Building Virtual Team Collaboration: Strategies and Tools

Telecommuting is the future of work, as Forbes contributor Meghan Biro writes. Experts project that more than 1.3 billion people will work virtually in the next few years. And in one survey, 34 percent of business leaders said that half of their company’s full-time workforce would be working remotely by 2020.

Both employers and employees benefit from telecommuting. Companies save money on office space and utilities, and workers are less stressed, more engaged and happier, according to TechRepublic. Virtual workers are also more productive and less likely to quit.

As remote work becomes more common, managers will need to adjust how they motivate and interact with their employees. Building virtual team collaboration is an important goal to ensure a successful working arrangement, whether the team is fully or partially remote.

Strategies for Building Virtual Team Collaboration

Provide Structure

One key to enhancing virtual team collaboration is to provide the right structure for effective communication to occur.

Identify team members who should regularly communicate with each other and an efficient team structure. For larger teams, Harvard Business Review advocates using a flexible, fluid team structure of multiple tiers. A core tier is responsible for strategy and important decisions; an operational level includes day-to-day ongoing work; and an outer network includes temporary and part-time members who bring specialized expertise. This type of hierarchy can bring together team members who need to collaborate for particular purposes.

Standards for the virtual team should be explicit. A telecommuting policy will help team members understand how they will work, but you should make sure they understand expectations outside company policy. For instance, you’ll want to speak with individual team members on a regular basis to check in with them and discuss specific projects. Set and document clear expectations for work-related processes, team meetings, working hours and more.

Encourage Communication

Non-work communication is critical to great teams, according to Entrepreneur contributor Gregory Ciotti. Employees don’t have to be best friends outside of work, but non-work communication builds trust and leads to success. If employees work in the office one or two days a week, taking breaks together can help encourage non-work communication.

Team-building activities are difficult to perform virtually. The best team-building activities take place in person, and they are not invasive, awkward or forced. “Do NOT assemble your team and ask everyone to share their greatest fear — a huge majority of the people involved won’t appreciate this forced mix of their work life and personal feelings,” Ciotti says.

Consider how you can implement team-building activities to enhance non-work communication and improve collaboration. Some of the best team-building activities include: volunteering; physical activities such as non-contact sports; field trips to a park, museum or baseball game; and professional development activities. Fully remote teams can consider implementing one or more of these ideas throughout the year, as a way for employees to meet and interact in person.

Tools for Building Virtual Team Collaboration

Real-Time Messaging: Slack

Slack is a popular real-time messaging tool that allows users to create public and private channels for specific projects, topics or teams. By changing channels, team members can easily switch from conversations with all members of the team or the few they work most closely with. Channels and direct messages offer users a quick and easy way to communicate with one or more people.

Other features include file sharing, app integration and search functionality. Slack offers a limited, free plan along with paid plans that vary in price based on features and the number of users on the plan.

Project Management: Trello and Teamwork

Trello is a simple project management system. For each project, a team creates a board and places cards on a list, revealing how much progress is made. When a task is completed, users drag and drop the card on the next list (or stage). Users can also attach files to cards. Trello offers a free plan with unlimited boards, cards and members that is enough for many uses. Paid plans offer premium features and app integrations.

Teamwork is a more traditional and comprehensive project management system. It is ideal for larger teams and companies. Advanced features in Teamwork allow teams to keep track of multiple projects and tasks. Users can set milestones for projects, store files, share messages with team members on individual tasks, keep track of time spent on tasks and more. Teamwork plans are priced based on the number of projects, amount of space, app integration and custom features.

File Sharing: Dropbox Business

Dropbox Business is a popular file sharing service that can help businesses store, share and protect files. It provides unlimited storage. Dropbox Business also includes advanced data protection, a suite of collaboration tools, unlimited deletion and version history, and more. Pricing is $15 per user each month.

Screen Sharing: allows users to see what is on another person’s computer screen. The service offers screen sharing along with annotation tools and internet calling functions to bring users together on a document. Video conferencing is also available. The free version offers 10 meeting participants and five video feeds. Pro and business plans cost $20 and $25 per month, respectively, adding a greater amount of participants and video feeds along with customization features.

Enhancing Collaboration

Effective leadership requires the ability to improve communication and collaboration. In your career, this skill will help you succeed as a manager and build engaged, productive teams.

Alvernia University offers an online MBA to help you reach your potential as a leader. Learn the skills and knowledge you need to pursue management-level positions, start a business or reach other career goals. The program takes place in a completely online learning environment, enabling you to maintain your work and personal schedule.

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