How to be a better virtual collaborator

With WFA set to become the new normal, remote collaboration is even more vital. Here’s how to improve your colleague interactions and team output

As the world continues to embrace working from anywhere (WFA), businesses large and small have proven that distance is no barrier to forming good working relationships. Thanks to tech tools, we’re able to communicate with our colleagues almost seamlessly in different places and time zones.

But just because the technology is there, it doesn’t mean it can do the hard work for us. Collaboration is about more than tools – it’s about applying the best techniques to get the most from your personal interactions. To become an effective virtual collaborator, you’ll also want to follow the advice below.

1. Create some rules
It’s all too easy for actions (or lack of action in some cases) to be misunderstood when you’re dealing with people virtually, so planning how you communicate will help everyone to work together easily. When working as a team, make sure each player knows their role, their responsibilities and the team rules to abide by. This needs to be made clear by the team leader at the start of every project, so there’s less chance of any confusion or misunderstanding.

2. Diarise regular catch ups
When we work remotely, it can be tempting to increase the number of virtual meetings we have to replace face-to-face chats and interactions. However, unless this is managed correctly, it can have the opposite effect – slowing down productivity and progress. Instead, at the beginning of the week or month, diarise a time when your team can have ‘meet’ to plan a strategy or brainstorm an idea. Don’t forget to have an agenda for every meeting (never hold a meeting for meeting’s sake) and list goals with time limits to maximise their efficiency.

3. Share and share alike
The importance of the right technology for collaboration can’t be overstated, as it enables us to share important documents, spreadsheets and calendars with everyone in a nanosecond. Choosing shared channel-based apps means that everyone on the team can see exactly where the project is standing, track changes, add comments and send messages in real time – making it easier to keep everyone on the same page.

4. Build and strengthen trust
Like most relationships, good virtual collaboration is built on a solid foundation of trust.
Teams that work together have to trust each other for their collaboration to work. There are numerous strategies good leaders use, including building in extra time for a little small talk at the start or end of a meeting, or sharing images, memes or quirky facts about each other and the business to encourage camaraderie among remote colleagues.

5. Take time out to be creative
While all these great apps and tools can help bolster virtual collaboration, it’s important not to get distracted by the blizzard of pop-up notifications that ensue. The constant checking of messages and progress updates can really hamper creativity and soften focus on the job in hand. Set proper time aside to check messages, notifications and emails – then switch off to allow yourself to focus on the project and let your creativity blossom.

6. Have virtual desk mates
When teams were office based, many would be working on projects side by side. But, with the world turning to WFA, this has become trickier. One solution is to set aside time to work together virtually. Set up a video call to run in the background and work ‘side by side’ on the project for an hour or so. Not only does this encourage focus through positive peer pressure, but you can also get immediate answers to any queries and thrash out any problems together.

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