new capabilities of Office 2010.
Collaboration With Co-Authoring
It's hard to jump in and contribute on a document that's squirreled away in a local folder on someone's PC. That's why the co-authoring feature in Office 2010 has the potential for transformative change in content development and workflow.
Co-authoring allows multiple people to work on the same Word 2010, PowerPoint 2010 or OneNote 2010 document at the same time. In order for co-authoring to work, the document has to be placed either on someone's Windows Live "SkyDrive" (free 25MB to anyone with a Windows Live ID) or on a shared folder in SharePoint 2010. From there, multiple Office 2010 users can open the document at the same time for simultaneous editing.
Once people realize that they can jump in to review, comment upon and contribute to documents without locking others out, they'll be more likely and willing to lend a hand. But careful planning should be a prerequisite. For most people, co-authoring represents new territory, and the ground rules and etiquette handbook for co-authoring have yet to be written.
For example, how will it feel to have the workplace grammarian virtually following you around to quietly fix your split infinitives? Who reconciles differences in opinion in terms of usage, style and formatting when these debates are happening in real-time? And are you ready for a workplace where your boss can look over your shoulder at any time to see exactly how far you've gotten on the Penske file?
Just because it's easy to have everyone pile into a document doesn't mean that you should deploy the technology without adequate planning and forethought.
-- Call your shots. For documents that will be co-authored, add a cover page as a separate section of the document (in Word 2010, select Page Layout >> Breaks >> Section Break >> Next Page). Or, in PowerPoint 2010, create a separate slide earmarked for that purpose. List the co-authors and their respective responsibilities and deadlines (e.g., "RJ - add stock art and illustrations by Friday"), and add columns for current status, completion date and comments. That way, anyone who opens the document will see what's needed next.
-- Assign a project manager. One person should coordinate participation, set the overall pace and reconcile the work of multiple contributors.
-- Assign content ownership. Just one person should hold primary responsibility for the content of the final document, including all of its component parts, for accountability's sake.
-- Use the right tool for the job. Co-authoring allows two people to work on adjacent paragraphs in the same document at the same time. But what if you need both people to work on the same paragraph at the same time? In that case, it's not co-authoring that you need, but rather desktop-sharing or application-sharing. Within the Microsoft product line-up, if you have Office Communicator 2007 R2, Desktop Sharing will allow you to see exactly what someone else sees on their PC. Alternatively, Microsoft Live Meeting, available by subscription or as part of Office Communicator 2007 R2, allows you to share with someone else a single application as it appears on your desktop. Also, the upcoming Office Communications Server "14," available later this year, integrates application-sharing and desktop-sharing into the Office 2010 environment.
Here are some of the ways in which virtual presence can have a real impact on your business:
-- Presence during co-authoring. When someone's co-authoring a document with you in Word 2010, PowerPoint 2010, or OneNote 2010, that person's name and status indicator appears in the margins. By clicking on their status indicator you can send an instant message, create a new email or even initiate a VoIP call. Similarly, when you receive an email in Outlook 2010, you can instantly see the sender's presence status indicator if available. This is invaluable for bringing together office workers with remote workers, people in different time zones and traveling employees.
-- Internal knowledge through contact cards. If your business uses Microsoft Exchange and Active Directory, a "contact card" can display where your internal correspondents fit on the org chart. Although this would be most useful feature at larger organizations, even smaller companies have new hires and people located at other offices who may not be familiar with exactly how people fit into the company.
-- External knowledge from social networks. More applicable to small and midsize companies is the Outlook Social Connector, an add-in for Outlook that brings your correspondents' social network feeds and profile information directly to your inbox. The installation process involves downloading separate components for accessing LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace and Windows Live Messenger, which helps your IT staff to set appropriate usage policies for which social networks are to be integrated into the everyday email client, and which would be better left for off-hours perusal. On the surface, adding LinkedIn would be the obvious choice, providing quick details about the company, title, and current job responsibilities of your email correspondents, as knowing someone's professional history can be a great help in composing appropriate emails. However, that same logic might apply to Facebook status feeds, especially if you have a prior relationship with a customer or business partner that would warrant adding a personal note to the start of an email prior to getting down to business. (e.g. "Loved your vacation photos! You'll have to tell me more about it when we meet on Wednesday.")
-- Communications without clutter. Email has its advantages, among them the ability to reply to an email with another email. But the proliferation of email creates new problems, and busy professionals struggle daily with the chore of sorting through hundreds of incoming emails. Outlook 2010 has several ways to help you to manage your inbox, including "Conversation View," which groups related posts into a single line; the "Ignore" button, to keep discussions that are completely irrelevant to you from reaching your inbox; and "MailTips," a feature of Exchange 2010 that warns people when they're about to commit an email faux pas such as clicking "Reply All" in response to a BCC:, or emailing an overly-large group. Also, MailTips tells you when your addressee has an "on holiday" auto-reply, so that you don't waste time sending someone a detailed message that they won't read for over a week.
-- Easy alternatives to email. Presence status indicators also help to reduce the time spent processing email. Often, a VoIP call or text chat is a quicker way to issue resolution than an email. The Outlook 2010 interface makes emailing, IM chats and voice calls equally accessible. When responding to an email message mail, you should be making conscious choice as to the best communications method through which to reply. For matters that are time-sensitive, discussion-oriented or best suited for a personal conversation, the best choice might be a text chat, audio call or video chat. By enabling people to make the right choices, you can foster lower email handling times, increased productivity and stronger working relationships between your employees.
Collaboration and virtual presence in Office 2010 are powerful tools with the potential to drive real business value. However, absent a clear-eyed awareness of the organizational and cultural challenges, those same features can also lead to difficulties in the workplace. For example, if you try to implement document co-authoring without treating it as a project to be managed, it'll soon become unmanageable. And if you build IM and social networking into every productivity application without instituting reasonable use policies, don't be surprised if back-channel chatter consumes whatever time savings were achieved from a smaller inbox.
However, the benefits of collaboration and virtual presence far outweigh the potential pitfalls. As with any new technology, take your Office 2010 rollout one step at a time. Think through the benefits and use cases, set reasonable policies, give people the training they need to understand how best to work with the technology, and seek out feedback from your employees and co-workers on what would help them to do their jobs better.
The potential prize: A team-focused organization having a healthy balance of internal cohesiveness, external connectedness, and overall productivity.