Tomorrow I am going to the TRaD* Works Forum 2017 to participate in a panel discussion on Selecting and Optimizing Virtual Work Tools & Platforms. I was pleased to be invited and surprised at the topic I would be speaking to. I started thinking about all the different tools I have tried over the years – Slack, Drop Box, Base Camp, Evernote and several others I can’t remember. But here’s the thing – for me, personally? I love my old tools: Windows 2007 (yes, I hired a teenager to set my new computer up with this), Outlook, and Skype.

I still remember the day they hid the print option in the “Office Button” in the upper right hand corner! My husband found me curled up in a corner of my office rocking and mumbling. “I can’t print, I can’t print!”  As you can see, for me, change is hard when it comes to technology.

So how can I bring value to a discussion on virtual work tools and platforms? My plan is to speak to the behaviors around technology and how teams can work together to create collaboration processes that meet the different needs of each team member. That doesn’t mean everyone does it differently; it means coming to an agreement about what will work best and creating new habits around those decisions.

Have you ever seen someone else’s outlook mail folders? Some people have lots of sub folders, some have sub, sub folders, and some people just keep everything in the in box. Each one seems to be as unique as the individual. I don’t care what anyone says about email, it’s not going away tomorrow or even next year, so embrace it! Remember when the world was going to be paperless by now? It will happen, but like all good things, it is just taking a lot of time.

So, to use technology as an enabler, we people need to decide what tools are available today, what tools do we use well and what tools are out there that might bring value to how our team operates. I recommend the following process for teams to get aligned on how they collaborate:

  1. Audit how you currently come together. Is it mostly though email? Conference calls? Group calls where you are sharing screens and materials? Track this over the period of one week and then have the team discuss the practices. What is most effective? What is easiest? What caused confusion or misunderstanding?
  2. From this discussion decide on the tools that bring the most value. Create a plan around how the team will use them going forward. Maybe you found that people were using email way too much. Decide that if it is a quick question you all will use instant message. Maybe you discovered that everyone was muting their phone during conference calls over 30 minutes and multi-tasking. Decide that for calls longer than 30 minutes you would all use WebEx and have a white board up and running for people to share ideas, or someone would be taking notes during the meeting and focus everyone visually – something to make the meeting more engaging.
  3. Turn your decisions in to habits. It doesn’t matter what tools you pick if you don’t all commit to use them in the manner that you have agreed to. I was working with a team that was moving to Salesforce. In the past, they had been using their own version of a CRM. When Salesforce launched, only half of the team made the move. The outcome was a divided team that was less effective than before the new tool was available. This is just one example of a failure to turn agreed upon plans into habits.
  4. Keep on eye on future technologies. Every year there are new technologies to learn about and experiment with. Whether a new technology in being implemented across an enterprise or something interesting comes up that you and your team would like to try, keep your finger on the pulse of this ever-changing technology landscape. To do this proactively, I recommend teams select a “technology ambassador”. Someone who is really interested and willing to test the tools that are available to your team. Set aside a time each month to get an update from your “technology ambassador” to understand what new tools are available or being mandated, how they can be used and if, as a team, you want to implement them into your collaboration practice.

Each of us comes with our own set of habits and behaviors, it’s what makes us unique and lovable. Recognizing this and talking about it as a team will help us understand and appreciate each other and the different skills we bring to the workplace. Starting here, with understanding each other, and then moving forward, together, will help teams build a foundation for collaboration that will work today and into the future.

The next SMART Workplace blog post is the 5th in our series of 5 Lessons Learned from Early Adopters of Flex/Virtual Work. Organizations Have Resources Available, but They’re Underutilized. We’ll talk about how competing demands and workload issues are causing time famine for many teams. Even when there is a directive, managers and employees believe this is just one more “thing” to get done, one more box to check. This final blog will outline how to integrate mobility and flexibility into existing systems so these tools and processes become embedded into the culture.

If you find you can’t wait for the next blog to come out, we invite you to participate in our SMART Workplace Manager Kickstart Workshop! Many of the lessons we have been highlighting in this series are reviewed in this quick course. If you’re ready to go a bit deeper, also take our course on The Powerful Role of the Virtual Leader. You can complete the course in less than 45 minutes, and it includes a virtual leadership self-assessment.