Collaboration is always happening all around us. Whether you're asking a friend for feedback on an idea or asking a store clerk for help finding a shirt in your size, we collaborate in many ways across our everyday lives. Often, without even realizing it, we're incorporating visuals into this collaborative communication—hand gestures, jotted notes or drawings, quick charts, and lists are all visual ways to quickly and clearly get our message across.
This natural tendency to collaborate translates to the workplace, too. Research from McKinsey finds that organizations that implement collaborative techniques, either through technology or other processes, see up to 30% increased productivity. This demonstrates that an organization that embraces cross-functional brainstorming, open discussions, and mixed-skill teams, can tap into the collective power of its people. Pair these methods with the power of visuals, and you can unleash new ways of thinking and problem-solving across your organization.
Benefits of visual collaboration
The COVID-19 pandemic forced most of us into almost overnight isolation from our workplaces and teammates, and teamwork doesn't thrive in isolation. However, it also encouraged many companies to accelerate their digital transformation efforts and remote work capabilities to ensure teams could stay connected and collaborate virtually.
Visual collaboration was a significant and necessary part of that shift. When face-to-face interactions aren't possible, visual communication and collaboration software empower people to work in new and more productive ways. Plus, visual collaboration is changing the way companies think about teamwork, and its benefits, especially in the post-pandemic, Next Normal of work.
Some benefits of visual collaboration include:
- Clearer communication: Collaboration without visual communication can feel a lot like a game of virtual telephone. Static documents or spreadsheets don't do a great job communicating big ideas, and a lot can get lost in translation over scattered emails, drive-by conversations, or Slack messages. Visual collaboration tools give your team a shared, visual point of reference, helping communicate big ideas across remote or dispersed teams.
- Better retention: A lack of employee engagement greatly impacts your company's culture and performance. While everyone on your team doesn't need to have the same level of participation, it's important to find ways to make your team members with all types of collaboration styles feel seen, valued, and included. For some, remote work can add to feelings of invisibility, and manual processes and static resources can leave more introverted team members feeling ignored, dismissed, or uninterested. Virtual conferencing tools like Zoom can help keep teams engaged (even if they're not on camera during every call), and visual tools like flowcharts can help team members better understand how their contributions make an impact.
- Big-picture view: If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then visual collaboration tools might just be worth a million. Visual collaboration makes it easy to show all the moving parts of a plan and how those parts ladder up to larger strategic goals or organizational structures.
- Better workplace efficiency: Remember when email was heralded as the biggest advancement in workplace efficiency? Fast forward four decades and most of us have more emails to read than we can keep up with. Depending on emails to communicate with your team leads to lost time and employees who fall behind if they happen to not see an important email. With visual collaboration, you can ensure that team members are updated and aligned on the latest developments. And by using visual collaboration across the entire project lifecycle, you naturally create a single source of truth that employees can reference to align and make decisions.
- Faster to innovate: One of the best things about visual collaboration is that you can see changes in real time and discuss their impact while you have the right team members engaged. Even something as simple as a timeline can be easily improved by showing teams how date changes will impact the project in real time.
Best practices for collaborating visually
Visual collaboration can make a major difference in the trajectory of your team, but it's all about how you use it. For one, adoption across the whole team may take time. Two, your team and its objectives evolve, which means you'll likely have to make adjustments to your visual collaboration approach as well. Below are a few tips on how to help your team adopt visual collaboration and use it to their advantage.
Lead by example
The team will take their cues from senior management or project leads. If you introduce a tool and never refer to it again, the team will assume it's not essential to the project. Instead, take every genuine opportunity you can to note how visual collaboration can help team members achieve a certain objective or work more efficiently.
Balance team and individual participation
One of the great things about visual collaboration is that it can help bring out introverts who may contribute but don't necessarily want to be the center of attention. Encourage team members to make contributions to virtual whiteboards through messaging or chat or drop in a visual mockup so that the team can see what they've worked on without having to "present" it. By the same token, extroverts who always have a lot to say create space for the team to contribute as a whole by garnering consensus before making a decision or moving on to another topic.
Once you adopt a visual collaboration tool, you find that the team will use it in many different, and sometimes unexpected, ways, and there may be some features that you need to add or remove to help the team work better together. Solicit feedback from team members, especially in the early days, to get a sense of how the tool works for them and what changes they’d like to see.
Acknowledge all team members
Even with video as an option, some team members may still be prone to "hide" during a conference call. You don't need to call them out, but something as simple as doing a roll call at the beginning of a session can help people feel acknowledged without putting them on the spot. The goal is to let the team members know that they are essential to the project.
How visual collaboration software can help your team
Once your team is comfortable with visual collaboration, they'll begin to see the benefits that it provides. It's not just a fancy way to communicate—it's a way to communicate faster and more clearly, leaving space for teams to innovate at warp speed. Here are a few ways visual collaboration software can help your team:
- Streamline the visuals for consistency: It's highly likely that at some point, more than one team member will be working on the same asset using separate files. You can create a single source of truth by reviewing those versions as a team and determining what should be integrated into the next iteration without having to send a thousand emails.
- Provide clean, simple visuals for quick understanding: There are inevitably times where you could spend ten minutes describing a concept that makes total sense to you but is difficult to get the team to envision. You can save that time, and more clearly communicate the concept, by sharing visuals that get to the point quickly and accurately.
- Create mockups quickly: It's possible to mock up a proof of concept with visual collaboration tools. The ability to create mockups quickly means that your team is aligned from the beginning, which reduces the chances of miscommunication and wasted time.
- Allow all team members to participate simultaneously: Today's projects are often complex, multi-pronged, and require the input of many different teams from all branches of the organization. With visual collaboration software, you can have those different teams in the same room at the right time. That kind of convenience puts even complicated projects on the path to success by incorporating pivotal stakeholders just at the point where you need them.
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