As social animals, teamwork is in our DNA. We’ve always collaborated to achieve our goals. Except now, we’ve swapped physical tools for digital platforms and in-person interactions for online communication.
The good news? Digital collaboration works even better for uniting teams and improving productivity. Not to mention that it helps teams and organizations collaborate from anywhere. With four best practices, you can improve your team’s digital collaboration, leading to higher team engagement, goal alignment, and a strong collaborative culture that leads to profitable results.
What is digital collaboration?
Digital collaboration is the practice of teams communicating, sharing, and collaborating on projects together through online platforms.
Due to the nature of digital collaboration existing through virtual tools, it requires a change in team dynamics. That means that even the very basic foundations of team collaboration, like communication, participation, and knowledge sharing, rely on the features of digital tools.
How the team uses this technology plays a big part in creating an environment where employees feel their goals and job tasks are supported. This also means teams lean on these platforms and digital collaboration to be productive.
Digital vs. traditional collaboration: What’s the difference?
Digital collaboration differs from traditional collaboration in terms of how team members interact and share knowledge.
In traditional collaboration, employees physically meet and work together to collaborate on ideas without digital tools, or with digital tools playing a secondary role. While traditional collaboration can be engaging, it often results in scattered notes across various papers and digital documents and doesn’t allow for any asynchronous components to working sessions.
In digital collaboration, teamwork and collaboration are enhanced through digital tools, regardless of where employees are located. This enables teams to easily store information, share knowledge, and work on approaches together. Additionally, if team members have new ideas, they can return to the digital platform and continue to ideate and collaborate asynchronously.
Digital collaboration has become increasingly important in the age of remote work because it allows teams to work together seamlessly, even when they are not physically together. It can be especially beneficial for hybrid and remote teams, enabling them to collaborate, align on project goals, and solve complex problems asynchronously or in real time.
At its core, digital collaboration combines the best aspects of traditional in-person collaboration (like real-time idea exchange) and remote tools (like shared workspaces and cloud-based storage) for a truly cooperative and productive work environment. These four best practices will help get you there.
4 tips for better digital collaboration
1. Use collaboration tools to eliminate silos and prevent miscommunication
Digital collaboration empowers teams to share information and facilitate conversation between departments, reducing organizational silos.
Each team may have different needs, but at the very basic level, you should concentrate on tools that enable cross-functional collaboration, improves alignment and coordination, and brings better visibility to complex problems.
Increase your team’s capacity for innovation
A huge benefit of collaborating digitally is the ability for teams to work asynchronously. Teams don’t have to be physically in one place to generate new ideas, strategize product improvements, provide input, and be heard.
Not only do digital collaboration platforms make teamwork more flexible and accessible, but they democratize the collaboration process. Team members (even introverted ones) can share and evaluate ideas equally without friction, ensuring that the best ideas always get considered.
Make cross-functional collaboration more productive
A common cause of silo mentality is a fundamental mismatch in systems between different teams. Having a single source of truth can improve visibility and transparency across organizations, allowing for more opportunities to align goals and outcomes.
Visual collaboration tools like digital whiteboards can help you identify and align on problems, speed up decision-making, keep stakeholders involved, and strengthen processes to improve efficiency.
Imagine a development team creating an app’s payment feature. Having the development plans visually laid out on a digital whiteboard allows the product manager to oversee the project plans. And thanks to the transparency, they can intervene if features aren’t aligned with the expected output. This allows the product manager to leave suggestions and expectations along the development roadmap, ensuring developers prioritize and develop certain features.
With the right online collaboration tools, employees are able to cooperate and communicate with one another smoothly, without waiting on scheduled meetings, and improve their teamwork ability.
Related: Learn how San Francisco Design Week redesigned digital collaboration
2. Focus on team alignment to improve time management and productivity
Team alignment is important for teams to understand a project’s final goal and desired outcome. Alignment creates a better understanding of task planning and strategy, as teams have a clear idea of the project’s roadmap. The main benefit of focusing on team alignment for digital collaboration is the ability to improve time management and productivity, as everyone is on the same page and working toward a mutual goal.
This visibility also helps teams streamline their efforts and work together to overcome hurdles or surprises. Clear time alignment and project goals support team members in structuring their responsibilities and understanding their part of a project. In the long run, it helps employees schedule ahead and plan together.
Align team efforts with company goals
Your team needs to have a clear understanding of the goals behind a project. This will improve buy-in and help teams to align on the real problem and solution. With clear goal alignment, teams trust one another with task allocation and responsibilities. This supports teamwork, as employees understand whom to ask questions or which teammate to request feedback from.
