There are many benefits to collaborating virtually – whether out of choice or necessity. Team members and business partners can work together from their home base, allowing organizations to tap into knowledge and skills regardless of location. Virtual collaboration embraces the potential for greatness that our global market affords.

At the same time, collaborating virtually has its own unique challenges. Schedules must be coordinated, misunderstandings occur more frequently, and forming a true team that shows mutual respect and admiration can be difficult. Virtual collaboration takes a little more effort in areas that we’re used to being par for the course. But it’s well worth it, and here’s how you can make it happen:


Meet Face-to-Face Initially

In general, people tend to connect better when they communicate in-person. Especially for people who are not used to meeting virtually, being introduced to a team member or business partner online can be jarring. If possible, make the first meeting a face-to-face one. Being face-to-face allows people to take in and process nonverbal communication and make a better connection with others. An initial face-to-face meeting can make collaborators form stronger bonds and set a positive tone for the remaining, virtual meetings.


Solicit Input for Rules and Expectations

Setting ground rules is one of the first things that a group must do before proceeding with a project. This is usually something that the group leader handles. However, allowing all group members to contribute to the list of rules and expectations can make major strides in forming a real team. By asking for input from everyone, it ensures that all viewpoints and concerns are considered when forming the procedures and policies that will affect the entire group – which will make everyone more comfortable and confident when working together.


Build Trust Among Team Members

All positive relationships are built on a foundation of trust. Only with trust can a group of virtual collaborators hope to form a committed and engaged team. Virtual teams lack the shared experiences that coworkers who are face-to-face have on a near daily basis. Your group will have to put in extra effort to get to know each other and simulate the experience of being physically in one another’s presence. One way to do this in a videoconference is to show pictures of each participant alongside some interesting facts about them, or to include this information on a shared collaboration website. You can also use the power of physical objects by making team “swag,” like coffee mugs and T-shirts with a team logo, and sending them to each group member. Anything to get them feeling more like a cohesive unit and less like a dispersed set of individuals will be an asset to the project.


Consider Cultural Differences

Many virtual collaborations are formed by international teams made up of people from across the globe. For this reason, it’s important that all team members are sensitive to cultural differences that may exist among them. It’s good practice to have open discussions about any miscommunications or misunderstandings that may occur due to cultural nuances – differences in communication styles, expressions, or customs, for example. Otherwise, bad feelings surrounding these differences can pose a threat to the team’s progress.


Give Your Team the Tools They Need

Virtual collaboration doesn’t require anything additional in terms of demands from the team – but it does require special digital tools to get the job done. The tools you’ll need will depend on the objectives of the project and nature of the work. As an example, sharing documents will require a shared online drive or website, and holding real-time meetings necessitates a videoconferencing platform. A virtual team can’t be effective without the necessary technology, which includes software and online resources as well as equipment. Before starting any collaboration, these should be set up first. If you find out your team is lacking something, make sure they get it quickly so word isn’t delayed.

Between the need for mutual understanding and the need for technology that works in a pinch, working on a virtual team can be take a lot of effort. Perhaps that most important skill or tool for a virtual collaborative team is patience. Your moments of frustration with software platforms and instances of cultural miscommunication are things to laugh at and share in, not to disdain. Make the most of your time together by enjoying the process as it comes. Address any issues you encounter with humility and respect for your teammates. Even if everything else is imperfect, a good attitude will help the project go swimmingly.

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Posted by Agnes Jozwiak

Agnes is the Brand & Communication Director at ClickMeeting.

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