How to Win at Virtual Collaboration: Tips That Actually Work

Discover the power of virtual team collaboration, and learn how Assembly transforms virtual collaboration in the workplace.

September 12, 2023
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We all know the drill: Zoom meetings aplenty, Slack pings every other minute, and virtual huddles becoming the norm. So it’s no secret that mastering virtual teamwork has become the secret sauce of successful teams post-pandemic.

In this article, we'll break down strategies to transform your digital interactions into meaningful collaborations. By the end, you'll have actionable steps to boost productivity, enhance team cohesion, and, frankly, make remote work feel a lot less remote.

What is Virtual Team Collaboration?

Virtual team collaboration is the practice of teams working together using digital tools, regardless of their physical location. It's making sure work gets done, ideas keep flowing, and goals are achieved, all without needing to be in the same room, building, or even country.

Now, picture this: You're settled in your home workspace, and Steven from Marketing pings you with a project update. Jane from Design swiftly uploads a new mockup, and feedback starts pouring in from team members scattered globally. This kind of efficient, interconnected work is the essence of virtual collaboration.

The recent surge in remote and hybrid work models highlights the importance of virtual team collaboration. According to the Global Virtual Teams Survey Report 2022 conducted by CultureWizard, about 89% of companies function as fully remote, remote-first, or remote-friendly companies. Of those, 61% are remote, and 11% are on-site

The beauty of virtual collaboration is that it supports this shift, making sure that whether you're in the office part-time, full-time, or working from a resort in Cancun (lucky you!), everyone's still in sync and the work gets done efficiently.

What is an Example of Virtual Collaboration?

While we've touched on the definition of collaboration in the workplace, it helps to see some clear-cut examples to get the whole picture. So, let's walk through some of the most common examples of collaboration in the workplace:

1. Virtual workshops and training: Continuous learning is a hallmark of progressive teams. A tech company might organize a workshop on emerging AI trends, hosting experts from around the world. Participants engage in Q&A sessions, partake in breakout rooms for focused discussions, and share insights. Post-session, Assembly helps archive the materials, discussion points, and feedback, making it accessible for those who might've missed out or need a refresher.

2. Real-time feedback and reviews: Instant feedback is the pulse of agile teams. Consider a design team launching a new website layout. As they walk through the mock-up, team members across continents drop real-time feedback, pointing out tweaks and improvements. Through Assembly’s employee engagement features, feedback is not merely shared; it's cataloged, prioritized, and celebrated when implemented.

3. Virtual meetings: Gone are the days of packed boardrooms. Virtual platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams have transformed how teams meet, enabling video interactions that maintain the personal touch of face-to-face meetings. 

For instance, a company's marketing team spread across four continents can synchronize their strategies through monthly video catch-ups, proving the indispensability of these workplace collaboration tools. Assembly's comms & collaboration tool captures these interactions, ensuring ideas are organized and actionable.

4. Instant messaging: Modern workspaces are filled with the frequent ping of messaging apps like Teams or Telegram. It's the new age watercooler chat where a team member from Paris can instantly get feedback on a design from a colleague in Sydney. This is the essence of workplace collaboration.

5. Email: A core example of collaboration in the workplace. Despite newer tools emerging, email stands firm as a bedrock of workplace communication. It's the channel through which official communications, documents, and reports often flow.

6. File sharing: Dropbox, Google Drive, and similar platforms have revolutionized how files are stored, shared, and accessed. A project team in New York can update a presentation and share it with stakeholders in Tokyo within minutes, making collaboration seamless and efficient.

7. Project management: Digital boards and lists in tools like Trello or Asana keep everyone on the same page. These days, content creators draft material, designers craft visuals, and analysts track metrics, all within a singular platform, exemplifying the practical definition of collaboration in the workplace. 

Assembly's comprehensive Enterprise tool integrates these tasks, delegates responsibilities, and provides real-time progress updates on all your teams and their projects.

8. Whiteboarding: Miro or Jamboard sessions mirror physical brainstorming, but with added perks. A developer in Berlin can sketch a system flow, while their counterpart in Mumbai adds integrations, all in real-time, showcasing collaboration strategies in the workplace.

9. Collaborative writing: Google Docs, Notion, and their likes make co-authoring documents a breeze. An editorial team could be crafting a comprehensive guide, with writers, editors, and proofreaders all making simultaneous inputs.

What is the Benefit of Virtual Collaboration?

Virtual collaboration has several benefits for organizations that incorporate it. Some of them include:

  1. Enhanced flexibility

Virtual collaboration gifts teams with unparalleled flexibility. Not being chained to a desk or bound by 9-to-5 office hours can feel like a breath of fresh air. Employees have the freedom to curate their own schedules. This means they can zero in on the times they're most alert and efficient, tailoring their work hours to when they're at their prime. 

