Remote work is on the rise. According to Upwork’s Future Workforce Report, about 40.7 million workers in the U.S. alone are expected to go fully remote by 2025. This would result in a 5% increase in remote work from 2020.
As more people embrace remote and hybrid work, a solid framework for virtual collaboration has become the business need of the hour.
While it may seem straightforward, there’s a lot more that goes into it than simply picking a virtual collaboration platform. It also involves centralizing communication and setting clear processes around how team members connect with each other.
What is virtual collaboration?
Virtual collaboration (also called remote collaboration) refers to any joint effort from people who are not physically present in order to achieve a common goal. It requires a variety of tools, including:
- Instant messaging software
- Productivity apps
- Platforms that support voice and video calls
The goal of virtual team collaboration isn’t merely getting things done but to replicate the synergy and teamwork achieved when employees are together in the same building. Employees—no matter how far apart they are—should be able to communicate effortlessly and cooperate in a virtual environment while remaining productive.
5 tips to improve virtual collaboration
Virtual collaboration isn’t without its problems. Overcoming learning curves, not being able to use non-verbal communication, and feeling isolated are just some of the biggest challenges of remote cooperation. These best practices will help your virtual team overcome those obstacles and seamlessly share ideas across time zones.
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Invest in collaboration software
The first step in improving virtual collaboration is investing in building a decent tech stack, or an effective unified communications platform. You need tools that will allow your employees to interact with each other and remain productive. In fact, 91% of remote workers believe that collaboration software creates a “connected workplace.”
As far as communication is concerned, we recommend having at least one of each of the following types of virtual collaboration tools:
- Team messaging: An asynchronous communication tool that allows employees to instantly reach out to each other. Examples include RingCentral MVP, Slack, and Discord.
- Video and voice conferencing: Certain discussions warrant synchronous spoken or face-to-face interactions, which voice and video conferencing tools facilitate. For example, Zoom, RingCentral MVP, and Skype.
For smooth coordination, and attempts to avoid the growing divide among employees and leaders, every business should have the following platforms in its tech stack, and of course these systems should live in a cloud-first atmosphere:
- Project management: Tools that allow you to create, manage, and track projects with entire teams and stakeholders. Asana, Notion, and Jira are some popular examples.
- Task management: Platforms that allow you to delegate and track individual tasks. They’re typically a subset of project management software.
- Productivity: Any type of software that allows you to do a task. You need to pick one based on the nature of your work. For example, if you do editorial work, you can use Google Docs or Quip. Similarly, if you have a virtual product design team, a tool like Zeplin can help.
The best software is one that meets the collaboration needs of your team members. Take some time to understand your requirements and do ample market research before making any executive decision.
Secure leadership buy-in
Seeing leadership getting involved in collaboration efforts will motivate your employees to follow suit, feel comfortable collaborating virtually, and bring new ideas to the table. This is the essence of effective communication and collaboration.
Start by convincing your leaders about the benefits of virtual work. Leverage existing research to make a strong argument. For example, did you know that 42% of virtual employees feel more productive? If you have any internal performance data that favors virtual work, make sure to include that in your discussions as well.
Once you get the buy-in from your leaders, ask them to use the virtual collaboration tools you’ve adopted to set an example for employees. For instance, advise all managers to send out a weekly blast on your company’s virtual messaging app regarding any updates. Ask them to participate in any company-wide training on collaborative processes, etiquette, and tools.
Understand collaboration styles
Collaboration style awareness is key in any workplace. When you understand how team members like to work with others, you’re better able to delegate tasks and predict how much involvement would be required to see a task to completion.
Some prefer to lead discussions and aren’t afraid to take risks, while others like to analyze everything before making decisions. Similarly, some enjoy working closely with their peers, while others shine when they work alone.
Subtle gestures and shifts in body language help us identify others’ collaboration styles. However, those non-verbal cues are almost impossible to notice when you’re collaborating virtually.
To that end, we recommend taking our quiz to find out your collaboration style. Ask all employees to share their results with their peers in a team-building exercise. You can also ask managers to engage in 1:1 conversations with their direct reports to better understand their unique styles and preferences.
We’ve already mentioned that a virtual collaboration tech stack is invaluable. Within that set of tools, it’s worth emphasizing the importance of a knowledge-sharing platform when working remotely.
One of the biggest challenges of collaborating virtually is being able to find crucial information or files needed to do your job. In fact, about 48% of remote employees say they lose time looking for information.
Adopt a dedicated hub for knowledge and file sharing employees can turn to anytime they need help. RingCentral, for example, offers a wide range of collaboration features, including a team administration feature that focuses on creating and managing team communications.
Invest in casual collaboration
Working remotely, while liberating, can feel lonely and take a toll on your mental health. With water cooler chats and lunch hangouts not possible, it’s easy to lose the camaraderie that glues a team together.
Encourage casual interactions between your remote employees to help everyone feel connected. Set up remote team-building activities—like virtual campfires, two truths and a lie, and online bingo.
In addition, you should also designate a channel for watercooler chats on your company’s messaging communications platform where team members can check in with each other.
You can always improve virtual collaboration
Virtual collaboration isn’t always easy. Creating a robust tech stack and strong synergy between your virtual employees will take some time, so be patient. Revisit your online collaboration plan from time to time and look for ways to remove bottlenecks or inefficiencies, and don’t rely on out-of-date technologies or practices. Consistently conduct internal surveys, and collect feedback from your team members to see how your company can improve virtual collaboration for them.
You can learn more about creating a strong system for remote teamwork in our guide to effective communication and collaboration strategies. We have also put together a list of the best tools for collaboration that’s worth checking out if you can’t decide which software would meet your needs.
Originally published Mar 24, 2022, updated Dec 30, 2022