ENC 4293.0001 Technical Communicator's Survival Guide » Chapter 3: Collaboration
Chapter 3 Student Writers: Joe Caruso, Justin Harwood, Jennifer Shepard
Learning to collaborate is an essential part of modern business communication. If you cannot collaborate effectively, you may find difficulty obtaining or maintaining a job. The modern business world relies upon communication in achieving their objectives and goals. Therefore, the more robust your collaboration skills are, the better value you will have for your employers.
There are different types of collaboration, and for the purposes of this guide, they are separated into:
In all of these fields, the regular method of collaboration has become based around using online computer programs and utilities. The first section will detail some of the major programs and techniques in use today, online collaboration that apply to all types of collaboration. The subsequent sections will deal with the three major types of collaboration in more depth.
When collaborating via the Internet, there are numerous options a person can choose from, one of which is Dropbox. Dropbox is works best for document viewing and editing, mainly by a single user. Another option is Google Docs, which allows multiple users to collaborate concurrently on documents via a web browser. And finally, another option is Microsoft SharePoint, large corporations often use for document management and editing.
Above is a brief overview of Dropbox, and why it is useful.
Dropbox is a web-based application used for collaboration, and the fact that it is available for free at the Dropbox website (www.dropbox.com) only makes it easier to recommend. Dropbox can be used for the following:
- Peer editing
One of the best features is its backup system. For example, if your computer crashes you will still be able to access all the files from another computer or even from a Smartphone. An advantage of Dropbox is that it works offline. When you install Dropbox it creates a folder on your computer, and all of the files are stored in that folder. Then when one of the files is modified, it will automatically sync the folder with the web.
Even if you are not able to be on the Internet, you will still be able to work on your files because they are saved locally on your computer. A disadvantage to Dropbox is you will not be able to update them to the Internet or download any changes that may have been made to the file until you are able to get an Internet connection. But once you do, all of your files and changes will be synched automatically.
Another useful program for document collaboration, Google Docs is designed to be used more for concurrent collaboration and document collaboration in general. When multiple users are working on the same document it will show the other users what and where you are typing, so that you do not overwrite each other’s work.
One of the useful features is the ability to upload documents that have already been created. If you want to start to use Google Docs, you can upload all of the files you already have and be up and running in a few minutes. Like Dropbox it will automatically back up your documents approximately every 30 seconds or also if you stop typing for more than 5 seconds.
Unlike Dropbox, Google Docs is dependent on being online. The application runs inside of your web browser. So if you are not online, you cannot access your documents. A recent update from Google allows working offline, but it is not a standard feature; you have to download a separate program to take advantage of this option. Also, this option is not very well known by users. The other disadvantage of Google Docs, is the user interface. As with most Google products, the applications work great, but the interface is not the most intuitive or best designed. Once the user becomes accustomed to using it, and learns where all the functions are located, it is a very useful tool.
Another application often used in larger companies is Microsoft Share Point. SharePoint is a product created by Microsoft and is primarily used by larger companies and businesses due to the cost of the software and the maintenance that is required to keep it running. Like the previous programs, SharePoint is also a good product to use for collaboration. If you end up working for a large company that does document collaboration you will probably encounter the SharePoint program. A benefit of SharePoint is the number of documents that can be shared. You can have access to thousands or even hundreds of thousands of documents. All the other collaboration features from the previous applications are also available with SharePoint.
As with each of the other types of collaboration, local collaboration has its own special conditions and considerations. One of them is the personal relationships you will likely have with the people you are collaborating with. Unlike with regional or international collaboration, most people will likely have a relationship with the others that will cause them to act in a different and usually less formal manor.
When collaborating with people on a local basis, frequently you may be working on the projects together in the same room and talking about the project as you work through it. This is in contrast to regional or international, where you might send long emails back and forth trying to communicate your specific needs, or how an idea ought to be implemented. When you are having these more casual conversations you need to remember to keep the conversation professional. Just because there is a more relaxed atmosphere does not mean you should get off topic or fall behind in your work. Having a relaxed work environment can be both a positive and a negative for some people. For some people, it allows them to be more productive and get their work done without the same level of stress. However for some people this can be counterproductive, because it allows them to slack off and get behind on their work, with usually a lesser quality of work produced.
One of the most important things about local collaboration is having good people skills, and being able to communicate effectively with your coworkers and clients. Because much of the work is done face to face, your ability to communicate and work well with others is essential to the success of the project. Before starting work on a project, define and establish the parameters for communication methods. All members of the group should know the best way to contact the other team members. Having open lines of communication is also important; if there are questions or concerns they should be voiced early rather than ignoring them or trying to work them out on your own.
Being responsible and making firm commitments are important to successful collaboration. When you are working with other members on a team, you have to be responsible and on time with deadlines and meetings. If you are late, it can hold up an entire project because the other team members may need you to finish your section in order to complete their work.
Using technology has certainly changed how people collaborate locally. Using SharePoint when collaborating with co-workers can help with the workflow of document creation. The feature that allows users to check out documents for editing is very useful for preventing documents from being overridden by another user.
