As more businesses move toward a distributed workforce model that allows employees to work from home or from remotely located offices across the country or around the world, the need for clear lines of communication between team members and supervisors becomes even more critical. Virtual collaboration techniques allow managers to maintain contact with employees and help staff members stay motivated to complete corporate projects. Here are some of the most valuable tools in the emerging field of virtual collaboration.
Despite Microsoft’s recent jabs at the Google Docs application, this free collaborative tool is one of the most practical solutions for distributed teams and remote workers. While it does lack some of the formatting and editing features available in Microsoft Word, Google Docs offers true multi-editing capability and shows all additions and revisions in real time, allowing the members of a team to track changes and arrive at a consensus version of their documents. Google Docs can be used to create meeting agendas, to design workflows or to share progress on current and ongoing projects. Supervisors can also access the items stored in Google Docs and make any changes or adjustments necessary to ensure that all work is completed on schedule and to the correct specifications.
Skype and other video communication programs can provide added motivation for work-at-home staff members and can increase the sense of connection to other members of project teams. Regular conferences via Skype and other low-cost video calling programs can provide many of the benefits of face-to-face interaction and can provide valuable nonverbal cues for staff members, supervisors and team leaders. Group video conferencing is especially useful for discussing plans and assigning tasks in project-based teams. Some programs allow the recording of these sessions for playback and transcription at a later date. Maintaining records of video conference calls can help supervisors evaluate the performance of remotely located team members and can provide an added layer of accountability.
Despite recent technological advances in communication, telephone calls still play an important role in managing staff members who work from home or from a remote office. By regularly checking in on these employees, supervisors and team leaders can enhance productivity and ensure that staff members stay motivated and on task even without direct monitoring and supervision. Phone conferences can also be practical ways for team members to communicate with each other and to ensure that everyone is on track to complete projects on time.
One of the most popular forms of virtual communication, emails offer unmatched convenience for international collaborative efforts. Near-instant delivery of messages and easy storage options for important correspondence set email apart from most other types of communications. Additionally, email is easy to use and can be translated into various languages prior to delivery or at the point of receipt, ensuring that international staff members understand the contents of these communications. Because emails can be directed to multiple recipients at one time, they can save time and enhance productivity for teams engaged in virtual collaboration.
Dedicated messaging systems can provide fast responses for members of the distributed workforce. Less formal than email or group communication options, instant messages and texts are generally safe and can allow workers in diverse geographical locations to build solid connections with other members of their team. Instant messaging programs are available for tablets and smartphones as well as for desktop computers, making them a go-anywhere choice for staying in touch with distributed workforce participants.
Collaborative Software Systems
The most comprehensive and technologically advanced way to achieve true virtual collaboration is through the use of innovative software solutions that put all the project management and communication tools in one handy environment. Groupware packages typically include a wide range of features to include the following:
• Built-in scheduling programs and deadline reminders
• Centralized storage of shared documents
• Multi-editing functions similar to those available in Google Docs
• Project management functionality that allows team leaders to monitor progress and take steps to ensure on-time completion of all work
• Any other relevant tools that can enhance the collaborative work process
By ensuring that remotely located employees have the communication and collaboration tools necessary to work effectively as a team, modern companies can enjoy improved morale and productivity. This can significantly improve the profitability and financial stability of companies in the competitive international marketplace.