I’ve learnt a lot about our collective capability to work remotely in recent months; more broadly, as humans, I continue to be impressed by our adaptability, especially when it comes to technology. There are some fantastic and creative solutions out there to keep us all connected and working collaboratively to high standards. Office workers are finding more and more ways to interact with colleagues, making sure the messages we were communicating before aren’t restricted by distance.
Desk-based workers are taking full advantage of chat software functionalities for those quick check-ins and the likes of Skype and Zoom for video and interactive meetings — these lend themselves very intuitively to our working styles, and offer a way of recreating the office space virtually.
In the research world, there is a type of discussion that is crucial to keep going, which is the discussion of insights. We know that stakeholder engagement is highly effective at all stages of a project, however the current situation presents the challenge of collating insights in a virtual way.
We used to count on the good old dashboard to bring together a collection of information, in a shareable format that could be circulated around a client’s team and beyond. There are some good dashboard tools out there for us to use, but the trouble is that dashboards are typically fairly static, designed to be created and read only. To get the best outcomes from market research, stakeholders need to engage with each other interactively in collaborative efforts that would allow them to really act on the insights in the best way possible, which is something that dashboards alone cannot achieve.
This is the case for using collaborative tools in place of the dashboard, as they can really stimulate stakeholder engagement, bringing a variety of interactive features to make the likes of data storytelling and insight actioning the most likely outcome every time.
Keeping in Touch
The first tool I would like to mention is Slack. Slack is a cross-team communication tool, facilitating chats with individuals, teams and even company-wide. More than a chat functionality, the programme boasts other information sharing features, such as screen sharing capability and the ability to draw/highlight areas of interest and focus. Linking other apps to Slack means widely-useful information can be synced for everyone to see, such as team/company absences and holidays, team-specific project updates and more.
Running along a similar route, but maybe more widely known is Microsoft Teams. This is what I’d call the rising star of the virtual communication effort — companies have been relying on Teams for video calls since before the pandemic came into the picture, but now we see more and more stakeholders hosting meetings with other teams and agencies from across multiple companies, and across the world, for project debriefs, insight discussions and scoping out next steps. Teams’ ability to host these calls, provide chat functionality and share files during meetings brings us closer to the experience of sitting around one table. One particularly useful feature for collaborations is the ‘Cloud attachment’ feature, providing the ability to work together on one single copy of a document, recording real-time changes and keeping everyone, quite literally, on the same page.
Managing the To-Do List
Now that we know our workloads, managing all of the projects we encounter on a daily basis in the research industry is a task in and of itself. Tools like Trello and Basecamp, whilst traditionally associated with project management and managing tasks could be used as a management tool to more easily facilitate collaborative efforts throughout the research process; as in, they could be used for compiling and distributing insights, research project updates, and other such news for all to see and interact with, as well as assigning relevant actions to specific departments or people in a second. These tools also provide an easy place for stakeholders to get involved as well, seeing what stage the projects have got to and what insights are already being produced — this instant access to real-time insights allows for decisions to be made in real-time too and have the most impact where needed.
In a similar vein, Jira, once known mainly for bug tracking, now enables teams to manage large projects with various steps — to name some, managing sprints (through “scrum boards”), visualising workflows (through “kanban boards”) and feeding into large bodies of work (“epics”), ideal for working towards a strategic goal.
Bringing It All Together
Knowledge libraries are an obvious choice for centralising research data, reports and learnings, and there are plenty of online library tools to help curate, tag and organise files for easy reference. Elium (previously Knowledge Plaza) is one such example, whose aim is to “turn noise into knowledge”. By this, they mean turning information created and shared quickly and messily (e.g. discussions via instant messaging services) into more permanent and actionable knowledge that can be communicated and shared to wider groups, allowing teams to work smarter.
For file sharing and management, Google Drive offers seamless file upload and management with “unmatched speed, performance, and reliability”, promoting features like Priority, which uses AI “to predict what you’re looking for and surface the most relevant content — helping your team find files up to 50% faster.” This speed can really benefit everyone on the research project, as it ultimately means that the time gathering data, managing the research project, and generating insight is cut down, allowing for more relevant, timely insights to fall into the stakeholders’ hands.
For curating instructions and team-based knowledge, Wikis are a popular choice, providing the ability to index organisation-related information for easy searching. This is ideal for documenting team processes and important learnings throughout a long period of time, but it could also be considered for archiving evidence of macro trends and historical information learned about certain projects and products.
Forget the Dashboard
Companies will be using at least some of these solutions already, if not all of them, to keep research insights relevant, identify missing pieces of the insight puzzle and plan ahead for how to build on the discoveries and data previously collected.
Now we’re all a little more settled into this remote working life, there’s no doubt we’ll see more programmes trying to take the place of face-to-face interactions and to keep the collaborative spirit alive. It’ll be interesting to see how many of these ways of working stick around once we’re reconnected in real life again — but one thing’s for sure, technology continues to serve us well and keep us all close.
This article was originally published on the FlexMR Insight Blog and can be accessed here.