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How online collaboration can help make you more innovative

on 26 August 2015


Posted by Jacqui Hogan

The economic and technological environment in which you operate is constantly changing. Other organisations are inventing better products, better ways of working etc. If you don’t innovate, you will eventually lose business to better and smarter competitors.

Innovation is a vital ingredient in raising the productivity, competitiveness and growth potential of every organisation that wishes to survive in today's fast moving economies. A key part of Innovation is the successful exploitation of new ideas. These can be ideas for products, services or processes. It includes both radical new ideas and incremental changes to existing ones. But what else can you do to increase your level of innovation with online collaboration tools?

Using online collaboration tools

One of the great things about using online collaboration tools is that they give you the opportunity to collaborate in a way that can be more effective than being geographically together. The tools don't even need to be particularly sophisticated or complex. They do need to be easy to understand and used by everyone, and they need to keep any sensitive information safe and secure.


  • Online collaboration tools enable you to manage information virtually, in a safe and secure way
  • The opportunity to exchange ideas with other people regardless of where they work
  • Everyone can contribute at a time that’s convenient to them
  • Unlike with meetings, there’s no need to take notes. When you collaborate online the entire discussion thread is saved and can be referred to at any time to check who said what, and when
  • Discussions are searchable too, which can be incredibly useful for referral
  • Any action points can then be assigned to participants using task management tools


To use them effectively:

  • Use shared documents to which everyone involved has access
  • Create share folders to which everyone involved can add documents
  • Use calendars/project management tools to define deadlines and interactive times to suit all participants
  • Agree a sharing ‘protocol’
  • Agree a security ‘protocol’Use tools that all participants understand how to use
  • Check participation commitment often

Virtual incubators

Over the past 10 years, many physical incubation units have sprung up in almost every city or large town. These enable smart, creative people from a variety of small and medium sized organisations to work together to share ideas and develop new products, new services and new processes. But they rely on being able to get the right people together in one place, where the office space can often be expensive.

With online collaboration tools now familiar and available to most people, you have a great opportunity to create a virtual incubator which does not rely on people being in the same office, the same city or even the same country! You can collaborate across organisational boundaries, with further education colleges, suppliers and customers.

Some things to consider:

  • Agree a shared goal
  • Create a shared timetable
  • Expect open exchange of knowledge and skills by all participants
  • Use tools that keep your data secure
  • Put in place relevant IP management agreements
  • Agree how to share costs
  • Choose the right size of team, so that participants can get to know each other well
  • Choose only those participants who can be active
  • Agree joint ownership of the results


I hate traditional brainstorms. These usually consist of one person clutching a pen writing frantically on a flip chart while everyone shouts out ideas. The person at the flip chart will be filtering what they hear, and losing anything they don’t hear while they write.

But how can you brainstorm, if people are not all in the same room?

There are dozens of better idea generation tools and techniques than traditional brainstorming, e.g. Atos, reversals, super heroes, sandpit etc. You can use many of these in a virtual environment too. After all, you only really need a mechanism for recording ideas and sharing them.

As mentioned earlier, getting lots of ideas is important for innovation. Focussing on getting lots of ideas creates a situation where more original ideas will surface. Good idea generation tools will take you out of your comfort zone and into the zone where the magic happens, and where good ideas reside.

Some things to consider:

  • Clarify and agree your initial problem statement
  • Agree short timescales for each brainstorming cycle e.g. 2-5 days, that allow every participant equal involvement time i.e. according to their geography
  • Agree which tools you will use – tools that allow people to immediately see each other’s ideas
  • Create an online noticeboard or one document for each brainstorming cycle that everyone adds to or adds ideas via comments
  • Do not allow challenges until the end of each brainstorming cycle, however far-fetched the ideas may be
  • Choose your team from as wide and diverse a group as possible


Glasscubes is a UK based collaboration tool that supports a full range of e-Team and remote working options. Find out more about how they can help you manage your e-Teams more effectively by calling +44 (0)20 3274 2310 or email


About this author: Jacqui Hogan

With over 30 years technical and management experience in the IT industry, Jacqui has mentored many individuals and business owners to greater success with helping improve communication, technology project management, change management, and innovation.