Whether it’s an impromptu meeting before an important presentation, a brainstorming session or a long-standing weekly stand-up, meetings are a critical part of business productivity. And they’re frequent; the average employee today participates in at least eight meetings per week. Many of those meetings are collaboration sessions where participants work together to complete a project, brainstorm ideas or create winning strategies for the year ahead.

Many of these meetings have moved online indefinitely, which makes it more important than ever to figure out the most effective tools for remote collaboration. In 2021, 67 percent of meetings took place online. By 2024, Gartner predicts this number will rise to 75 percent.

Collaboration is a powerful business tool; one study found that companies promoting collaborative working were five times more likely to be high performers. Employee collaboration also fosters common understanding, sets expectations, increases the sense of belonging, creates transparency, encourages involvement, improves decision making and increases employee satisfaction. Equipping everyone with the right tools goes a long way toward achieving those goals.

The do’s

1. Define a plan and end goal: Like money, time should not be wasted. Be purposeful with your meeting time by pausing beforehand to identify the meeting topic and set expectations. That includes pinpointing the scope of the meeting or the project, specifying how resources will be shared and how tasks will be allocated.

2. Make sure everybody is on the same page: Keeping everyone on task and encouraging collaboration is critical to meeting productivity, for those physically in the room as well as remote participants. One of the best ways to accomplish this is with collaborative technology like an interactive display, which can connect to team members’ personal devices and integrates with videoconferencing software. With the display’s versatile features, all participants can instantly view the meeting agenda, import content to share on the fly, conduct ad hoc discussions and annotate documents directly on the touchscreen.

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3. Have the right tech: With so many meetings taking place online, technology is more important than ever. In addition to project management software, it’s helpful to standardize your tools for document sharing, file storage, time tracking and communication. In the conference room, using an interactive display like the Interactive Pro — synced with team members’ personal devices — can be particularly helpful in visualizing concepts, jotting down ideas, building off of others’ thoughts and keeping everyone on the same page.

4. Practice active listening: It’s easy to get distracted by social media or responding to texts during a meeting, but this kind of “multitasking” often results in missed opportunities. Instead, commit to active listening — listening intently to what team members are saying, and listening closely enough that you could reflect it back to them. In addition to improving communication, active listening helps team members feel heard and supported.

5. Share resources and tools: In order to collaborate effectively, all team members need access to the most up-to-date information and resources. Electronic document distribution, both before and after the meeting, makes this as easy as possible. A legal team meeting, for example, can run more efficiently if everyone has reviewed digital documents beforehand. A design team conducting a brainstorming session can leverage technology like the Interactive Pro to easily compare and edit designs. Imagine this: Multiple people simultaneously cast their personal devices onto the screen, everyone takes notes on top of the designs and all annotated images are sent to team members after the meeting, with the click of a button.

6. Encourage collaboration outside of meeting times: Creativity doesn’t turn off when the meeting ends. New ideas can arrive at any time, and when they do, it can be helpful to run them by other team members. Asynchronous communication helps teams advance projects without having to communicate in real time. Shared technology is critical to this process.

The don’ts

7. Exclude participants: You never know where a good idea will come from, so consider all relevant voices — including people working remotely and in person. In addition to fostering new ideas, casting a wider net can uncover valuable opinions — and it promotes the kind of inclusion that leads to greater retention and productivity.

8. Create collaboration overload: While collaboration is important to productivity and team-building, more isn’t always better. According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), workers spend as much as 80 percent of their day in meetings and on emails and calls. Too many meetings can actually drag down both productivity and morale and can take a toll on focus and engagement. Instead, be deliberate about which projects require collaboration, and focus meeting time on those. Do the busywork beforehand of collecting data and setting goals.

9. Use too many tools: Technology is an important enabler of everything businesses do today, but providing too many choices or allowing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy can backfire. The tools that employees choose may or may not meet company standards and interoperate with your other corporate resources.

Effective collaboration pays real dividends, including improved productivity, problem-solving, employee satisfaction, innovation and retention rates. By taking a thoughtful approach to tech-enabled collaboration, organizations can gain these benefits while avoiding frustration, drawn-out decision-making processes and unnecessary expenses.

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Karen D. Schwartz

Karen Schwartz has more than 20 years of experience writing about technology and business issues across the spectrum, including government, small business, education and channel. Schwartz has written about everything from telecommunications to outsourcing for industry-leading publications like CIO, InformationWeek, eWeek, Government Executive and PC Magazine, in addition to dozens of ghostwritten white papers, articles and case studies for companies like Microsoft Corp., Comcast, Dell, Unisys Corp. and CDW.

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