6 Tips For Better Document Collaboration

Why am I talking about document collaboration, and features that have been around for years?

Well, sharing and managing access to documents in a cloud library, along with how to effectively collaborate on them, is probably the learning that in many organisations requires the most focus.

This comes back to the effectiveness of original training. We can comment and criticise that people still seem to share a document by attaching to email, however I have come across many people for whom training focused on how to create a link to share a document, without deep context or hands on practical activities to help people not only learn the skills but apply to their specific work. Sharing a document with a link is only a small part of document collaboration.

What is crucial, is to drive collaboration conversations across your organisation. Help people not only have the skills to create a link to share, or even better share in review mode or collaborate with tracked changes. But beyond the skills, empower people to understand options with different features.

What do I mean?

Lately I have been talking a lot about different ways to work with others on documents, and to help drive learning, helped people think about if they want to collaborate with everyone equal, or to retain a sense of core control.

See, co-authoring creates a situation where we are most commonly working on a document as equals. You may have experienced or be aware of this – where you see everyone’s cursor in the document, showing who is accessing it and where they are working, down to the specific word they are typing. This can be really efficient, but there can be challenges.

I can think of many examples, and have had many people discuss with me over the years situations where someone needs to be the main owner or in control of a document.
Be it a coordinator compiling a proposal and finalising formatting, or a PA combining content from others to do final checks and convert to pdf.
In many instances, co-author can lead to too many edits or some changes that need to be rolled back, where version history isn’t straight forward. In some instances, review mode with features like tracked changes and comments, enable that central person to review, accept or decline, resolve comments/ threads, and finalise.

Driving a dialogue of deeper understanding of collaboration techniques can help people consider what way of working will drive the best experience and end-result for a team or department.

To help explore this, here are 6 tips for better document collaboration:
(from my image earlier in this blog)

  1. Store in an online library
    No brainer? Well, there are places out there still in the transition from file servers. Hopefully not many, but I am sure there are reasons. The pandemic surely was a catalyst for many to make that long awaited move.
    Even if you use online libraries, key is to think about the best place – is it a channel in a team? Is it in your OneDrive to manage access and maintain control?, Or a department SharePoint site?
    Key to modern collaboration features is storing a document online and enabling access for others.
  2. Confirm your collaboration type
    Urrrr… what does this mean?
    Just a way of explaining what I dived into above. Confirm how this document needs to be edited, or how a group of people will work effectively together. It could be a collaboration type/ style, scenario… whatever terms you want to use, just have the conversation.
    It’s always great to check in with people – what is their preferred style, and what doesn’t work for them, to find the middle ground or compromise.
    As mentioned above, it may suit to have a single person keep control – if this suits, have it in review mode and they control the changes. Or, can everyone just dive in with co-authoring and do their work in the document? Pause and consider what type or way of working will suit.
  3. Share the right way
    Well this seems obvious, doing something right, but I don’t mean functionality and knowing how to use it. I mean sharing in the way to match the collaboration type.
    If you are in OneDrive in the browser, or Microsoft Teams, and you trigger a shareable link – review the settings. If you just share with colleagues and give edit rights, that will lead to co-authoring. However, if you share online and select ‘review’ mode, that will trigger review features like tracked changes and comments. So, once you confirm the way a group wants to collaborate, share in the best mode to suit the scenario.
  4. Communicate in the document
    Sometimes people have a chat, or post, thread in Microsoft Teams, or they send email back and forth to discuss a document or deliverable. At times this could be addressed from within the document, and to be honest I don’t see this enough. A question like “have the figures been updated” could be a comment in the exact paragraph in a document, with an @mention to alert the person being questioned. Remember you can review a comment, reply, and later it can be ‘resolved’ when addressed. I don’t think enough people realise how powerful these features are.
  5. Finalise
    This is a simple step. Review it, and finalise. Whether that just be to scroll through and check, or it’s to accept/ reject changes, resolve threads and complete all actions. It is just an important step to be completed to finalise effective collaboration.
  6. Share don’t send
    Yes, I still see or receive many things by email. And it’s still common to finalise a document to pdf and attach to an email for a client. A few considerations here.
    Firstly, ensure you (or your staff) know how to share a document in read-only mode. We actually don’t always need a separate pdf. I can have a Word document that is a proposal for a client, and adjust the share settings for that client to have the document open in a browser tab like a pdf, even controlling if they can download or not.
    Secondly, understand a cloud attachment. You can send a document via an Outlook email, appearing like an attachment that is opening the source.
    Finally, know how to create a link to share a document, whether read-only mode of a Word file, or if you did save as pdf and want to send. Know how to create that link and what to do with it.

So, that is a quick list of tips for document collaboration. Test yourself. Think about how you work and could it be different.
This is not a best practice guide or deep detail, but a starting point for conversations.
Talk as a group. It could be just 2 of you creating something, or a broader group of stakeholders. Have collaboration conversations in your workplace. What is common, what really could be enhanced and adjusted. Ask the hard questions: “why do we still do it this way?”. Often its just habit and could be refined.

True transformation requires discomfort and effort, but is so worth it!

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