For many small businesses, collaboration — the job of how to best bring together multiple employees, suppliers and other partners to complete a project — can be a challenge. Coordinating the efforts of a virtual workforce isn’t always easy from a technological standpoint, no matter whether you use convenient but unstructured ad hoc methods or highly structured but expensive collaboration tools.
Many companies are turning to the Web 2.0 application known as a wiki, which basically is an electronic bulletin board that enables a group of people to post information to a specific site. Wikis are designed to help with the exchange of information among members of a team. Because of their simplicity and flexibility, non-technical people can work with wikis more easily than most collaboration applications.
Use the following tips to improve your company’s collaboration efforts.
Establish a template for documents and wikis
It’s important to remember that wikis enable you to not only work together on current projects, but they also act as a record of the project for future reference. As a result, it’s best to create a template or set of guidelines on how to create them. Most wiki software will track who updates data, but your template should take into account your company’s specific needs.
For instance, when you build a document in the wiki, list what keywords or phrases, such as “product development” or “quality assurance,” are associated with it in a prominent place. That way, other users can discern quickly what they can expect to find in each document without having to search the entire wiki; it also lets you add terms and concepts that may not specifically appear in the wiki.
Keep one master file
Enact a policy that forbids anyone from copying the primary document. For small businesses or teams working on a creative effort — marketing, documentation, even software code — this avoids “version control” issues. Then, others won’t question whether the material is accurate or up-to-date, because it lives in only one place. Because you can use the wiki as a repository for a group of files — documents, spreadsheets, presentation files, even emails — it can serve as the “library of record” for an entire project.
Save anything on your wiki
Don’t limit yourself solely to text-based projects. Depending on how you set up the underlying database of your wiki (and depending on the software you buy), you can use wikis for scheduling, project management or even advertising that might require tracking text, video and graphics together. If you work with a contractor or outsourcing vendor in another time zone, you won’t need to rely on phone communication as much. Each team can post progress reports in the wiki at the end of their workday for access by others when they start theirs. Again, because the information exists in only one location, there’s no question of its accuracy.
Create your own library
Some companies use wikis as knowledge management tools, the same way people might use a library or an encyclopedia. For instance, you could store all the pertinent information about a product family in one place or keep a running history of a regional office. Then, when someone is looking for that information later on, they can check the collected insights among the wikis. It’s an efficient way to avoid duplication of effort and maintain a corporate memory, especially as employees come and go.