Collaborating Virtually Online and Offline

Several weeks ago, I participated in a series of work sessions with a client which was conducted over a live video platform. The group included people from Europe, Asia, and North America on the same call. 

As we progressed, I often felt sorry for the participants from Asia. The calls were scheduled during normal business hours for the rest of us, but it was roughly 1:00 in the morning for these team members. As a result, they simply were not very effective. They sat exhausted with his eyes watering, struggling to stay awake. Unfortunately for them, the meetings were held when most of the key players were available at the U.S. headquarters and in the European offices, so our colleagues from Asia had to work through a late evening four-hour work session!

We were using a digital collaboration platform so everyone could contribute their thoughts and ideas while we were working together. Not surprisingly our colleagues from Asia were quite passive during the work sessions because of the significant time zone difference. 

Yet despite that, they found a way to make significant contributions. Sometimes we would wake up the next day, look at the shared whiteboard offline, and find that the team in Asia had been working while we were sleeping. We often noticed that they had returned to the tool offline and added more suggestions at a time of day when they were clearly more awake and alert. 

This experience emphasized the power a digital collaboration platform can provide when people are working in an asynchronous environment. A platform that is available 24/7 can:

  • Allow people to participate on their own schedule. They can work and contribute whenever an idea strikes them, regardless of whether the rest of the team is present. 
  • Help people deal with extreme time zone differences. In the case above, our Asian colleagues were not their best selves during the scheduled meetings. However, they were able to contribute off-hours when they were more clear, fresh, and capable.
  • Enable team members to revisit ideas after work sessions end. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, a suggestion seems to make a lot of sense. Everyone might nod their heads, agree, and move on. However, once they sleep on it, they may view the solution more skeptically the next day.
  • Preserve ideas for future discussion. Digital collaboration platforms allow each member to put down ideas for the team to consider real time or if needed at a later time. Rather than trying to remember everything you want to cover in a meeting, you can put it out down in writing up front or offline and revisit your contributions in an upcoming work session.

These are just some of the ways a digital collaboration platform can help us to not only work more effectively when we come together, but also provide avenues for people to contribute when they are not meeting. Capturing our ideas in a shared space and gathering input at any time creates a more effective process.

Earlier this year, as we neared completion of another virtual group initiative, the team members agreed we made some important strides. We suggested that if anyone had additional thoughts before we met again, they should come to the platform offline and add notes to our shared whiteboard. Several people did access the platform while we were offline. They used virtual sticky notes to add comments such as, “I feel like we haven’t explored this” or, “We need to think about this particular issue a little bit differently.” 

Making those offline contributions added a rich dimension to the work. We were no longer in a virtual room together, yet we had allowed people added time to let the conversations soak in, to give it further thought, and to respond. People took advantage of the opportunity to contribute offline, providing a helpful addition to the online collaborative process. 

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