Dropbox and Google Docs also have interesting features that are useful in local settings. Groups are allowed to view a document concurrently, which can be helpful for presentations and class lectures. The presenter can drag a file to the group folder and then everyone will instantly have access to the file and be able to view it.
Those are just a few of the factors that make local collaboration different from regional or international. Local collaboration tends to be a lot more personal, relying on your professionalism to avoid diverting from the task at hand. Additional care must be taken to avoid missing deadlines, as these sorts of delays can negatively affect the entire team.
Regional Collaboration can build a bridge or a gap between areas throughout a country, or between countries in order to combine efforts and generate new ideas. Regional collaboration is important in order to build a larger social network. Companies can share ideas which help the company grow and develop into new areas of business. Someone who cannot properly collaborate on a regional level may find they have a difficult time advancing their career.
As an example, the International Social Security Association (ISSA) opened a new office in Argentina to enhance regional collaboration. This includes the Liaison Office working with the 13 ISSA member institutions and social security organizations in such countries as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to “facilitate collaboration and to promote the exchange of expertise and experience” (ISSA).
Similarly, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) is taking a shift towards more robust regional collaboration in order to address their priorities at the regional level. “The purpose of Regional Collaborations is to improve NOAA’s productivity and value to customers while using existing authority and accountability structures.” (NOAA)
While regional collaboration may at first seem difficult, knowing background information regarding the companies and organizations you are collaborating with will give you a strong foundation for building a working relationship. Like all forms of collaboration, regional collaboration is ultimately about understanding the significance of reaching out to others.
There are key points to remember while collaborating regionally which include:
- Work Ethic
- Use of Technology
How we communicate verbally and non-verbally affects our credibility and it can affect relationships within our local places of employment and our regional place of employment.
For example, the company Thomson Reuters “places a particular emphasis in being able to communicate clearly…” Marcus Rees, Communications Specialist comments, "For Thomson Reuters, communicating effectively in all languages means the ability to obtain accurate, complete and timely information from the best information sources around the world."
Pablo Golub, author of the article “Top 7 Ways to Communicate Effectively” lists some survival skills that will help you to communicate with your colleagues:
- Become interested in other people
- Listen at least two times more than you talk
- Diversify yourself
Be aware of your surroundings and be considerate of your colleagues. By listening to their ideas and considerations, this can help you improve your skills as a communicator. This is especially true when you are collaborating with people who you do not collaborate with on a regular basis.
In hopes in obtaining a career or maintaining a career, how a person is presents themselves in front of their employer, employees, and colleagues is essential. You never want to appear as if you have rolled out of bed, but instead should strive to look professional with whomever you come into contact with.
Whether you work for a non-profit organization or a Fortune 500 Company, there will always be a dress code policy. However, not all dress policies are going to be the same.
|Type of Dress||What to Wear|
|Business Professional||Suit, sports coat, dress pants, hosiery|
|Business Casual||Dresses, shirts, khakis|
|Casual Jeans||Blue or black jeans, T-shirt, tennis shoes|
Jennetta Hyatt, Human Resources Manager for Fiscal Sponsorship and Recruitment for the Third Sector New England, mentions that “articles of clothing that represent an employee’s religion, culture or traditional beliefs should also be acceptable in the workplace.”
All in all, you need to be aware on what the policies are regarding the dress code, especially trying to relate to other people within your own company and other parts of the region.
Each employee must work to maintain the motivation to do their best within the workplace; otherwise achieving success in the work environment is fraught with difficulty. Employers seek and hire potential employees who have the determination to help the company to grow.
There are simple ways to improve your work ethic simple, but it takes practice and also requires a positive attitude. For example, if your boss were to say, “You need to improve this document,” you would not want to be negative and surly in responding to their request. Instead you would want to reply with a positive tone, assuring them that you will make all necessary changes in an expedient manner. This type of attitude adjustment applies for all circumstances in the workplace.
With any task that you are asked to do, follow through with it even if the tasks seems tedious, boring, easy or hard. Griping and whining reflect poorly on you as an employee, and likely serve to bring the morale of the entire team down. By greeting your assigned duties cheerfully, you can help create a positive atmosphere for your fellow co-workers.
In regional collaboration this type of positive attitude is essential, as it requires you to deal with various people on a daily basis. Those who constantly bring down the morale of the team may be seen as an overall negative influence on the team despite their work output. These people may not be included in further collaborative efforts as a result.
Use of Technology
Technology is growing and changing every day. As a technical communicator it is your responsibility to understand how to use technology and recognize the best means to communicate through technology. For regional collaboration, the two main methods of communicating are through email and via Google Docs.
Email is one of the fastest ways to communicate. A person types a message, instantly it goes into the inbox of the recipient, and the recipient can read the message. It is important to check your email on a daily basis to keep informed on all the occurrences happening at the office. It is also important to correspond to important messages.
Google Docs is important to use when relating information to another employee or when trying to collaborate from across the country. You can upload a document or multiple documents to this program, edit when necessary, and you can do this at any location with Internet access. The people you are collaborating with can view and work on the document at the same time.
