A lot of managers complain that they don’t have the tools their remote teams need in order to collaborate effectively. Others say there are too darned many gizmos for everyone to make sense of and use well. Exactly how many collaboration tools are out there, and how many does a team really need to get their work done efficiently and productively?
Truth is, there’s no exact “right number.” It all depends on the work your team does, how many people there are, how far apart they are, and their comfort with technology and with each other. However, we do know a couple of things:
- There are way more tools on the market than anyone can possibly assess or adopt, and
- It really doesn’t seem to matter much, because 80% of people use only 20% of the features of the tools they have. Chances are they have what they need, if they’d just use what they’ve got.
Just as an example, I saw competitive analysis recently where there were over 120 different applications out there that do essentially online meetings. These are the WebEx, Skype for Business, GoToMeeting type of products. While there’s been some consolidation in the industry, the one thing teams don’t suffer from is an excuse for not having SOMETHING.
The same is true of collaboration tools like Slack, Yammer, Trello, Mindfire….and about 30 others that you’ve probably never heard of as well.
Then there are project management tools ranging from the simple (Google Docs) to basic (Basecamp) to the incredibly complex. Depending on the work you do, you might work from a spreadsheet, or need a full blown software implementation.
The important thing to remember, then, is not the exact number of tools you need. It’s to think about the work your team does, the information that cries out to be shared and stored, and what your people need to create good working relationships.
Essentially every team needs a combination of:
- Web cam capability (don’t look at me like that, you know it’s true.) This matters and you’re running out of excuses.
- A webmeeting application that’s easy to schedule on the fly. Preferably it has additional tools like white boards, integrated chat, polling and remote control capability. By the way, that’s 90% of the tools out there. Just pick one and work the heck out of it.
- Some system for sharing, locating and storing files in an accessible and logical way. The sophistication of the tool depends on your team’s work, but everyone needs to agree on the functionality and know how to use it. Then they need to be accountable to their teammates for using it well.
- An instant messaging tool that allows for file transfer and fast connections for audio and video. Again, no shortage of them out there.
If you go down that list, you might think: “we’ve got all those, but we’re still not communicating the way we should.” If that’s the case, take a look at the tools you already have. Do they have the capabilities we’ve listed? Are your people using these capabilities? Is that a training problem (do they not know how to use them?), an attitude problem (they know how, they just can’t be bothered or don’t want to), or a workflow issue (the way they work makes these tools illogical, inconvenient or a pain.) Those are all very different challenges—with different solutions—than “we don’t have the tools.”
So how may tools does your team need? It might be half a dozen, it might be one. But you have to use it, maximize it, and get agreement from team that they’ll use the tool(s). Then assess things periodically to see if this is the right solution and make changes and adjustments as necessary – what worked then might not work now.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to think about technology with your team, check out our program, How to Create and Manage Remote Teams.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. You can pre-order Kevin and Wayne’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, now.