How to Harness Online Collaboration Tools

Posted on Apr 30, 2020


Since the spread of COVID-19 began and social distancing went into effect, more public power staff are working from home. While we adapt to drastic changes in our lives, working remotely comes with its own challenges. Last week #UtilityPioneer Pam Spettel shared seven ways she maintains day-to-day communications from her home.

Sometimes an email just doesn’t cut it. It’s easy to feel (even more) isolated when you can’t swing by a coworker’s desk for their opinion or brainstorm ideas with your team.

To keep productivity and morale up, use technology to come together online.

Microsoft Teams

Pioneer Utility Resources staff uses Microsoft Teams for remote collaboration. Besides one-on-one messaging, Teams is great for setting up group chat rooms perfect for departmental discussions. The robust chat feature integrates stickers, emojis, and GIFs to bring out your personality. (Just remember to maintain a professional tone!)

Video meetings are easy to schedule and packed with features. Each online meeting has instant messaging, note sharing, and screen sharing available for any participant for a productive (and secure) discussion.

One of the biggest advantages of using Teams is the integration across Microsoft products. Teams plays nicely with Outlook for scheduling meetings and even lets you share and edit Word documents, PowerPoint and Excel files in real time. You can add custom apps like Evernote, FreeHand, SurveyMonkey and more to enhance your experience.

Not at your computer, or using a laptop without a camera? No problem. Teams has an app for your smartphone that keeps you connected, no matter where you are or what capabilities you have at your home office.

Theresa Phillips, public relations manager at Lassen Municipal Utility District, California, also uses Microsoft Teams as an online collaboration tool.

“If a customer service representative receives a high bill complaint from a customer, they can message me for advice while they have the customer on the line,” Theresa says. “Even though we are working in our separate spaces, each at home, we are able to work together to help our customer.”

Since adjusting to new circumstances, Theresa thinks Teams is a wonderful tool to help staff feel connected. “Even if we are just shooting each other a quick note to say “good morning” or “how’s it going,” Teams keeps us working like the team we are.”

Other Tools

We enjoy Teams, but several other notable online collaboration tools offer similar features.

  • Slack is a wildly popular platform that offers messaging, video calls and ‘channels’ that function as project topics to keep your team on track.

    Pioneer Utility Resources staff using GoToMeeting to show off their favorite mugs during a virtual coffee break.

  • G Suite, Google’s team collaboration collection, offers a slew of online tools, including video chat, shared documents with real-time editing, cloud storage and more for getting projects done.
  • If you’re looking for a more focused project management solution, Trello might be a solution to keeping your team organized. Monday.com is another tool for remote teamwork, used by several Pioneer Utility Resources departments for collaborating on projects and tasks.
  • Just need video chat? Pioneer Utility Resources staff use GoToMeeting to handle video conferencing. Zoom is also a solid option for conducting meetings, webinars and conferences, especially with new security measures in place.

Some public power utilities need to keep a record of all communications—online or otherwise—to comply with public records requests. Make sure you pick a tool that allows archiving.

Collaboration Tips

Ready to use online collaboration tools more efficiently? Here are some tips for embracing technology and maintaining a sense of normalcy.

1.  Maintain your routine. Does your department have weekly stand up meetings? Conduct them online. Do you usually grab lunch with a coworker on Fridays? Hop on a video call with them! Use technology to keep the same practices that you do in person.

2.  Send less email. With instant messaging, simple questions can be answered quickly and efficiently. “Utilize regular email for routine professional communication and one-time communication to the team,” Ruralite editor Leon Espinoza recommends.

3.  Use video chat. When the home office isn’t tidy and your hair is a mess, you might be tempted to turn off your webcam on video calls. But seeing coworkers helps maintain your connections and improves communication; experts find up to 93% of communication is nonverbal. Try to keep the cam on. Your coworkers will appreciate it.

4.  Stay secure. Getting set up to work remotely can be a strain on your IT department. Ensure that your software and operating system at home is up to date. Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication to keep your accounts secure.

Technology has the potential to strengthen teams during a time when we need collaboration the most. What works for you? Share your collaboration tips below. And remember: We may be apart, but we’ll get through this, together.

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