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Team Collaboration Etiquette: Don't Be 'That Co-Worker'

Team collaboration and communications tools are supposed to make users' lives easier and offer additional ways to interact with colleagues, regardless if they are in the next cube or on the other side of the globe. Although these apps have not yet become the "email killer" many think they can be, they definitely have become a necessary part of everyday life in small businesses and large enterprises alike.

The idea is great -- one platform to message, video chat, and share documents that keeps all your conversations in one place. However, the integration into the enterprise has not been seamless -- and I don't mean from a technology standpoint. While the etiquette of email is well established, the rules for collaboration remain murky, and everyone knows that one person who just cannot seem to figure it out.

For example, many of these tools have a "do not disturb" (DND) setting a worker can select when focused on a task and not wanting to be interrupted. Yet coworkers who see this status often instead pick up the phone or swing by their colleague's desk to chat, managing to interrupt the task anyway. And everyone knows that one person who has been burned when sharing his or her screen only to have an email or instant message pop up that nobody else should have seen.

To combat this, let's take a step back, look at proper ways to leverage these powerful tools, and go over five tips on how to avoid becoming "that coworker" -- the person in the office everyone knows has poor collaboration etiquette.

1. Respect Presence
This goes beyond not sending your coworkers IMs when they're in meetings. Recognize that their presence on a collaboration tool represents their overall presence at work. You would not interrupt a meeting to ask a quick question. Nor would you want to bother someone when you know he or she is very busy. A popular feature people use is the "busy" status, as many workers do not want to put themselves on DND. However, this status indicates they are probably pretty strapped, and you should hold off on creating another action item for them.

This goes both ways -- managing your own presence is important, too. For example, do not leave yourself on DND or forget about an out-of-office notice for the time you took off three weeks ago.

2. Know Your Office
Different offices will have different etiquette rules depending on their particular cultures. If your boss is the type of person who prints everything to review, he or she may not be the best person to launch a shared screen with and jump into a document to start revisions. Knowing your office culture, hierarchy, and colleagues' preferences is key to ensuring you do not run into any issues while collaborating.

Similarly, knowing what tone to take when sending IMs and texting is important. For example, you probably best not type messages to your boss the same way you might text a friend. Others may not understand what you mean by IMO (in my opinion) or BTW (by the way). Make sure you know your audience as well as your office culture.

3. Understand Your Medium
Many of us learn this one the hard way. Just like over email, sarcasm does not always translate over IM, so be careful about making a questionable joke. IM is good for quick questions, but for longer conversations, transition to a phone or a video chat. Recognize that home workers may prefer to have phone conversations vs. video chats, especially early in the morning before the coffee has kicked in, or pajamas have been retired.

4. Know Your Limits
Every office seems to have that one person outside of the IT department who can make the technology work perfectly anytime it breaks. If that person is not you, you might be better off asking for help before embarking on a complicated technology task. If you do not know how to operate your video conferencing function or if the app is temperamental, ask for help before the meeting.

5. Beware of Screen Share
Screen share is a valuable tool and a great way to collaborate with colleagues, both in and out of the office. It is also a great way to get yourself into trouble. Do not forget to turn off notifications for IM and email when sharing your screen. These not only can be distracting, but also potentially embarrassing. And, when you're done collaborating, don't forget to turn screen share off and notifications back on. Someone may be trying to reach you.

Despite their potential pitfalls, when used properly, team collaboration platforms offer great opportunities. Making your team more open and collaborative positively effects productivity and work product, as a plethora of statistics shows, and can have intangible benefits, as well. Not getting enough face time with a manager in another office? Launch a video chat to make it more personal. Need a quick answer on the best number to reach the client? Shoot off an IM rather than walking down the hall to ask somebody in person.

We are at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to team collaboration apps, and the more these systems improve so too should the way we use them. Proper use is imperative. So, the next time you're sharing a screen or want to pester someone on DND, keep these tips in mind... and happy collaborating!