Effective Collaboration for Virtual Teams

This is a guest post by Sarah Harris of Remote Creative Work.

For many, a remote office is the new normal. Yet, it presents its own challenges. Learning how to collaborate remotely might take some time, but most teams can successfully shift to remote work without hurting productivity.

We’re about to cover how to collaborate as a virtual team effectively.

All Virtual Teams Need the Right Processes

There’s not another team like yours in the entire world. Your unique team needs a unique collaboration and communication process, and it’s up to you to decide that process. There are three main types:

  1. Asynchronous Processes. When you send an email, that’s asynchronous communication. It’s when you’re taking action to communicate with someone else on your own, and they will not immediately react. They’ll get your email, read it, and respond, which is also asynchronous. If your virtual teams need time to think before responding, asynchronous processes are ideal.
  2. Synchronous Processes. Instant messaging and video calls are synchronous. It’s when information is shared between everyone involved in real-time. If sharing ideas and information quickly is a priority for your team, synchronous processes are what you need.
  3. Hybrid Processes. A hybrid process makes use of both of the above. You might email most of the time, but occasionally you’ll hop on a video call to fine-tune the details of a project. Most businesses will use a hybrid process, but it’ll usually lean towards asynchronous or synchronous.

If you’ve traditionally been a company that’s worked in the office, you might find that having a synchronous process is more effective.

On the other hand, if you’re already remote, you might be used to the asynchronous communication that’s natural in virtual work.

It’s also normal that your process will adapt over time. For example, if you’re mostly synchronous, you might find that some amount of asynchronous work will motivate your employees. This is because asynchronous work lets people have more time for themselves where they can focus deeply on singular tasks. This boosts their creative output.

We want to note that while we are focusing on communication to explain these processes, the same terms apply to things like editing a Google Doc simultaneously or both working in a project manager together.

So, what works for you? You may have to experiment and see what blend is right for the types of projects your team tackles.

Define Your Tool Stack

You can’t rely on passing paperwork around the office; you’ll be needing online tools to collaborate virtually. All of the most effective virtual teams have a pre-designated tool stack that they use throughout their workday. What’s your stack going to be?

Several needs must be addressed by specific tools, primarily:

Instant messaging. You’ll need a tool for your team to collaborate in real-time over text. Instant messaging allows people to stay in touch while working on their part of the project. Standard instant messaging tools are Slack or Google Hangouts, although there are plenty of other ones to explore.

Project management. Having a tool that’s focused on project management will make life a lot easier for everyone involved. These tools allow you to break down a given project into smaller pieces and assign those pieces to team members. Trello and Asana are two popular project management apps, but there are other ones out there. An ideal project management tool will also have a mobile app so that team members can quickly check what’s assigned to them.

Video calls. Video calls are where virtual meetings happen. You might have a group call before launching a big project to get updates from everyone in real-time about a task or celebrate the completion of a project together. There are many video call tools to choose from, such as Zoom and Skype.

Document editing. You might not need this tool, but many will. Being able to edit the same document, collaboratively can be vital for many teams. Google Docs is the primary tool for editing text documents and spreadsheets together. There are some tools for teams that allow members to write and edit code together, such as Atom.

Weave in Team Building Activities

Working remotely can often be a solitary, lonely experience. While occasional meetings and talking with the team over text can help, having specific team building activities can help team members remember that they are, in fact, part of a team.

Here are a few ways you can weave team building activities into your workday:

Virtual happy hour. It’s just like going to the bar together after work to celebrate another successful day, but it’s virtual. Have everyone who’s interested prepare their drink of choice, and then tilt some glasses and talk about anything except work. Maybe keep this as a Friday-only thing.

Trivia contests. You can work this one in with happy hour, but it can also stand on its own. Jeopardy shows us first-hand that people absolutely love trivia. The host can prepare some questions and ask them to the team, and the first to answer gets points. You can have points be redeemable for a prize at the end, or it can just be for bragging rights.

Pet show-and-tell. The highlight of every video conference is when a cat walks in front of the camera, so why not make that the entire activity? Have team members show their pets and say a few interesting facts about them.

Here is a list with more virtual team building ideas.

Team building activities are essential for virtual teams. Keep them in mind as you schedule your week.

We’re Here to Help

Are you taking your office remote or are you looking for remote talent? Remote Creative Work is the single best resource for all things remote, and it’s the place to hire remote artists, designers, writers and engineers. Learn more on Remote Creative Work or follow us on Instagram where we post often.

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