Tips, tricks, advice, and answers for the 21stcentury global workspace.
I have a specific question about working with colleagues in multiple locations. When we are all working on the same document, things can get really confusing and tense – people end up working on different drafts and then having to input their changes all over again in the latest draft. To be honest, the whole process is usually a nightmare. Do you have any advice to make this easier?
– Document Disaster
Dear Document Disaster,
I completely understand where you’re coming from – cross-country collaboration on documents can get really tricky! Try the following steps for a smoother real-time document collaboration process:
1) Choose an online tool that works for everyone: Pick an online document collaboration tool that suits your needs, e.g., Google Docs, Microsoft Office Live, and Zoho. Make sure *everyone* has access to it. Each person will need to access the latest version of the document, work on it, and then upload their version as the latest version. This will minimise the confusion of numerous emailed versions and unnecessary inbox clogging.
2) Decide on how to add changes: Are the changes to be tracked or simply inserted? Is it okay to insert comments where something needs to be clarified? Do approvals need to be initialled in a different colour at the end of the paragraph? Ask one team member, someone who is familiar with working on documents, to lay down some basic ground rules and send these out to the entire group in the beginning so that everyone understands the process. Ask people to paste this on the wall/board next to their workstation for the duration of the project for quick reference.
3) Manage team members’ roles and timelines: Clarify who is meant to do what in which section, and when. Who is doing research for the third section? Who is writing the first draft of the narrative? Who is creating chart nos. 8 and 9? When is the second draft due? Who is doing the final edit? Send out a group notification with all these details and state each person’s expected contribution and timeline very clearly, so that there is no ambiguity. If the project is over a long time period, send regular updates.
4) Divide the process into phases: There is nothing more annoying than seeing draft no. 1 full of hundreds of red marks correcting punctuation and spellings. Such errors need to be addressed towards the end, after all major changes have been inputted (presumably in draft no. 31 or so!). I would recommend the following broad phases be communicated to the entire team as and when required:
- Preliminary/rough outline: Input should be about broad structure and themes.
- Early draft: Input should focus on narrative, chronology, content, and tone.
- Late draft: Input should focus on spellings, grammar, punctuation, syntax, references, and facts.
- Final edit: Input should focus on spellings, grammar, and punctuation.
Hope these tips help your team resolve the document-related issues!