Five ways that online group collaboration beats face to face

Group collaboration is a great way for people to things done, learn and have fun together. When people work with others in a group, they can solve complex problems, coordinate their work and share valuable learning. Face to face meetings are great for group collaboration but they also have problems. Collaborating online can get around some of those problems but it is often seen as poor alternative, an evil that is needed to get around the problems of meeting face to face.

Online group collaboration does get around some of the problems of face to face meetings, but it also provides some benefits that face to face meetings can not provide.

Here, I’ll look at the problems with face to face meetings, how online collaboration gets around them, and some advantages that online collaboration has over face to face.There are five main problems with face to face group collaboration.

  1. Same place. All group members must meet in the same place. This can involve expensive, time-consuming and environmentally unsustainable travel.
  2. Same time. All group members must meet at the same time. Scheduling a meeting to suit everyone is difficult in small groups and  impossible in a large ones.
  3. Hard to scale. Only one person can speak at a time. If you break into small groups, each person misses out on most of what happens in the other groups.
  4. Now or never. You have one chance to have your say. Sometimes that great idea is a little time coming.
  5. No record. Each person, or a minute-taker must take notes about what was said.

 Here is how online group collaboration gets around these problems.

1 Participate from any place

This may seem obvious but it reflects the greatest effect that the Internet has had on the World: it has reduced the cost of communication. Enormously. Like writing, the printing press, telegraph, radio and television before it, digital communications technology has made the World smaller.

2 Participate at any time

With asynchronous online collaboration media, such as reply-to-all email, Google Groups, Yahoo! Groups, OnlineGroups.net, and many others, participants post and read content at different times. No scheduling is required.

Of course, with synchronous online media, such as Skype or Google Hangouts, you have the same scheduling problem as you do with face to face — or worse, if your participants are participating from different time zones.

3 Meet in larger groups

Unlike face to face meetings, with most online collaboration tools, people can talk — or write — at the same time. As groups get larger, the conversations can be divided into sub-groups. Participants can move among groups so that there are more chances for each person to have their say.

4 Participate at your own pace

With online media you do not have respond straight away. You can read the conversations at your own pace, and especially with asynchronous media, respond when you are ready.

5 Create an archive

 Finally, with online collaboration, everything is automatically recorded so that there is usually a lasting archived that can be searched and browsed. This is particularly useful for preserving organizational knowledge.

Online collaboration gives you time, lots of time

A closer look at these five benefits reveals that one is to do with space, and the other four are to do with time. The temporal benefits of online collaboration all stem from the fact that an archive is created as the collaboration occurs. This frees people from the need to participate in that exact moment. It means they can listen closely and think before they reply, or to do that in a different timezone to the others. It gives them time to browse various discussions and choose the ones that are of most interest. And it provides these opportunities stretching into the future. In online groups, people can find the information that you post at any time in the future, saving them time with no extra effort from you.

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