In the past two years, companies all over the globe had to learn to adapt quickly to work around mobility restrictions. For non-frontline industries, remote work became the norm, which presented opportunities for companies to hire team members from anywhere in the world.
Working with a virtual team has its share of both advantages and challenges. Companies looking to scale internationally find themselves with a more global and diverse work group that can keep up with growth demands. It is also cost-effective due to a reduced need for physical office space. Employees save time, money, and energy that would have been spent on commuting to work.
However, for business expansion to happen—and for this growth to be sustainable—a workplace needs to provide its virtual team with the system and tools they need to collaborate efficiently across different geographic locations, time zones, and cultural backgrounds.
This is where optimizing virtual collaboration in the workplace becomes crucial.
What is virtual collaboration?
Emails. Instant messaging. Video calls and conferences. Discussion boards. Shared databases. All the ways in which team members use digital tools to share information and work together, even when they are not within each other’s physical proximity, are forms of virtual collaboration.
Communication technology has come a long way in recreating the ease (and, most times, speed) of face-to-face interactions. People have also become accustomed to using its tools when working, which is now second nature. However, technology can go only so far when no efficient system or work organization is in place to support its functions.
Why does virtual collaboration matter in today’s landscape?
The rise of remote work during the pandemic has shown businesses the benefits of virtual collaboration. It highlighted the ease of innovation and the creativity that having a highly diverse virtual team brings. Group decision-making sessions are better informed with more perspectives, with multiple options raised, discussed, and studied.
Virtual collaboration also helps widen a company’s global reach by having locally based talents in whatever region or country they want to expand into. These team members can help facilitate a business’s integration into a new target market, identifying strategic practices, trends, and other information that would serve useful to the company. The company can then identify the best business practices that can be applied across its various sites, thus developing overall workplace efficiency and productivity.
With adequate corporate support, virtual collaboration can also help resolve conflict among team members. In a safe workplace environment, members feel less intimidated to ask questions and present their sides. In the process, awareness of cultural differences is raised, and everyone becomes more mindful about remaining civil, professional, and culturally sensitive. Barriers to sharing insights and collaborating on solutions are then lowered.
How can you manage your team virtually?
The benefits of virtual collaboration don’t happen overnight. The process itself of organizing a virtual collaboration system takes time. However, it is never too late for any business to begin working on this, as hiring virtual teams will continue to be the norm into the foreseeable future.
Regardless of how tech-savvy your team members are, increasing and optimizing their collaboration through virtual means is possible.
Build a strong foundation by creating a good company culture
No matter the workplace setup, a company’s success is hinged on how healthy its company culture is. So how do you foster this?
Create a workplace environment where team members feel safe to open up about work concerns. Have the upper management be open to employee feedback. Implement fair and equitable rules that consider employee welfare. Build trust among your virtual team by listening to them and making them feel valued for their contributions. A trusting workforce is a motivated one, and a motivated team means increased productivity.
Create a workflow for your virtual team
Company leadership must set the company culture and organize an effective workflow. There must be a clear chain of command in the office and a clear set of responsibilities for each team member. Corporate processes must be properly communicated and implemented, and contingency plans must be outlined. That way, it is clear who does what, who reports to whom, and who is in charge should a crisis occur. With an efficient workflow, company operations can run as smoothly as possible around the clock.
Brainstorm with your team using online whiteboards
Virtual collaboration can be synchronous—meaning team members share ideas and provide feedback simultaneously—and asynchronous. In the case of the former, there are now more tools at a company’s disposal to make real-time collaborations straightforward but still creative.
With Canva’s online whiteboards, developing and refining ideas is fun and genuinely collaborative. The virtual team can get feedback (and kudos!) from the rest of the company during a presentation through text comments and emoji reactions, and everyone is kept on track with Canva’s handy timer tool. Team members can also edit in real-time and gather instant reactions. They can then share the results of a brainstorming session by generating a link or directly exporting and downloading it in JPG, PNG, or PDF format.
Do 1:1 meetings with your team
With team members across the globe, regular check-ins are a must. Schedule one-on-one virtual meetings with them to learn how they’re doing and coping with the workload. Let them take the lead on what they’d prefer to discuss: strictly work matters, or would more personal topics be included? Listen to their work goals and concerns and offer advice when asked. These check-ins help lessen the isolation created by remote work and make everyone feel part of the team.
Even face-to-face conversations are not immune from misunderstandings, so what more in virtual collaborations? Lessen the chances of workplace confusion by overcommunicating. During meetings, provide a quick summary of what was discussed in previous calls so everyone can be updated. Disseminate meeting notes to relevant team members afterward. Create and organize the digital equivalent of a paper trail for various workplace processes, so people have something to refer to. Strengthen your corporate communication department so they can circulate information among the virtual team through office newsletters and memos.
Understand each team member’s way of learning
Having a diverse virtual team teaches company leaders and employees about cultural sensitivity and inclusion. It also encourages the practice of empathy in the workplace. By showing flexibility in accommodating your team’s learning curve, you bolster the company culture and help employees become more competent at what they do.
Virtual collaboration empowers remote teams
Cost-effective, convenient, and highly productive, virtual collaboration makes remote work feel easier and more seamless. In addition, seeing what they can achieve despite being in different locations is inspiring to team members. With distance no longer a hurdle, who knows what else they can achieve from working together and leveraging the communication tools at their disposal?
The challenges of having a remote team
Of course, working with a virtual team comes with difficulties. Working from home can be isolating, depending on each team member’s personality, work ethic, and circumstances. Those who may not be adept at setting boundaries between work and personal life can find remote work taking over the time intended for rest, other responsibilities, and personal pursuits. Poor time management can then affect their well-being, morale, and productivity.
This pitfall can be avoided by keeping workplace communication lines open. Thus, possible solutions such as providing mentorship and agreeing on a more flexible schedule can be discussed and planned.
How about using a hybrid setup?
With mobility restrictions no longer a problem, many companies have begun to rely on the combination of remote and on-site work. A hybrid setup can be the perfect arrangement for companies with team members in multiple locations. A physical office for employees to report to would undoubtedly raise business expenses. Still, it would also help foster a sense of normalcy after a lengthy period of strictly virtual collaborations.
Employees who feel burned out from video conferences and can commute to work can find respite and camaraderie in working on-site. On the other hand, those who prefer to remain working remotely don’t have to disrupt the routines and stability they’ve become accustomed to. With only a small group of team members working on-site, the company can keep a cozier, more manageable, and more affordable office space. It’s a win-win-win situation for everybody.
Overcommunication and collaboration in today’s digital world
Whether your company opts to try the hybrid setup or maintain remote work, communication and collaboration are crucial to business growth and sustainability. As the world becomes more digital by the day, enterprises of any size—from startups to multinational corporations—increasingly rely on these factors to keep their operations running seamlessly.
Ensure that your business keeps up with the times by facilitating virtual collaboration in the workplace. Explore the different tools and platforms that can make team meetings more lively, creative, and productive, and watch your company become a strong player in the global scene.
Improve meetings at work by sharing ideas, notes, and documents online. With an easy-to-use interface, Canva’s online whiteboards offer an open canvas for any content you may need to share and collaborate on.