Tips and Tools for Successful Virtual Collaboration
How to collaborate successfully online
Pre-pandemic, typically only international teams or long-distance cross-organizational collaborators participated in virtual meetings. Tools and software solutions were at a minimum, and when the pandemic hit and organizations were forced to go remote, many companies struggled to engage their teams and transition communication frameworks from fully in-person to wholly online.
These days, hybrid and remote work are more prominent than ever. Businesses are quickly learning that by offering remote working options, they have a higher chance of winning the war for talent. Organizations have turned to virtual collaboration solutions to simulate in-person interactions. Zoom meetings eat up calendars, inboxes grow ever fuller, and the incessant pinging of messaging apps is the new norm of daily work at home.
However, many companies have found it difficult to maintain the same level of clarity and comradery that was possible by being physically present in an office. In order to stay on top of the game, motivating team members with successful virtual collaboration is critical to most modern businesses.
What is virtual collaboration?
Have you ever sent an email? Well then, congratulations: you’re a virtual collaborator. Most companies engage in some form of virtual collaboration, simply by participating in widely-used modern technologies. But in order to flourish in the age of new work, organizations will need to transition most, if not all collaborative activities into the virtual space.
Virtual collaboration is defined as a technologically-mediated method of communication, in which the sharing of information between team members is done entirely online. This type of collaboration is mostly used to facilitate engagement in remote and hybrid workplaces. Video conferences, emails, and instant messaging are all traditional examples of virtual collaboration.
Game-changing interfaces like Google Suites, Slack, and Zoom redefined what it meant to work with colleagues outside of the office. With these and so many other new tools, teams can work together on projects on their own time and in their own space.
There are two types of virtual collaboration: asynchronous and synchronous. Asynchronous collaboration means teams are working together on projects at different times, as their respective schedules allow. This is the most common form of virtual collaboration and the driving selling point of hybrid work.
However, remote teams can also collaborate synchronously, which means they work together simultaneously on a project online. Synchronized virtual collaboration can be tricky to navigate, but when done successfully, can lead to the same level of team bonding and motivation that would accompany a successful in-person collaboration.
Why is virtual collaboration important?
With millennials ruling the workforce and demanding hybrid and remote working options, virtual collaboration is becoming a must for organizations to thrive. Without physical presence in an office, establishing a community and connecting large groups requires creative methods of communication. Incorporating digital tools allows your team to stay in sync, as well as gives them autonomy and flexible working hours and location.
Moreover, utilizing virtual collaboration as an alternative to traditional meetings can be extremely cost-effective. It reduces lost time, employee travel expenses, and the cost of large office spaces.
Allowing employees to work virtually can also help teams stay organized with the use of online visual workflows. Information doesn’t get lost as easily, and files can be shared instantly and securely with the help of software solutions like Collato.
Successfully synchronizing via video calls, Slack huddles, and screen sharing is often where companies run into trouble with virtual collaboration. Failing wifi, muted mikes, and disengaged participants frequently plague such meetings. So the question is, how do you bring people together in a digital space?
Tips for success
While many companies are already making the transition from in-person to hybrid or even fully remote working, establishing successful virtual collaboration can still be hard to get right. Here are five tips for successful virtual collaboration:
1. Less talking, more doing
The temptation to fill calendars with Zoom meetings to establish “clarity” on projects should be treated with caution. Of course, regular check-ins and stand-up meetings are helpful in keeping your team accountable and tracking progress, but they can end up being redundant and a waste of time if you’re not careful.
Before booking a slot on everyone’s calendar, make sure that this meeting is absolutely essential to your project’s successful completion. If it’s not, rethink how it can be communicated. Could it be an email instead? Could a quick message in a Slack group provide clarity? How about a routinely updated visual workflow? Freeing up people’s calendars from unnecessary meetings will undoubtedly increase productivity and motivation.
2. Keep it engaging
By now, it’s no secret that having your camera turned off in a meeting is a sign of disinterest and disengagement. When that meeting does need to take place, make sure that everyone involved in it is able to be actively engaged. That means making sure it’s not just one person talking for the duration of the meeting, asking questions directed at specific people, and incorporating activities like quizzes or brainstorms. Be sure to check in with attendees after the meeting is over and see what they thought: their feedback will be helpful in structuring future meetings.
3. Know when to synchronize
While asynchronous collaboration can be extremely effective, sometimes it will save your team time to work simultaneously on certain tasks. Brainstorming, for example, is best done all together at the same time. When this is the case, check in with your team to see what time of day works best for everyone to come together, and carve out a good chunk of time to give the project the attention it needs. Don’t rush synchronized virtual collaboration–or you’ll end up having to go back and reconnect with everyone later on. Plus, give the meeting space to be fun and relaxed, without being crunched for time. Let people get creative and bond over the shared activity.
4. Collaborate visually
Most people are visual learners–65% of the population, in fact. So when it’s time for your team to map out a plan, track progress, and work together, visual aids are extremely helpful. Using a visual workflow like a Kanban board or a visual brainstorming tool like Figjam or Miro can increase people’s engagement. Utilizing video and screen tours for feedback can also be very beneficial in giving people context. Luckily, Collato has all these features, so your team can collaborate visually and productively.
5. Centralize content and feedback
Staying organized is crucial to successful virtual collaboration. And that means making sure that all of your assets, feedback, and iterations are easily accessible and visible to all stakeholders. Using a collaborative cloud storage like Collato can save your team countless hours wasted searching hard drives for file versions and various inboxes and tools for feedback. Keep everything together to stay organized and productive.
Virtual collaboration tools
Collato - We couldn’t very well write a blog about virtual collaboration without tooting our own horn! Collato was built for managing creative content and getting teams organized and productive on a virtual platform. Collato combines workflows, feedback, and content in one place to save your team time and make collaboration fun.
Microsoft Teams - The classic corporate solution to remote work, Microsoft Teams allows organizations to communicate and collaborate completely online. Teams now also comes bundled with certain Microsoft 365 packages, including Microsoft Office, making it an attractive solution for many companies.
Slack - Microsoft Team’s cooler older brother, Slack has integrations with more than 2,400 third-party applications. With several customization options, Slack has a more personalized, younger look than more corporate-looking Teams. Slack communities are also popular for connecting with outside organizations or groups.
Google Suite - Google, of course, has been dominating the virtual collaboration toolstack since before remote working became a thing. Between Google Sheets, Google Docs, and Google Slides, your team can almost always turn to Google to get the job done.
Zoom - Zoom was the hero of the WFH era of the pandemic, allowing colleagues to stay in touch with each other, host meetings, and share ideas face-to-face (or rather, screen-to-screen). Zoom is still one of the most widely used virtual meeting tools today.
Figma - Figma is a must for any product designer. But more than just an interface tool for designers, it can also be used as a remote brainstorming tool. With Figjam, Figma’s online whiteboard tool, teams can exchange ideas using post-its, stickers, stamps, and arrows to connect thoughts.
A new age of collaboration
It’s common knowledge at this point that virtual collaboration is the future of work. Teams can work flexibly, companies can cut costs, and leaders are able to lead agile organizations without micromanaging work. To get a head start on virtual collaboration, check out one of Collato’s many helpful templates.