Farewell email, hello virtual collaboration tools

Committee work by email is dangerous for the inboxes and sanity of all involved. But when work must get done between meetings, and conference calls are difficult to schedule, many associations still rely on working by email. Make your life (and your members’ lives) easier by considering virtual collaboration tools.

I recently spoke to members of the Association Executives of North Carolina about virtual collaboration. Although some of them use GoToMeeting or another video conferencing platform, many of them said they still relied on conference calls and email correspondence to get work done.

Associations will always be communities of collaboration:

  • Association staff collaborate within and across departments.
  • Staff and volunteers collaborate on committee work.
  • Staff and vendors collaborate on projects.
  • Volunteers collaborate with each other.
  • Staff and volunteers collaborate with other organizations, or on social platforms with whoever shows up to participate.


Instead of relying on the same old methods, take a look at the new virtual collaboration tools available.

Myths about collaboration

We all know how to collaborate, right? Maybe not. The technology research firm Gartner says most people believe five myths about collaboration.

Myth 1: The right tools will make us collaborative.

No, not if the organizational culture and processes act as barriers to collaboration. Also, people need guidance and instruction on how to collaborate.

Myth 2: Collaboration is inherently a good thing.

No, not if you haven’t first identified a desired outcome tied to a business goal – the why of collaboration.

Myth 3: Collaborating takes extra time.

No, not if thought is first given to how the collaboration tool fits into a person’s workflow.

Myth 4: People naturally will or will not collaborate.

No, as Gartner says, “most (people) are somewhere in the middle and can be encouraged to collaborate under the right conditions. IT leaders should ignore the reluctant minority and work on motivating the majority of workers who can be persuaded to collaborate when expectations are clear and collaborative behaviors are rewarded.”

Myth 5: People instinctively know how to collaborate.

No, they may have some ideas about collaboration, but you need to set expectations and guidelines for them.

Advice on collaboration

Before any collaborative project, take time to think about what’s working and not working with your current methods of collaboration. What factors make success likely?

  • For collaboration and engagement to occur, your team must understand and buy into the goal.
  • Volunteers have time constraints, so they will only make time for collaboration if they’re passionate about the goal or required to take part.
  • The team must understand and be comfortable with the collaborative process.
  • Keep communication flowing to prevent misunderstandings and mistakes.
  • The leader cheers the team on and reins them in when necessary.
  • Success is celebrated.

Everything we know about collaboration we learned in kindergarten. How many of these success factors do you see in this video of kids working together? Watch it once with the sound off and then again with the sound on – I think it leads to two different perspectives.

Selecting the right collaboration tool

When it’s time to select a collaboration tool, you have more than 100 options. Some of my favorites are cloud-based – no software to download and they’re accessible anytime and anywhere when you’re online.

  • Dropbox for Teams – an inexpensive choice
  • Huddle – also inexpensive
  • Google Docs and Google Sites
  • KAVI – a higher-end platform used by groups to develop standards
  • Sharepoint – a platform on which some have built collaboration tools
  • Box.com – an inexpensive tool for group collaboration
  • Basecamp – mostly a project management tool, but for some it works as a team site as well

When selecting a tool, think about its value. Will it be better than emailing documents around? Will it help you achieve goals? Will it work with your success factors?

Identify your functional requirements.

  • Synchronous: Must everyone engage at the same time, like chats, phone, web, or video conferencing?
  • Or, asynchronous: Can they engage at different times, like Google Docs or discussion boards?
  • Version control: Do you need to maintain previous versions of a document and track revisions, including who revised what?
  • Content types: The functions required for your project will depend on the content you’re working with – discussion, document, video, etc.

Nonfunctional requirements must also be considered.

  • What technologies do your collaborators have?
  • Are there any security considerations? Will it be members-only? Or limited to a specific group?
  • Will you include branding or make custom configurations?
  • Will it integrate with other systems, like an AMS for ease of log-in, website for one-stop visiting, or Microsoft Office?

What about the impediments to virtual collaboration? Every association has them. In my next post, I’ll share some tips for overcoming those barriers.