To accomplish goal alignment, plan projects as a team. You need to listen to employees’ expertise and acknowledge their ideas as important. Each member of your team will have their own previous knowledge and insights, which can improve the overall outcome of a product.
Use templates to scale efficiency and align on next steps
Digital collaboration platforms improve productivity, as the designated platforms’ features and resources help teams focus on the task and optimize their skills.
Consider using templates during your collaboration workshops to map out your progress and assign tasks. This gives your team time to come up with questions, feedback, or clarifications. It also creates a standardized, scalable process like holding client engagements, designing workshops, or mapping customer journeys.
Protip: Templates can provide a crucial framework for cross-functional collaboration. Learn more about cross-functional collaboration frameworks.
3. Put a special focus on building engagement
Whether you’re trying to decrease client churn and increase repeat business, or keep a team engaged during a workshop, engagement is a crucial cornerstone in virtual collaboration.
Building trust and engagement can create an inclusive and safe environment to share feedback, improve buy-in with clients as you suggest new solutions for transformative change, or even help align stakeholders and get them to be fully present in a key decision-making meeting.
Even for traditional collaboration, building engagement is a difficult challenge to master.
Read more: How to Foster Team Engagement That Lasts [+ Templates]
Make digital collaboration part of your company culture
In order for digital collaboration to be successful, you need to have it engraved in your company’s values. This is because company culture is built on every interaction, behavior, and dynamic between teams.
For digital collaboration to be successful, it should be a value that is rewarded and recognized as fundamental to the company’s culture and practice. This also means roadblocks and challenges are discussed openly, and planning is aligned.
In simple terms, if your company has a culture that embraces digital tools AND encourages collaboration, your team is set up for success. But if either of those is missing, that’s where the trouble starts.
For example, you might have sales and marketing teams that are great at collaborating but lack a digital tool to centralize their sales enablement material. This creates knowledge and resource silos between the sales and marketing teams, ultimately stretching the brand’s identity and slowing down the sales cycle.
Reward teamwork and shared ownership
Part of creating a successful digital collaboration culture is appreciating the efforts and participation of your team. When employees aren’t appreciated and encouraged to collaborate, you risk employees feeling unsafe in their work environment and losing their insights and valuable thoughts.
It’s also good practice to encourage employees to take ownership of digital tools. Allow them to design processes that suit them better or to fine-tune information with new discoveries. By empowering employees to take ownership, they will be able to confidently collaborate on documents and plans with helpful ideas instead of waiting on permission from their manager.
Template: Get started with the culture design canvas.
4. Introduce digital collaboration best practices and skills to build better teamwork
Introducing collaboration from day one helps new employees understand how the company works and what frameworks are used for effective team collaboration. Established employees should also be supported, however. Emphasizing the importance and procedures of digital collaboration gives employees the right tools and training to collaborate effectively.
Introduce new hires to your collaborative culture
Onboarding that reflects your actual company culture will give new hires an idea of how the company functions and what teamwork looks like in your workplace. During the onboarding process, provide specific tasks that require employees to use the platforms and tools the company uses to collaborate on a daily basis. This helps employees more comfortable and at ease with new ways of working from day one.
Imagine a product developer has joined a company. Instead of their onboarding focusing solely on tasks and company orientation, the new hire is introduced to the tools that will help them execute their daily activities. This can look like addressing how collaboration works with a digital whiteboard during ideation stages, how teams communicate asynchronously, or where to look for and store company documents.
Related: 6 Must-haves for Effective Workplace Collaboration
Equip employees with the right skills and tools to collaborate
Teaching employees how to collaborate effectively can lead to better outcomes. When teams have the right skills and technology to achieve great work, things click into place. A digital platform to collaborate on is just the first step. Teach teams the right frameworks, skills, and techniques to collaborate more effectively and drive real business outcomes.
Make digital collaboration smooth and effortless with Mural
Digital collaboration ranges from communication between co-workers to visual collaboration on whiteboards. But there are also mini-interactions that create collaboration between employees.
Mural empowers these moments with canvases that hold and share strategic plans, progress updates, and centralized knowledge that align teams on next steps. Each visual canvas supports teams with ideas that are brought to life in the form of charts and tables.
These visual whiteboard collaborations keep your meeting material visible and organized, helping teams keep tasks on time and processes transparent.
Empower your team to deliver their best work with Mural. You can get started today with a Free Forever account, so you and your team can create new workflows, improve alignment, and take projects from A to Z together.