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Why Collaborating with External Stakeholders on Documents Demands Different Tools and Strategies

What is document collaboration?

Collaborating on documents, or document collaboration, is when people work together on a document. They can share ideas, give feedback, and make changes either all at once or over time. The people who work on this document with you can be either inside your organization or closely aligned (aka. Internal stakeholders) or outside your organization (aka. External stakeholders). 

What makes working with external stakeholders hard? 

Working with people from outside your company on documents can be a bit tricky. While the most visible problem is often geographic dispersion, that’s not the only issue.  

Beneath, we analyze the top challenges, compare and contrast internal vs. external stakeholders, and provide recommendations.

  • Tools/Technology 
    • Internal Stakeholders: Everyone usually uses the same tools and systems, making it easier to work together.
    • External Stakeholders: Different parties might use different tools or systems which may not work well together.
    • Recommendation: Establish a common platform for document collaboration that is accessible to all parties. If a singular platform isn’t feasible, implement middleware that can integrate different systems or agree on a neutral tool that is widely accepted.
  • Security/Privacy/Confidentiality Policies and Regulations
    • Internal Stakeholders: Security rules are the same for everyone, and sharing is straightforward.
    • External Stakeholders: There might be strict rules on what can be shared and how it can be shared.
    • Recommendation: Develop a standardized security protocol, endorsed by all stakeholders, that complies with the most stringent privacy regulations of the involved parties. Utilize encrypted channels for document sharing and ensure that all collaborators are briefed on these protocols.
  • Geography
    • Internal Stakeholders: Usually, everyone works in similar time zones, so it’s easier to coordinate.
    • External Stakeholders: If parties are in different time zones, finding a time to work together can be hard.
    • Recommendation: Leverage asynchronous collaboration tools and establish a routine schedule for updates that accommodate all time zones. For necessary synchronous meetings, rotate meeting times to share the inconvenience of odd hours equitably.
  • Communication Methods 
    • Internal Stakeholders: Talking to each other is usually easy and quick within the same company.
    • External Stakeholders: Communication might not be as easy and quick with outside parties.
    • Recommendation: Utilize the appropriate communication channel for the required task. This could include emails for long-form communication and telephone calls/messaging for more immediate action. Develop a retention strategy with your stakeholders to capture communications.  
  • Version Tracking: 
    • Internal Stakeholders: It’s easier to track who made what changes and when.
    • External Stakeholders: Keeping track of who changed what and when can be a puzzle.
    • Recommendation: Craft a version management policy and get agreement from all parties. Make sure all parties version consistently.
  • Ability to work in Real-Time
    • Internal Stakeholders: People can often work on a document at the same time and see the changes right away.
    • External Stakeholders: Working on a document at the same time might not be possible due to different systems or rules.
    • Recommendation:  For external stakeholders, avoid real-time document collaboration and provide space for each party to do their job. 
  • Power-Dynamics and Control
    • Internal Stakeholders: There’s usually a level of control over how and when work gets done, as everyone follows the same company rules and guidelines.
    • External Stakeholders: With external stakeholders, you don’t have much control over their actions or timelines, which can sometimes lead to delays or unexpected changes.
    • Recommendation: Build mutual agreements that outline the scope of work, deadlines, and responsibilities clearly. Include clauses for regular progress reviews and establish a conflict resolution protocol to address any deviations proactively.

Our advice

As you can see, the way you work on documents needs to be different when working with outside people. It’s like having a friend over to play, but they have different rules at their home, so you need to figure out a new set of rules that work for both.

Choosing the right tools to work together is very important. Some tools are great for working fast with your teammates, like being on a playground together. Those are real-time, or so-called synchronous document collaboration tools, like Google Docs, Microsoft 365. Other tools, like TakeTurns, are better for when you need to work with outside people, giving everyone their own time and space to contribute.

Understanding that working with your own team and working with outside people are two different games will help you pick the right way to work together. And using the right tools in the right ways can make working on documents a fun and successful project, no matter who you’re working with.


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