Collaboration Ain’t For Children: 7 Ways To Manage Online Work Efficiently
April 24, 2013
This is a guest post by Pratik Dholakiya, Director of SEO & VP of Marketing at E2M Solutions.
Collaboration is the essence of business: it ties resources together, it allows for shared workflow, and it’s the secret of efficient business processes. If businesses thrive on people resources, it’s the collaborative work environments that actually spin the wheels of fortunes that some businesses amass. The Internet just catapulted may business processes online and that ushers in a new era of business management: Online projects and online resource management.
Is that any different from traditional work management? Does it require a new set of skills? Let’s find out:
Meeting people no more - Working with teams online is a departure from the normal ways of working. It so happens that are no more people to meet, no long meetings, and absolutely no body language signals to decipher real intent or to read between the lines. In workflows that barely go beyond emails, instant messages, and Skype calls, there’s not much for you to base your decisions on. That’s one of the most difficult things to get used to while working with teams or managing remote workers online.
Since you don’t depend on in-person meetings and have any real interactions with people, you’d then have to learn a new set of skills altogether: getting to know people from their written forms of communication, ability to judge character and working styles remotely, even gauge moods online.
Get used to the ways of the Internet - Working on the Internet is quirky, at times. While it’s not too different from real work scenarios, working with teams online will require you to take several factors into account such as time zones, cultural differences, language differences, varying work ethics, and other such factors. All this is in addition to the usual human factors such as different personalities, efficiency levels, attitudes, and behavioral styles.
Managing people while they are present, in person, is already one of the most challenging aspects of running a business. Now, try to do that online without ever meeting some of your team members, ever.
Plan ahead, as much as you can - In business, you can wing it. You can get lucky, and you can work as you go. That isn’t exactly management, though. Planning is essential for managing work — online or offline. When you don’t plan, but work anyway, you are improvising. You can be lucky and hit gold with improvisation too, but it won’t make you an efficient manager or a business owner.
As for most things in life and management, planning ahead brings a great amount of efficiency into your business processes. If you were hiring remotely located freelance developers or writers, for instance, it helps to plan out work in advance and decide exactly what kind of work you expect them to deliver. If it’s a long-term project, how do deliverables pan out over time? Who is expected to deliver what? When tasks are created within a project, who holds primary responsibility for these tasks to be completed?
Planning helps you to get specific, which leads us to the next point…
Get specific to achieve results - Since most of the work delivered by virtual teams happens online, managers or business owners have to be specific about what they need. For instance, it’s not enough to hire a remote worker or even a local resource who is going to telecommute online and give out vague work descriptions or project briefings. For instance, project briefings such as “Managing our websites online”, or “Write content for our blog, produce reports, and work with us to deliver content on ad hoc requirements”, is not going to cut it.
Manage upkeep of our websites (8 in total): includes website maintenance, tweaking code, regular checks for bugs, code updates, phased rollouts of new updates, etc. Expected work is for about 4 hours a day, Monday to Friday. The total duration of the project is at least 6 months.
Content development project: 3 blog posts a week, every week. At least one free report each month. One whitepaper every 3 months. 2 hours of social media management, Monday to Friday. Finally, respond to comments on our blog (minimum 10 comments per week).
Without specifying deliverables, almost no work gets done online. While “being specific” is also a best practice when it comes to traditional management, it holds more importance when working online.
Everything must go online for “online work management” - Once you saunter into the realm of online collaboration and virtual management, anything “local” loses value. Hard disk drives, local servers, and sheaves of papers are passé. Going paperless isn’t fancy anymore; it’s mandatory.
To make online project management happen, you’ll primary go online and house your business in the virtual world. For instance, you’d use online project management tools, online file sharing (either the likes of Google Docs or from within your chosen project management tools), virtual meeting platforms, video calling and VoIP, online payments or invoicing, etc.
Online collaboration works on the principle of margin - Online work with remote teams — much like working with teams anywhere — has unexpected outcomes. You’d, for instance, not hear from a remote staff member. Perhaps a natural disaster stuck the geographic precinct of a few of your remote workers, or maybe there’s been a temporary glitch with Internet connections.
Any such hiccups with remote workers (or with a hiccup on your end) can sometimes lead to project failure. Working with margins help you take unexpected contingencies into account. Deadlines — the ones that you promise your client or the ones that your remote staff promise you — should have margins built-in. Give yourself room for any one or more of factors that can set your expected outcomes to derail.
Have backups for everything - Did you ever lose important files? For businesses, individuals, and most others who depend on the Internet for work, losing files is akin to losing money. Don’t let the pain manifest itself “after” disaster strikes. Trust no one with files that are important to you. Most project management tools do have redundant servers and this will always keep your data on the cloud. While vendors do promise security, you are not to take anything for granted. Use a double backup or even a three-layer backup plan for your important files.
The first layer in a 3-layer backup is your local computer and/or server hard drive. The second layer would be the cloud-based backup that your project management tool provides for you. The third-layer would be a manual backup with another cloud-based online storage solution. Since most of the online storage and backup services can be automated and configured, there are really no more excuses to make.
How do you run and manage your online projects? What’s your modus operandi? Would you like to share some insights related to online project management? We’d love to learn about your way of getting things done with online projects. Go ahead and comment on this post below.
About the Author:
Pratik Dholakiya is Director of SEO & VP of Marketing at E2M Solutions, a full service internet marketing and SEO consulting company. He is a serial guest blogger and so far has contributed in Search Engine Journal, SEOmoz, CopyBlogger and many others. He also writes at E2M Solutions blog. Follow him on Twitter @DholakiyaPratik.