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Improving Virtual Collaboration in Your Organization

Les Strachan 

March 28, 2014

Honeycomb_ajma_plCollaboration in the workplace isn’t new. Since ancient times, successful organizations have encouraged their people to learn from one another to achieve shared goals.

However, collaboration has become much quicker and simpler with recent advances in online technology. Nowadays, we can collaborate easily with very many people, some of whom may live and work in far-distant places.

This provides organizations with many opportunities. It also means that people face new challenges, because technology can advance more quickly than people can learn to use it.

In this post, we’ll explore some practical ways that you can make virtual collaboration more successful in your organization.

Let us know about your experiences with this by commenting below.

1. Select Appropriate Forms of Communication

Clearly, many communications – especially those that are personal in nature or that could be taken the wrong way – are best delivered face-to-face.

However, this isn’t practical or even possible when people cannot meet in person.

Help the managers in your organization train their team members to identify and use the most appropriate form of communication available for the situation. For instance, video calls and online collaboration platforms like WebEx and GotoMeeting often provide good alternatives to face-to-face meetings, while Skype or group IM chats are often more effective than email if some discussion is required.

Also, make sure that teams in your organization have the technology in place to communicate effectively – this may involve negotiating changes to corporate IT policies, where these haven’t kept up-to-date with evolving technologies.

2. Be Aware of Cultural Differences

People from other countries and cultures can provide a rich variety of viewpoints and experiences to the group. However, they can also have differing cultural expectations, and these need to be approached sensitively.

For instance, in a “high trust” culture, where strong workplace relationships are important, people may not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with people they’ve never met face-to-face. Managers may need to provide some ice-breaker activities to help in situations like these.

Also, encourage managers to develop cross-cultural intelligence, and think about training them in facilitation, so that everyone can participate fully in collaborative discussions.

3. Don’t Always Discourage Multitasking in Virtual Meetings

In most cases, multitasking is best avoided as it harms productivity. In a meeting, it can distract people, meaning that the meeting fails to meet its objectives in a timely way.

However, one study found that some multitasking in virtual meetings can have a positive effect, as long as the tasks that people perform support the meeting’s objectives.

For example, if a participant needs data to support her ideas, she might find it useful to contact a colleague by IM during the meeting, to get the information she needs. Or, participants could update shared project documents in real time, so that changes are agreed as the meeting progresses.

Therefore, make sure that managers don’t always discourage multitasking in virtual meetings. But ensure that people know that any multitasking that goes on should support the aims of the meeting.

4. Celebrate and Share Best Practice

Technology is advancing all the time. This means that accepted practices can go out-of-date quickly, as people find better ways to collaborate effectively.

Speak to people in your organization regularly about the tools and techniques they use to collaborate, and highlight and celebrate best-practice examples with others.

You can also use tools like Action Learning Sets to get people’s input into how you can improve virtual collaboration in your organization.

5. Keep on Building Relationships

Research shows that while people in virtual teams can build good relationships with one another early on, these are unlikely to improve beyond a certain point unless they can build mutual trust over the long term.

Weak relationships can lead to poor communication, stifled creativity, and reduced flexibility, which, in turn, leads to lowered productivity.

Because of this, you need to make sure that managers factor in time for people to develop good relationships with one another.

For instance, they could encourage team members to chat with one another at the start of virtual meetings, or they could set up a private group on a social media website, where team members can talk about their personal lives.

What challenges do you have with virtual collaboration in your organization? Let us know by commenting below.

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