- Try before you buy.
Don't insist on everyone in your group using a collaboration software program until you're sure it will run on everyone's computer.
- Practice, practice, practice.
Make sure you know all the package's features before you get online. You won't look like much of a leader if you can't erase the whiteboard.
- Use the same software.
There are standards for communicating from one application to another over the Internet, but don't rely on them. The safest approach: have everyone use the same program.
- Synchronize your calendars.
Using the same contact software will ensure that everyone shows up for your online meeting.
- For meetings of three or more, skip the videoconferencing.
The more people on camera, the slower the performance.
- There's got to be a leader.
Forget the "democratizing effect" of the Internet. To avoid online chaos, make sure everyone knows who's leading the meeting.
- Beginners should use a less interactive style.
The degree of difficulty rises in proportion to the degree of interactivity. Until you've mastered the software, keep the back-and-forth to a minimum.
- Do what you've got to do and get offline.
In cyberspace, the laws of real space don't apply, but those of time certainly do. So don't waste time geeking to the technology.
- For Internet phone calls, check foreign-country rules. Some countries, such as the Czech Republic and Portugal, protect their government-run telcos by blocking Net phone calls.
- Keep the phone handy.
The audio portion of your collaboration is the part most likely to fail. When it does, go to plan B: pick up the telephone.
A version of this article appeared in the October/November 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.