Technology is becoming ever more integrated into the way we work as we shift into a digital workplace. As a result, professionals need to be able to confidently work more closely with their clients, key stakeholders and internal teams to tackle shared projects that often require a variety of skill sets. This rise in partnering and collaborating while beneficial to businesses, is not without its challenges. Here are some common challenges professionals will need to overcome when working in a digital workplace:
1. Understanding each other’s jargon – it’s forever changing
Tip: While industry jargon can be an obstacle to effective communication, it's often unavoidable, and in a digital workplace it’s become easier to become an expert with the likes of Google. Do your best to learn the language of whomever you’re collaborating with. If you don't understand a term, politely ask for clarification. Return the favour by making sure you don't use your own lingo or acronyms.
2. Making time to meet because they're so busy
Tip: Diplomatically point out that getting together for a short meeting at the beginning of a new project and during critical phases will save valuable time by helping heed off costly miscommunications that can lead to lost time, resources and money. Then, if appropriate, set up those meetings.
3. Keeping on track and communicating information clearly during meetings
Tip: If you scheduled a meeting or a skype call create an agenda. In a digital workplace, people expect you to send one out in advance, it also saves time if you ask whether there's anything attendees want to add to cut down on unexpected conversations. During the meeting, allow for some banter (it can help build rapport), but politely point out when the discussion is veering off track. Leave time to answer questions, send out a summary email and schedule a follow-up meeting if important items have not been addressed.
4. Getting people to act and follow up. You can have a great plan and talk about the plan in meetings, but if there is no follow-up, that great plan is nothing
Tip: After meetings wrap up, provide in an email the specific dates/times of when you and your team will supply everything you're responsible for. In a digital workplace, there are many tools available to improve collaboration. Consider using a project-management tool to schedule reminders and keep everyone accountable for their action items.
5. Communicating on a regular basis
Tip: A kick-off meeting can get the ball rolling, but regular check-in calls or emails are useful for answering questions that pop up along the way. These can be quick, but they help ensure projects stay on track. If certain team members are unavailable, ask if someone else from the department can step in and report back. If key decision-makers are chronically busy, let them know that you'll need to push deadlines back if they can't find time to meet.
6. Creating and sustaining a welcoming workspace
Tip: Whenever possible, schedule meetings in a creative work environment or on "neutral" turf – like a conference room. Or, switch back and forth between your departments. In addition, be respectful of everyone's time and workload. Always ask if it's a good time to chat before bombarding colleagues with questions or requests. This will help improve the odds they welcome you with open ears.
7. Managing priorities; what's important to us may not be important to them
Tip: Again, this speaks to the importance of remaining in regular contact (you have no excuse in a digital workplace with messaging apps). Don't be afraid to communicate your needs or the needs of your department. Build goodwill by being respectful of projects and deadlines that are of high concern to both parties, even if they're not your top priority. Also, ensure you have buy-in from key stakeholders on what actually constitutes a "business priority" and that everyone is on the same page. Getting input from someone who ranks higher than you and your project partners can help diffuse tension when disagreements arise.
8. Accepting constructive criticism
Tip: Make sure that you are delivering feedback in a productive way. What you think is "constructive" could be coming across as rude or unreasonable. Consider leading with positive but sincere comments as well – it can help boost morale. When in doubt, ask for feedback on what you plan to deliver with your own team before meeting with your colleagues to determine if you need to adjust the tone or content of your message.
9. Resolving controversy quickly
Tip: Everyone is short for time these days so it's important to address challenges head-on and with the appropriate people versus tattling or pointing fingers. If you're at an impasse, consider approaching a superior together to help resolve the conflict. The more you argue and stew, the more you derail the project and its deadlines.
10. Getting a response; we don't have enough time to do everything that we need to.
Tip: Speak with your manager about what's preventing you from moving forward more quickly with projects; they may be able to make a case for bringing in extra help, on a permanent or interim basis, in order to keep projects on track. A specialised recruitment agency such as Robert Half can quickly identify professionals with relevant experience and who are able to hit the ground running.
There's comfort in familiarity, and it can be challenging to work with colleagues outside your team who may be "wired differently”. Especially when collaborating in a digital workplace means you might be operating over the phone, vie email or messaging apps. But the more you work to resolve differences and accept others, the smoother your projects will flow and the more successful they will be.