more if you want. For example: it might be useful for teammates to know you are at a personal appointment or if you are doing something that could be rescheduled (like my invoices example).
  • Keep your calendar up-to-date.
  • Mark yourself as out of office when you are out of office.
  • Set your “working hours” based on your time zone and work schedule.

Think of it this way: your calender is a communication tool, not a personal tool.

Never send email attachments

Email attachments are generally speaking out of date the moment they are sent. Email attachments do not allow multiple people to edit a document at the same time. Co-authoring (multiple people editing a document at once) is a key functionality for a collaborative environment.

What to do:

  • Save your documents in SharePoint.
  • Send a link to the document.
  • Helpful: write out the location in SharePoint. For example: “Here is the link: {link here} which can be found in Staff Resource > General > Onboarding > How To Connect.docx.

Use “track changes” and comments

When working asychronously1 (“async”), it’s important to know who did what. It’s difficult to collaborate when you don’t know what your collaborators are doing.

What to do:

  • When editing a document, turn on “track changes”.
  • When making a comment, use the comment tool. If the comment requires someone’s attention, tag them with an @.
  • Delete and accept/reject changes when finalizing the document.

Set communication expectations

When collaborating, especially asychronously, it can be very frustrating when you expect someone to reply quickly and they don’t. Likewise, it can be very frustrating when someone asks for an unrealisticly quick response.

What to do:

  • Use the calendar to communicate your availability (see above).
  • Set basic rules for your department. Keep it simple and focus on common use cases.

Example departmental communication plan

  • “Our core department hours are 10am-2pm Monday through Friday.”
  • “We expect emails we send within the team during core hours to be read within one business day.”
  • “If we need an urgent response, we will send a text message or call your mobile phone.”
  • “We use Teams chat for ad-hoc discussions, a modern replacement for ‘popping my head in to your office’.”
  • “We will schedule meetings via Teams audio/video when we have to all be in the same (virtual) place at the same time.”
  • “We will schedule in-person meetings when we all have to be in the same physical place at the same time.”
  • “We do not expect our teammates to check email, chat, or text outside of their individual business hours.”

Write it down!

Async means we’re not working at the same time, so it’s important to write things down in a way that allows everyone to consume the information when they are working.

What to do:

  • Write an agenda for every meeting and send it in advance. This allows people to prepare for the meeting on their own time. For example, a noon meeting Eastern is a 9am meeting Pacific - sending the agenda at 9am Eastern gives the East Coasters time to prepare, but not the Pacific team.
  • Have meetings in writing! You can have ad-hoc meetings in Teams chat. This way, if someone is not able to attend the meeting, they can read it later.
  • If writing it down isn’t practical or inefficient (many things are better communicated verbally and with video), record the meeting.

Make it easy for other people to find files

Async/remote work inevitably means someone needs to access a file you created, or you need to access a file someone else created, when the other person isn’t availble. Making files easy to find is key to collaboration.

What to do:

  • Agree on basic naming conventions within your team. Are you sorting files as /2022/Annual Meeting/Floor Plans/floorplans.xlsx or as Annual Meetings/2022/floorplans.xlsx? How about /Floor Plans/2022/annual meeting.xlsx? Pick one.
  • Delete files that you don’t need! With version control (in, for instance, SharePoint Online) you don’t need to keep a million _DRAFT / _FINAL / _FINAL_REAL. But more importantly, you don’t need to keep old and out of data information. Keeping old information around makes it difficult for people to find the current information.
  • Use key words in file names to help searching.

  1. asynchronous work means that the work doesn’t require all teammates to be logged in at the same time to complete the task. Work can be done at any time regardless of time zone and of other teammates’ availability. ↩︎