By: Emily Finlay
If you want to have an efficient workplace, employees must be equipped to collaborate quickly and easily. For remote or hybrid teams, this means using practices that give everyone access to the information that drives or affects their work.
Unfortunately, even sharing data among team members can sometimes be problematic. Since you’re using information from a variety of sources, many workers have to locate different documents and files to access the data they need. As they search for the right information, you can lose valuable time and productivity.
In 2019, a survey found that employees spend an average of five hours per week waiting for other people to send them the data they need. Add that up among all of your team members, and you’re losing a significant amount of time each week.
Every time a worker is left waiting or looking for information, the task or project they’re working on is delayed and efficiency is sacrificed, and your team may lose momentum as a result.
Many employees also rely on outdated versions of important files, skewing results and setting your timeline back even further.
In the end, this inefficiency may leave your clients waiting or force you to reschedule important projects, which doesn’t reflect well on your company or your team.
In this post, we will introduce you to the practice of data linking. You’ll learn what data linking is, how to use it, and the many ways it can benefit your team.
What is data linkage?
Data linkage is the practice of attaching or linking to sources of information. This practice provides context to your actions, allowing others to easily see what you are referring to.
Let’s say you’re building a website for a client and you notice an error on one of the web pages— something doesn’t match the project requirements. So, you send a message to the team member in charge of that task.
But since you didn’t attach the document with the original requirements, that employee has to spend time finding the file and locating the relevant information. Though it isn’t a major delay, it disrupts the work and makes the task take longer than it needs to. If this happens regularly, it can add up to a lot of wasted time.
In a similar situation, imagine that a client asks for a change to one of the fundamental functions of the website you’re creating. When your team member tasked with creating the website asks what the client requested, you tell them to refer to the requirements document.
But if you didn’t update the original document with the new changes and send it via data linking to your teammate, they may instead locate an older version of the file and work off that. If you don’t catch the mistake quickly, your teammate will have to redo their work related to that error, which wastes time, effort, and money.
As you can see from these examples, while data linking is a simple practice, it can be critical to your team and company efficiency.
Data linking gives everyone easy access to the information they need and ensures they always use the most up-to-date data. If you want to lead a productive team, this is an important step to include in every project.
Why is data linking important for remote teams?
The recent surge in remote work has emphasized the importance of linked data. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, only 12% of workers were fully remote. Today, an estimated 27% of the US workforce works from home full-time. This means that many teams have at least one remote worker.
Several companies have announced plans to let employees work from home permanently or have settled on a hybrid working model, meaning teams will have to use remote- work best practices, at least in some capacity, long term.
Any team that includes remote workers relies on effective collaboration and the shared tools that enable it. These team members aren’t sharing a workspace, so they have to communicate across these tools. This increases the risk that the correct, current information won’t be provided to everyone on the team.
Without data linkage, any task that involves referencing information stored in documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. thus becomes more complicated.
In the next section, we’ll show you some of the best ways to implement data linking within the collaboration tools you use.
How do you include data linking in your business processes?
If you want to make sure that everyone on your team always links to relevant data, you should add this requirement to workflow processes. This way, it will become a normal and automatic step for everyone involved.
Use the three tips below to encourage employees to use data linking consistently.
1. Set the right permissions
From the very beginning, set guidelines for your company that outline how and when specific resources should be linked for both internal and external-facing documents. Ensure that these documents are located in a centralized place where everyone can find them.
While sharing files internally, first make sure you are setting the right permissions. Ensure everyone that needs access has it and is able to access the information easily. Then you can further scale back your permissions. If, for example, someone should have read-only access, make sure to reflect that.
For external facing documents, it’s even more important to set proper permissions. If you don’t want anyone outside of your organization making changes, only share read-only versions of the document.
Or, if you want to allow outside changes without affecting the core document, send a copy of the file instead. This way, you can maintain the integrity of your information.
2. Create a policy for data linking
Data linking is only effective when everyone does it. Emphasize the importance of including and using up-to-date data so that everyone is on the same page. Send reminders whenever anyone forgets to add sources to help make it a habit.
If workers aren’t sure about the necessity of this extra step, remind them that linking to the data saves everyone else from looking up the file.
Many projects require input from clients or workers from other departments in your organization. Your policy should include sending them direct links to the information you are talking about to encourage faster responses that concern the right data.
Asking outside parties to use data linking helps further streamline your processes. You can eliminate the need to clarify which information they’re referencing, limiting the amount of time workers spend waiting for the data they need.
3. Store your files in a shared storage tool
A tool like MindManager® allows you to easily communicate ideas and processes through visual diagrams. Once you’ve built your diagram, simply use the built-in linking and attachment feature to data link to important background information.
Workers can view and edit your files online, ensuring they’re always available to whoever needs them. Data linking ensures that team members always have access to the latest documents, even after updates are made.
When you send information through an attached document, however, employees typically have to download it to access it. This extra step isn’t a significant problem, but it can take additional time. If there are multiple versions of the document, you also risk confusing employees.
Instead, store all of your files in a shared tool, such as MindManager, or another storage option. Cloud-based storage drives, such as Google Drive or Dropbox, make data much easier to access and share. You can also link directly to files within the cloud-based tools you rely on.
If you make changes, they will reflect these adjustments in real -time within the same file, so everyone will always access the most up-to-date document. Plus, they won’t have to take up space on their actual devices with numerous file downloads.
How does MindManager enable easy data linking?
One of the best shared tools to use for data linking is MindManager, a visual collaboration tool. Along with keeping everything in the cloud for easy access, this solution allows you to link directly to various data sources within your diagrams.
Files you can link to with MindManager include:
- Microsoft 365, including Microsoft Word documents, spreadsheets, and project files.
- Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Box, SharePoint, and more.
- Any files or websites that have a sharable URL.
Providing both direct access to the information and context to the items in your diagram makes everyone else’s job simpler.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of data linking in MindManager:
1. Improve meeting engagement
Most meetings include a lot of information. With MindManager, you can organize discussions in a diagram such as a mind map to offer clarity on meeting agenda items, for example. Once you’ve built out your meeting agenda map, you can expand each topic by adding links or files to each item.
MindManager’s mind map builder allows multiple users to view and edit content simultaneously. You can link to all necessary resources within a single meeting map so everyone can view links to projects and tasks in one centralized document.
You can also build a meeting map that can be shared with all necessary team members prior to the meeting to help ensure it’s a productive and engaging use of everyone’s time.
If you meet to talk about a new project, for example, you can organize information by topic, link to spreadsheets that include client documents with requested features, or link to the client’s website.
Completed meeting maps can then be shared with meeting participants to ensure action items are clear and the plan continues to move forward even after the meeting is complete. With this information, your team can get to work on the project faster and more efficiently, thus increasing productivity.
2. Streamline project plans
Once you’ve started planning and scheduling your project, you can create a timeline within MindManager and add tasks with detailed descriptions, including links to any relevant data. You can even link to meeting events in Outlook so your team knows when you’ll connect next on project updates.
After meetings, you can link directly to the meeting map you’ve created in MindManager. Team members can also data link to finished deliverables right within the map, so everyone can see what’s been completed at a glance or quickly access this data to complete other parts of the project.
With this method, everyone stays up-to-date without having to check in with each other about their progress.
3. Accomplish more in Microsoft Teams
MindManager is also available as a tool in the Microsoft Teams app store. If you use Microsoft Teams, you can access and build all of your MindManager maps and diagrams within the program, and link to any important resources within those maps.
This added tool offers one more way to clarify, track, and share information, enabling your team to do more while staying within one platform while saving time and effort.