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10 Collaboration tips to get the most out of your virtual team

Nov 30, 2017

It’s official: Virtual teams are legit.

More and more people are working remotely every year. Nine million people in the U.S. work from home at least half of the time. Almost 50% of all companies have plans to increase their virtual teams, and 37 percent of businesses are getting more requests for flexible work arrangements.

It’s amazing to think that we can work together, in real time, separated by thousands of miles and vast oceans. But it doesn’t always come easy, does it? Just ten years ago, hardly anyone was working remotely. In just a few short years, we’ve had to figure out an entirely new way of collaborating.

At Traction® Tools, we’re 100% remote. While there are always a few bumps in the road, we have some truly amazing people that make it easy to be a virtual team.  

Here’s what we’ve discovered about collaborating with a virtual team—and what the experts are saying.

Challenges of collaborating on a virtual team

Building trust and communication is a long process for any team, and especially so for remote teams. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • Time zone issues. If you’re spread out widely enough, someone is going to lose some sleep or personal time to dial into a meeting.
  • Socializing is less frequent. A lot of relationship-building happens around the Watercooler. On remote teams, socializing is usually reserved for meetings or chat groups, lessening your team’s ability to get to know each other.
  • It’s easier to miscommunicate. Emails, texts and chat messages are really easy to misinterpret. Even phone calls can be difficult, since you can’t read body language.
  • Unfamiliarity. It’s just plain harder to build relationships when you’re not physically together.
  • Decisions take longer to make. People’s availability will be limited, and cross-cultural differences don’t always help. Distance requires creative problem-solving. 

But don’t panic just yet—these tips will help you overcome the challenges of virtual collaboration:

10 Tips to rock your virtual collaboration

1) Keep in touch in real time

When your team is all onsite, it’s easy to get the answers you need right away. But you can’t always reach your off-site employees by phone. Email is convenient, but not when you need a reply now.

Social platforms like Slack are the perfect solution. With Slack, you can customize your notification settings and status so that won’t be interrupted during an important meeting. And with emoticons and Giphy integration, it’s easy to let your personality shine through! Collaboration is more than just getting work done—it’s connecting personally.

2) Make organization a priority

With an offsite team, it’s critical to keep on top of what everyone is doing and what their status is. You can’t always have a quick team check-in and it’s easy to lose track of all the moving pieces.

At Traction Tools, we’re fond of using simple collaborative tools that get the job like, like Trello. Find applications like Trello that are easy to use, quick to learn, and flexible enough for your needs. Don’t get sucked in by fancy bells and whistles—sometimes simplest is best!

3) Overcommunicate. A LOT.

You’d be surprised how much information is informally shared around the office. Your offsite team can’t exactly have casual work chats over the coffee machine, so it’s easy for critical details to slip through the cracks. Be sure to communicate everything. Tell backstories, connect the dots, fill in all the details. 

Afraid you’re overdoing it? You almost definitely aren’t. But if you’re still worried about overcommunicating, just ask!

4) Help your team socialize

Just because there’s no water cooler to gather around, that doesn’t mean you can’t get to know each other. The most successful teams know and enjoy each other—and that goes double for virtual teams. Some ideas:

  • Make it a practice to share personal updates in meetings.
  • Recognize team birthdays.
  • Share office-life videos with your virtual team (and vice versa).
  • Host office parties via video chat.
  • Set up a virtual game session to promote team bonding. 

5) Make expectations clear

Virtual communication can be messy. To cut back on the speedbumps, establish some expectations for remote communication at work. 

This might include things like:

  • Mute your microphone during virtual meetings if you’re not talking
  • Schedule meetings with everyone’s time zone in mind
  • No multitasking during the meeting
  • Turn on your video for every meeting

6) Learn cross-cultural communication skills

If your team is global, you’ve got an additional layer of complexity to consider: cross-cultural communication. Communication looks different in different parts of the world, and when you have an international team, it needs to be accounted for. Make sure to maintain open, honest lines of communication with your team. Provide clear pathways to deliver feedback, and set expectations ahead of time. If you’re confused by someone’s behavior, don’t assume the worst—ask them to help you understand, and keep an open mind about how your own behaviors might be perceived.  

7) Emphasize company culture

Company culture is so, so important, and you don’t have to sacrifice it in the name of being remote! Here are a few things you can do to foster a strong company culture from afar:

  • Have an informal work groupchat. Talk about your families, music, books—whatever you’d like!
  • Give each other shoutouts. People Headlines during Level 10 Meeting™ are a great place to recognize a job well done!
  • Share your core values, and encourage your team to share their personal interpretations.  

8) In-person meet-ups

Meeting in-person is a great way to help your team feel connected. So when it’s feasible to do so, do it! 

Consider bringing the team together in-person for: 

  • Company anniversary celebrations
  • Major product launches
  • Holiday events
  • Just because—who says you need a special reason?!

9) Hire Smart

When you’re assembling your team, make sure you put the right people in the right positions. Not everyone is cut out to work virtually, and that’s okay! You may need to be even more intentional when hiring virtual workers than onsite employees—make your expectations clear up-front, and ask them to share their concerns. 

10) Keep Improving!

Most importantly, keep an eye out for opportunities to do things better. There’s always going to be room for improvement. Keep asking your team what’s working and what isn’t working, and make it easy to answer honestly. Be agile enough to make changes, but stable enough to maintain consistency.

Bonus: Use Traction Tools!

If you’re looking to get even more out of EOS®, Traction Tools is a great option for virtual teams. Lisa Manning Earley, Owner of Earley Information Science and a Traction Tools user, said, “Our leadership team is virtual across North America….When we heard about Traction Tools we became early adopters and were immediately thrilled by how it improved our meetings – completely transformational!”

Ready to get started? Schedule your 30-day free trial today!

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