Virtual teams are the future, and nowadays, companies from Sydney to Seattle are using hybrid working schedules and hiring all-remote employees.
However, one of the biggest worries about remote teams is collaboration. Team leaders wonder whether they will be able to keep their employees connected and able to work together on one task.
If you have a team made up of remote employees from different areas of the country or world, we’ve put together this list of tips and best practices for virtual team collaboration.
Perhaps the most important part of improving your in-office collaboration is to perfect your hiring process initially. Here are some tips for doing so:
Whether it’s a meeting with most of your colleagues or a quick catch up with your latest recruit, try to prioritize video calls throughout your work day.
While video call fatigue is very real, and a bit of a hangover from 2020’s lockdown days, there are a lot of positives to seeing your co-workers - whether that be in person or on video call.
Video calls can help you to pick up on body language and small details that you’d miss if the chat was audio-only. These small details can ultimately help your virtual team collaboration more effectively.
Speaking to employees one-on-one can help you to get to know staff members on a more personal level and assess their collaboration skills.
Ensure that you speak to any new recruits frequently, preferably by video call, and stay up-to-date with all staff members. Invite them to share any issues or concerns with you and, if they have any, work on resolving them together.
Project management tools include platforms like Asana, Trello and Slack. These tools were made with virtual teams in mind; they enable remote workers to communicate and collaborate with each other through shared projects, messaging and comments.
All platforms have areas that replicate areas of the workplace, such as instant messaging and moving tasks on various diagrams.
While there are lots of virtual project management tools, not all of them are suitable for every workplace. You probably won’t need to use Asana, Trello, Slack and Monday, and you might prefer the interface of one over others.
To find the right one for you, you can partake in free trials (or use the free version) of most of these tools. Spend some time getting to know the platform, invite your employees to test them out and reach a decision about which works best for your particular work environment.
While your team may be completely remote, it’s a good idea to install an interactive display, like those we sell at Avocor, in your central office. Interactive displays can help you to collaborate with your employees in real-time.
Understanding the power of interactivity for productive workspaces
You can host interactive meetings and see employees in high-definition (almost as if they were in the room with you!), share files and documents so that staff members can experience virtual team collaboration from their devices and view webpages together.
By connecting your laptop to the interactive display, you’ll see all files on an enlarged scale, so you can easily annotate and collaborate with them. As soon as you disconnect your device, the display “wipes clean” as it doesn’t store any data, making it a secure way to collaborate with remote staff members.
While scheduled meetings can be very useful when it comes to virtual team collaboration, impromptu chats are just as valuable. “Virutal water cooler” time is a replacement for the time when staff members would usually spend chatting as they grab a glass of water or a coffee.
To initiate this, you could arrange for everyone to get together mid-morning on a virtual platform for a five to ten minute chat. It’s best to not have an agenda for these chats, but simply check in with everyone, ask how their day is going and see if they have any news or updates about anything inside or outside of work.
Even if you talk for ten minutes about non-work related topics, these informal chats can help you to form connections as a team, which can make team collaboration easier in the long run.
Organizing social activities is another way to build connections and rapport within the team. If you get to know your staff members on a personal level, you’re more likely to understand their working style.
Plus, social activities can help staff members to feel appreciated in the workplace, which could motivate them to be more productive. There are lots of social activities that you could do as a virtual team, including:
When working with all-virtual teams, it’s a good idea to have specific working hours - or at least set hours each day when everybody must be online. When deciding on these hours, be mindful of any employees working in other time zones.
For example, if you work in London in the GMT time zone, but have staff members in New York and Paris, consider the five hour time difference between them. You could state that everybody must be online from 9:00 am to midday New York time, which is 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm London time and 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm Paris time, and have all your meetings during this time.
The future of work is definitely flexible, and staff members will appreciate having a degree of influence over when they work. If you don’t have strictly set working hours, you could ask your employees about any other commitments that they’d have and what hours they’d work in an ideal world.
For example, a particular staff member may like to start early in the morning and finish by 3:00 pm every day so they can pick their children up from school. If you allow this, it might ensure that they’re focused throughout the working day and not distracted when their child comes home from school, which could lead to increased team collaboration and productivity.
Of course, if you have a set time when every staff member needs to be online, and a specific employee wants to be off at the same time, this might not be possible. But letting your employees know that you are flexible when possible can boost employee satisfaction and gratitude towards the workplace.
When onboarding new employees, introduce them to the rest of the team as early as possible. You can do this via a video call with the team, either at the start of a scheduled meeting or during a water cooler chat.
You could ask the new employee to tell the team a little about themselves (such as where they are from, what their last job was and an interesting fact), and invite other employees to reach out to them. The quicker a new staff member feels involved, the more effective their communication may be!
If you have multiple teams in the workplace who will collaborate on different projects, be mindful about who you put together and their roles. For example, you might consider who of your team has strong leadership capabilities, and put them in different teams so they can have more managerial roles.
Along with setting specific online hours, be clear with your staff members about your expectations for each project. It can be difficult to communicate expectations without being physically in somebody’s company so if necessary, explain it a few times, over a few mediums.
For example, you could detail your expectations over video call and then follow them up on email to ensure that they’re understood thoroughly.
As well as detailing your expectations, ask your employees what they want out of each project. This can help you to learn about their goals and work with them to build their careers. It’ll also ensure that you can put together teams to boost collaboration!
When you’re constantly collaborating with a remote team, instant messaging can be key. When emailing, there are often large gaps in your communication, which can delay getting tasks done.
However, if you jump onto instant messaging when you have something quick to discuss, you might find that you can get answers quickly and collaborate much more seamlessly.
Silos are groups in the workplace that naturally form according to job, rank and location. While these silos can help individual teams collaborate, they make it difficult to network and work together as a larger company.
You can break down silos by encouraging communication and organizing meetings across the company.
While it’s entirely possible to communicate and collaborate smoothly over video calls, there’s no real substitute for meeting your colleagues in real life.
Organizing in-person meetups will help you connect with your staff members and might help them to learn more about the company and its mission.
You could arrange an annual meet up in a convenient place for everybody; however, if you have staff members from around the world (or even around the country!) it’ll be expected for the business to pick up travel and accommodation costs.
While there are many benefits of having virtual teams, it’s certainly a different style of collaboration. However, provided you are adequately equipped for the remote workplace, you can certainly skyrocket your business’s success through virtual team collaboration.