Vice President, Academic Engagement
"I know I have that email here somewhere."
"I can't remember what folder I saved that document in."
"Which version of this document has the most recent comments from the group?"
"Can you please send me that document with your comments again?"
"My computer's hard drive just crashed, and I lost everything!"
How often have you found yourself experiencing one of these scenarios? If you work on a fast-paced or highly collaborative virtual team, the answer is probably often. Organizing and managing your data in your email or personal folders is one part of working efficiently in a virtual organization. Managing shared data while working with others can add a whole other level of complication. Working in a virtual organization requires using technology to your advantage to keep you organized and connected to your team.
At Northcentral University, we found ourselves experiencing these scenarios regularly as we strived to work collaboratively in a virtual environment without using technology to our advantage. A common challenge in virtual organizations is falling into the habit of working out of email. While email is critical for communication, it is not efficient for collaboration on projects or storage of essential documents. We got lost in email overload and struggled to maintain version control of documents with multiple contributors. We spent more time trying to manage a project through email than working on the project content itself. To make an efficiency change, we needed to use technology to our advantage.
Our organization chose to use Microsoft 365 to add online storage and collaboration space for our teams. We already used Microsoft Office products, so adding online access to the suite of products allowed us to create content as we usually would and share it with our colleagues to get real-time input and feedback on the document without emailing it. We also use Microsoft OneDrive to store shared documents and data, and Microsoft SharePoint to create a collaborative and interactive intranet. Saving our documents to OneDrive instead of our computer hard drives has prevented the loss of materials. It allows us to store the original files in one place while providing instant access to anyone who needs it. Microsoft Teams is also an option for document sharing, collaborative workspaces, and cross-team communication through the Chat tool.
Below is an example of how we leveraged Microsoft 365 to facilitate a virtual team of over 20 people collaborating on a curriculum project. Folders ensured team members could easily find and access their documents, while revision histories were tracked at the document level.
If you need a technology solution that doesn't include expensive licensing or an IT team to implement, there are many free or low-cost options. Google provides online solutions for free or low cost to start. Create a free Gmail email account and access Google Docs, Google Slides, Google Sheets, or Google Drive. G Suite for Business is also great for team collaboration using Google services.
Other options for cloud storage and collaboration are Dropbox, Box, or Trello. Many of these platforms provide storage or services up to a specific limit for free and can be a viable low or no-cost option. Paid platforms often provide free trials to try it before you buy it to ensure it will meet your needs. With a little bit of research, you can find the right technology to fit your needs.