The continuing process of globalization means that there is a strong chance you will participate in projects that involve foreign organizations. As such, the need for familiarity with collaboration on an international scale is more pressing than at any time in the past. This section of the Survival Guide will help you to prepare for working and travelling internationally, with a focus on avoiding common mistakes and preventing unfortunate gaffes in etiquette. By utilizing the information presented here, you can look forward to the exciting exchange of cultures and ideas that characterize international collaboration.
One of the most important aspects of collaborating internationally, whether by travel or communicating long distance, is remembering to respect the culture, both of the business and of the people. Each country has their own standard for business relations, some similar to our own and some significantly different. Being aware of and respecting these differences will eliminate potential obstacles to a harmonious collaborative effort. Additionally, the individual culture of a nation or people must also be kept in mind when dealing with an international business partner.
Respecting a Foreign Culture
One of the primary complaints foreign businesses have in dealing with Americans is that people simply do not understand or respect their culture. Americans have a tendency to be too forward by the standards of other cultures, and often remain ignorant of foreign cultures. Studying the culture(s) of the people you’ll be working with is therefore the primary rule when preparing for international collaboration. Simple awareness of basic cultural practices and stigmas is often enough to avoid the major embarrassments or even minor faux pas that can make partnering with you unattractive to foreigners. For instance, the Japanese associate the color white with death, so using it as a major color in your dress or table arrangements could be taken as a bad sign. While it would be impossible to list every culture in detail, the upcoming table will provide a starting point for some of the cultural quagmires to look out for.
Respecting the Culture of a Foreign Business
In addition to respecting the basic cultural practices of a foreign country, it is important to realize that each country also operates under its own set of regular business practices. Sometimes this can even be as simple as recognizing important holidays on which your partners may not be available. At other times it can be more complex, such as determining what setting is appropriate for discussing business. Perhaps the most important point to remember is that there is no single answer to these issues: each culture differs greatly in its approach to business etiquette.
|Culture||What to Remember|
|Bahrain||If tea is offered, always accept, or you will offend your host|
|Egypt||Never give the “thumbs-up” sign, this is considered an obscene gesture|
|India||As the cow is sacred in India, avoid wearing leather or taking Indians out for a steak dinner|
|Malaysia||Do not use your left hand, Malaysians consider it unclean|
|Vietnam||Physical contact between men and women in public is considered inappropriate|
For example, in France it is considered rude to be overly personal during a business meeting, while in Thailand it is similarly unacceptable to talk business before you have had lunch and had the opportunity to get to know one another. While the basic culture issues might be avoided if you yourself do not travel internationally, these differences in business culture will be encountered even if you mainly communicate through email or teleconferencing.
The Importance of Technology
Following the growth of international business has been the rise in the level of technology by which these businesses can keep in contact. The oftentimes vast geographical distances between these businesses means that while the business trip is important for getting invaluable face-to-face interaction, the majority of your collaboration with international partners will likely be handled through other means. As a result, it will behoove you to be well-versed in the technology which powers international collaboration.
The bulk of your day-to-day communication with international partners will be handled through email due to the inevitable time zone differences. It is therefore especially important that you be aware of proper email etiquette as outlined in previous chapters, and that you adhere to some basic guidelines for sending email to international partners.
- Be professional, and use simple language to avoid confusing colloquialisms and jargon.
- Use email for business matters only, and limit your correspondence to short simple matters that can be replied to easily.
- Have patience in waiting for a reply, time differences mean you often won’t hear back until the next business day.
- Rather than use email for dealing with complex or sensitive issues, opt instead to place a phone call to avoid the appearance of trivializing an important matter.
The Rise of Video Conferencing
The rising cost of traveling internationally, along with the growing availability of video conferencing technology, has led to a drastic rise in the use of video conferencing for collaborative meetings. Although video conferencing has been utilized by major corporations for some time, the rise of cheap, low-quality programs like Skype and iChat now allow any business with an internet connection to engage in some level of this technology. Because video conferencing technology allows large groups of people to meet with each other without regards to time or location differences, it is quickly becoming the standard method of communication for international collaboration. To best prepare for your next video conference, here are some important tips to keep in mind:
- Set an agenda and gather the necessary materials and important documents ahead of time.
- Avoid environmental distractions: anything from a garish suit to a large potted plant could draw the attention away from your presentation.
- Make introductions at the beginning, or have everyone introduce themselves when they first speak
- Despite the obvious pressure of being “on camera”, try to act normal, avoid over-exaggerated gestures.
- Do not bring anything unnecessary, such as a Smartphone or food into the conference room that may provide additional distraction for you or your partners.
Each type of collaboration utilizes different but similar techniques to achieve the goal of effectively communicating with clients in a collaborative endeavor. Local collaboration focuses on maintaining a professional demeanor and being ready to work with others on a daily basis. Regional collaboration focuses on the importance of first appearances and the ability to work well with others on short notice. International collaboration focuses on the ability to respect foreign cultures and the use of technology to bridge time zones and geographical distance. By mastering these methods of collaboration, you can become more proficient at communicating across cultural and regional differences. This in turn will make you a more valuable employee and a more effective technical communicator.