Tools for Effective Virtual Collaboration

It is essential that you communicate with your colleagues. Even though it may seem outdated, it is still important to communicate with those who are physically in the same place as you. This is particularly relevant when dealing with a remote team, as team communication has been identified as a vital tool for the successful management of distributed employees.

Staying connected with your remote team is now simpler than ever, thanks to the extensive selection of online collaboration tools available. There are numerous ways to communicate your message, however it is imperative to be aware of the subtle differences between them and to recognise which approach is most suitable in a given situation.

Methods of interacting with others in cyberspace

There are three broad categories for the many types of online communication and collaboration software. These items are:

  1. Non-real-time interaction

    Electronic communication is an increasingly popular method of communicating with colleagues, as it allows messages to be sent regardless of whether the recipient is physically present in the workplace. The most widespread of these methods is email, but other options such as chat applications (e.g. Slack), project management tools (e.g. Trello) and voice calling services (e.g. Skype) are also available. This form of communication is particularly effective as it enables the recipient to respond to messages at their own convenience.
  2. Concurrent interaction

    This live, real-time chat is an effective way of communicating instantaneously. It is possible that you are participating in a pre-arranged teleconference, or that you are making use of a service such as GoToMeeting or Zoom to hold a group video chat. The advantage of this direct method of communication is the instant feedback it provides. However, it can be difficult to arrange synchronous communication if the staff members are located in different time zones.
  3. Face-to-face conferences

    Getting all team members together can have a positive effect on morale. On Thursdays, you could consider arranging a meeting in the office, organising a workplace picnic, or even taking a day out for remote workers to get to know each other. All of these activities can help to bring the team closer together and foster a better working environment.

Asynchronous chat functions are essential for the successful functioning of remote teams. While they are usually very effective, the response time can be slow if not all team members are available to respond simultaneously. For conversations that are of utmost importance, synchronous tools are the most suitable option.

Methods for better tool use

In order to maximize the success of your software and the productivity of your remote workforce, it is imperative to not only locate the most suitable virtual communication tools, but also to ensure that you are able to utilise them in the most effective manner.

Explain your procedures thoroughly

It is essential to establish clear communication channels with your remote staff from the outset. Each type of update should be sent via the most appropriate channel for the urgency and importance of the message. For example, non-critical project updates should be relayed via the Trello card, while urgent matters should be communicated via Skype. In the event of an emergency, such as a ‘zombocalypse’, it would be best to contact me via text or a phone call on my mobile.

If this is not done, a vital piece of information may not be communicated, which could result in your team taking the wrong course of action. Conversely, if a discussion is held in a group forum rather than a targeted one, it might consume the time of all those involved, even if there is no immediate response required.

Find out when individuals have free time

At Works, we strongly recommend that remote workers maintain the same schedule as their office-based colleagues in order to maximise productivity. We believe that this approach facilitates smoother communication and makes it easier to keep track of everyone’s progress. However, if this suggestion is not followed, there needs to be a fast and efficient method of monitoring the working hours of all remote staff members.

It is beneficial to use tools such as World Time Buddy in order to arrange meetings at a time that is convenient for all participants. This way, you can be certain that you will not inadvertently disrupt any of your remote workers who may be taking a nap or on a date. By doing this, you can ensure that the meeting will be scheduled at a time that suits everyone.

Check-in

As the leader of a distributed team, it is your responsibility to ensure that communication remains consistent and regular with your employees. If you are using the Agile development process, then you should be holding daily stand-up meetings to check in with your team and remain aware of any developments. If you are not using the Agile methodology, then it is essential that you make it a priority to check in with your team and consider adopting the Agile methodology, as outlined in our eBook which explains all the benefits of doing so.

It is important to incorporate a system of tracking progress towards targets as part of your regular routine. Real-time goal monitoring can be a great way to boost team morale, as it provides a visible representation of the achievements made by your team. This can serve to motivate and encourage the team to keep pushing for success.

Make sure to read and respond just once

Research has suggested that the amount of non-verbal communication used in communication can vary significantly, with some researchers claiming it to be as low as a small percentage and others estimating it to be much higher. Regardless of the precise figure, visual clues are an essential part of our comprehension of conversations. Unfortunately, when text messages are used as the primary form of communication, these visual cues are absent, meaning that the speaker’s intent can be misconstrued and the listener may interpret the message wrongly and end up taking offence when none was intended.

It is advisable to use Hanlan’s Razor when faced with a message that makes you feel uneasy. Do not jump to conclusions and assume hostility or ill intent; it is best to seek clarification if necessary. Alternatively, you may gain a clearer understanding of the intended meaning by considering different interpretations of the words.

Mind your language

It is paramount to ensure that your written communication accurately reflects your intended message. If your team consists of members from a variety of cultural backgrounds, it is possible that they may not all understand the same colloquialisms. Therefore, it is suggested that you take a moment to review your written content before sending it. Consider the recipient’s point of view and try to imagine how they may interpret the message. If you are unsure whether they will understand it, then it would be beneficial to revise your message.

Specialists in the field of communication have come to a consensus that the use of emojis and animations can help to better articulate a message. Whilst this may not be considered a professional approach by some, the use of a visual representation of an idea can provide a more comprehensive understanding of a concept. This is especially true when it comes to communicating with those who are a part of the so-called ‘Generation Z’, as they will have been exposed to such technologies from a very young age. Therefore, it is important to take into account who one is speaking to and adjust the tone of the message accordingly.

Set aside some time to talk.

Spending time conversing with one another is integral to strengthening the relationships between individuals. It is much easier to comprehend a concept if there is an existing connection to it.

My friend is incredibly compassionate and caring, often voicing her opinion if she thinks somebody is making a wrong decision. She is passionate about teaching others and standing up for her beliefs, which can make her posts on social media appear confrontational, judgemental and overly-didactic if you don’t know her personally. It saddens me to see these types of posts as they don’t accurately depict the true nature of her character.

Creating more opportunities for your virtual team to communicate socially can improve their ability to collaborate successfully. Take whatever necessary steps you can to encourage your employees to communicate with each other, whether that be through a designated online forum or a virtual common area.

Ascending a steep learning curve

As you navigate the process of transitioning your staff to remote working, you may come across some difficulties. For this reason, it is essential that you take the time to find employees who are well-versed in this type of working environment. If you have a vacancy for a team member to work remotely, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. We would be delighted to help in any way that we can.

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