Wikis: Quick Collaboration Tools for the SMB

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    While working for a smaller tech company, I dealt with a daily barrage of email and paper memos about changes to company standards and documentation. Those changes often affected disparate departments that used a lot of the same information, but in different ways. Often, confusion arose about an email thread and whose decision trumped whom. Paper documentation was lost and relying on email threads from three years prior was simply no way to do business efficiently. As the company quickly grew, it needed a better way to involve its departments in a collaborative setting and an improved way to store its documentation and standards.

    One manager provided the solution: an interdepartmental company wiki. What are wikis? Think Wikipedia, but one that is used as an internal business tool. They provide searchable storage of documents, templates, memos, meeting minutes and other knowledge base information in a format that is easy to use and that can be updated regularly. And since it’s easily updated by just about anyone, users can be sure they are accessing the latest and greatest information.

    Wikis are low cost and often free. Server reliance is usually low and setup isn’t extremely complex. They can be customized (some provide a variety of templates to use) and many offer plugins that provide extended features, such as video support, polls, statistics and encryption options.

    Teams can have their own sections where they can access their own frequently used documents, but can also utilize cross-departmental information. It’s a functional tool for collaboration—project members from any department can access documentation for the project, realize its status, add comments and suggestions, and make changes or upload new information. Confusion is avoided since everyone views the same page and can do so at the same time. Any errors can be quickly corrected. And best of all, no papers to be lost or old emails to sort through.

    Wikis should be set up with guidelines, though. Users should understand the rules for sharing documentation and how to communicate within the wiki community. Such rules can be posted on the opening screen or on a FAQ page within the wiki for members to access whenever necessary.

    It may take awhile for members to catch on to using the new tool, too. After the wiki has been set up, you can plan training activities—online or in person. Involve different departments and teams to start encouraging collaboration. Departments can create schedules for building out the knowledge bases. Project managers and teams can begin to include wiki usage in their kickoff meetings and can also transition current projects to the wiki. I can assure you that once users experience the time savings and the ease of use, they will be hooked.

    I will follow up in a later post about the variety of wiki tools available for use and how to choose one that best suits your company’s needs.

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