My colleague recently blogged about how project management apps can greatly help improve collaboration especially for geographically distributed teams or companies. As a remote employee at Zoho, I’ve experienced this a lot. My marketing role requires interaction with multiple teams, all based in other cities and time zones. And yet we all manage to collaborate seamlessly across multiple projects.
We do this by creating and reinforcing a culture that encourages collaboration.
That’s where project management apps come in to the picture. They work as an antidote to unproductive practices that could prove harmful for a collaborative culture. If you’re a growing start-up or company that’s trying to become more collaborative, these are the work practices that you might want to upgrade from:
Email ping pong.
If you’re using email to make decisions or to discuss specific tasks that require inputs from multiple people, you could end up back and forthing and wasting time:
- creating email threads that are too long for people to follow through
- discussing the same topic over disparate email threads and have a hard time combining inputs
- just trying to get everyone on the same page
Not only is email ping pong unproductive, it is also unhealthy. In a recent research, occupational psychologist Dr Emma Russell listed email ping pong as one of ‘the seven deadly email sins’ that could have negative health repercussions for employees.
Sifting through piles of email to look for important tasks or trying to achieve a “zero inbox” state should never be a work goal for anyone.
The productive and organized way of doing this is by creating separate project portals or workspaces for different teams and getting relevant people to follow and contribute to each project. That way, everyone knows which project to look for help with a specific task or discussion.
More importantly, decisions can be made much faster as critical threads don’t get buried underneath the debris of email.
Here’s how my projects feed looks at the moment. I’m a part of multiple projects – each involving a completely different set of people:
I cannot imagine how chaotic it could get if I were to try and keep track of all these separate discussions over email.
Death by meetings.
Meetings are what used to be a “necessary evil” at workplaces. They’re no longer as necessary but could still be a little evil when it comes to productive time.
A 30-minute meeting that’s attended by 10 people takes up a total of 300 minutes – that’s 5 hours of productive time; time that could otherwise be spent completing actual tasks or solving real problems. If you’re about to call a meeting, make sure it’s worth the time.
If the agenda of your team meeting is to decide on some aspect of a project that everyone’s working on – move it out of the meeting room and on to the project portal.
A project portal is the ideal place for decision making because it enables everyone to contribute at their pace while following discussions, status or task updates.
At Zoho, we use a combination of features to make decisions happen within our project portals:
- Anyone can initiate a discussion about any specific aspect of the project by posting a message or announcement that will appear within everyone’s feeds
- For discussions that are not real-time, require more deliberation and can go on for relatively longer periods of time, we use the inbuilt forums
- For anything that is relatively urgent or requires real-time discussion, we use the chat feature
Using these tools speeds up decision making and makes good use of everyone’s time. There’s no need to take notes or minutes of the meeting.
And the best part of it all, people can actually focus on getting work done instead of attending meetings all day.
In fact, there’s a popular Quora thread that shares interesting perspectives on why people hate meetings.
Don’t get me wrong. Not all meetings are evil. Reserve meeting room space for special occasions:
- Team members can spend time catching up and bonding.
- Brainstorming – some of the best creative ideas can come from spending in-person time doing something as simple as scribbling random ideas over a notepad or chalkboard.
But for projects that require active discussion, task distribution, following up or allocating timelines – these can be managed much better and faster using a projects portal. Stay tuned for part 2 about more unproductive practices you can avoid. Can you guess what they are?