With contributions from Sarena Ehrlich, Annika Hoy, and Heejae Park. 

Determining the right virtual platforms and adopting effective behaviors is crucial for companies to keep their people performing at their best while work processes shift. For a number of people, working from home is something they’re already accustomed; but for many, suddenly having your dining table pull double duty as your desk can be a disruption. The CBRE Workplace practice continues our multi-part series (see previous article on The Art of the Virtual Meeting) to help you and your team stay productive wherever you work.

Key Takeaways

Protocols and policies around how to collaborate digitally are just as important as the technology itself. It’s important to prepare your team to be successful by establishing some “rules of the road”:

  • Set guidelines for availability and use "status" features to convey “in a meeting” and “do-not-disturb”
  • Create channels to organize conversations on initiatives and topics
  • Be resourceful and find the right people, channels, or resources to avoid delays and confusion
  • Use “@” mentions and "threads" to solicit the right people to provide critical input and feedback

 As we all shift to be remotely connected and remain effective, these digital collaboration tips will help everyone better communicate and distinguish what’s important from the mass of communications coming our way.

Adopting & Maximizing Digital Collaboration Platforms

Digital communication tools have come a long way since the days of the first instant message and many of today’s workplaces are adopting enhanced digital collaboration platforms. One example of this technology is Microsoft Teams1. It’s important to learn how to use these platforms properly lest they overcomplicate or distract your teams from getting work done. Also, with broader adoption expected during the COVID-19 situation, new users and seasoned pros alike should take the time to set protocols to maximize their effectiveness.

  • Set Your Status: While the primary purpose of instant messaging is fast, direct communication, there is also huge value in indirect communication. When you're not physically in the office, the small green "available" dot is the virtual way of saying that you are online and at work. Setting your status lets others know what you're up to (e.g. "In a meeting") or can help manage distractions by protecting focus time (e.g. "Deadline - Do Not Disturb"). This status icon can also be helpful to the millions of working parents who are going to attempt to work remotely while also dealing with the closures of school across the nation and limited childcare options. You can also snooze your notifications when focusing and should always do so when presenting or sharing your screen.
  • Create Channels: With most instant messaging platforms, you can send direct messages to individuals, groups of individuals or create team channels. The direct messaging function will be familiar to users of traditional IM services, but the team channel feature is what will transform these enhanced digital platforms into something special. Channels are helpful for creating project-specific chatrooms or a team-wide announcement venue. You can name them according to their function (e.g. - #911 for urgent requests or #marketing for the Marketing team), make them public or private, and add/remove specific individuals to manage who should be subscribed to channel updates. Make sure all channels have a clear intention ideally both in the naming of the channel and in the description field.
  • Ask the Right Q, in the Right Channel: If you’ve named your channels descriptively and set clear purposes for each, it should reasonably follow that your users will leverage them correctly, but the two most common forms of bad channel behavior are:
    1. Channel spamming: when a user copy+pastes the same message to multiple channels to try and solicit more responses), and
    2. Direct Message (DM) burrowing: when a shy user defaults to direct messaging the one person they feel comfortable with rather than post their question to a public channel.

    Emphasize that posting the right question to the right channel benefits everyone by making it easier to search past posts related to a topic, alert the appropriate users when you have a question without distracting everyone, and reduce redundant questions sent via private messages.

  • Use @ Mentions: Sometimes posting to the appropriate channel isn’t enough to get your message seen by the right people. This is where the @ feature comes into play. Using the @ feature will send an alert to either a specific person (e.g. typing @ before someone’s name) or to an entire channel (e.g. typing “@channelname”). This is preferable to sending a DM if you want to keep the message transparent or if you want to document the conversation in a specific channel.
  • Create Threads: In channels with a high number of users and/or activity, multiple conversations take place simultaneously. It’s recommended users take advantage of the “threads” feature to keep each conversation neatly packaged with messages in chronological order. Rather than reply in the main body of a channel, users reply directly to a specific message and those replies become nested beneath the parent comment/question. If you have contributed to a thread, you will receive notifications of any thread updates, but the general population of channel subscribers will not. This will keep all users organized, informed, and sane!

As workplaces adapt to meet challenges like COVID-19 and the need to create more flexible work options becomes more urgent, companies should be focused on developing a strategic plan for workplace flexibility, digitization, virtual collaboration, and wellbeing in the workplace. Thinking beyond the current global health crisis, employers should establish supporting spaces, policies, behaviors, tools and technologies around these topics to ensure both business continuity and public health. We are here to help. CBRE Workplace can help you analyze your company’s current approach and help you create an enhanced, customized, and enduring strategy for work.

In the meantime, we encourage all employers to follow the guidance of the CDC, and continue to engage in practical actions to further slow the spread of the virus:

1Companies and technologies mentioned in this article are shared as examples only and do not represent the full suite of products that may exist in these categories.

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