This, right here, is one of the undeniable benefits of collaboration in the workplace. In fact, According to a report by Statista, in 2022, the main benefit of remote work worldwide was the ability to have a flexible schedule, with 22% of respondents naming it as the biggest benefit to working remotely. The flexibility to choose where respondents live ranked second

Furthermore, it implies a continuous work cycle. With teams dispersed globally, there’s always someone online, pushing the project forward.

  1. Cost efficiency

There's a ton of money saved when businesses shift even partially online. Think about it. No more office rent. No utility bills that make your eyes pop. No travel expenses. Less money spent on office supplies, and a reduced need for a giant coffee machine. 

This significant decrease in overhead costs means companies can channel funds into growth, research, or maybe even employee perks. In fact, according to a report by JFG Inc, virtual collaboration reduces overhead costs through lower costs for office space and parking for employees. That's what smart collaborating in the workplace looks like in terms of finances.

  1. Tapping into a global talent pool

One of the most exciting aspects of virtual collaboration is the prospect of building an Avengers-like team. Companies aren’t just limited to their city or even country; they can scout for talent globally.

Imagine having the pick of the litter, from every corner of the world. That’s what virtual collaboration brings to the table. The importance of collaboration in the workplace really hits home when realizing the wide net it casts in talent acquisition.

  1. Increased productivity

There's a myth that needs busting: remote workers are slackers. That's far from reality. Often, employees in their own spaces, sans constant office distractions, deliver more efficiently. 

The backdrop of their favorite coffee mug, familiar room ambiance, and perhaps even their cat purring nearby can be a booster. A higher percentage of workers (34%) claim to be more productive now than they were before the pandemic. More business leaders (52%) concur too. This isn’t just a fluke; it’s the modern workplace collaboration model working its magic.

  1. Boosted communication

It seems a bit odd, doesn't it? Less face-to-face interaction, yet better communication. But that's the reality for many virtual teams. With the right tools, everything is logged and documented. Also, surprisingly, sources state that digital communication has made employees feel 45% more connected to their team.

No more relying on flimsy post-it notes or trying to recall what John said last Tuesday. Communication tools provide clarity, prevent misunderstandings, and ensure everyone remains aligned. This structured approach is the epitome of successful collaboration in the workplace.

  1. Employee well-being

Here’s something every business should care about: their employees' happiness and mental health. Letting employees steer clear of grueling commutes, work in their pajamas if they wish, and whip up a home-cooked lunch goes a long way. 

There’s data to support this too. 71% of people who work from home full- or part-time stated it helped them strike a balance between work and personal life. This sense of comfort and balance directly translates to satisfaction, reduced stress levels, and better mental health.

  1. Environmentally friendly

This is a win-win. Fewer people on the roads, trains, or buses mean fewer emissions. That daily grind of commuting isn’t just hard on individuals; it’s taxing on our planet. Embracing remote work means businesses play a part in reducing carbon footprints, helping in global efforts for a healthier environment.

  1. Adaptability and resilience

This one's big. In a world where the only constant seems to be change, having an adaptable business model is crucial. Virtual collaboration, by design, equips companies to be more resilient in the face of unforeseen challenges. Whether it's a snowstorm, a city-wide event, or even a global pandemic, operations remain largely unaffected.

The days when a lack of collaboration in the workplace stunted growth are behind us. Thanks to virtual collaboration, we're working better, innovating more, and even saving money. It's clear: this way of teaming up is certainly the way forward.

Challenges in Virtual Collaboration ( + Solutions)

Working together without being together has its set of unique challenges. While the perks of virtual collaboration are many, it's also essential to recognize and address the hurdles.

1. Communication breakdowns

  • Challenge: Messages can often be misunderstood or misinterpreted in a virtual environment. The absence of face-to-face interaction removes the ability to read body language and tone, leading to potential miscommunications.
  • Solution: Use a mix of communication tools. While written tools like email and instant messaging are great, periodic video calls can help bring in that personal touch.

Also, you should be more explanatory in your messages. Instead of writing "Please revise," you could say, "Could you add more details in the second paragraph about the project's scope?"

2. Technical issues

  • Challenge: Glitches in software, connectivity issues, or hardware malfunctions can disrupt smooth collaboration.
  • Solution: Always have a backup tool or platform and conduct periodic tech-check days to ensure everyone's equipment is running smoothly.

3. Lack of team cohesion

  • Challenge: Not being in the same physical space can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation among team members. This can weaken teamwork and collaboration in the workplace.
  • Solution: Organize virtual team-building activities and ensure regular check-ins with each team member. You can host a virtual game night or a monthly virtual "coffee chat" where everyone catches up informally.

4. Difficulty in monitoring progress

  • Challenge: Supervisors might find it challenging to track their team members' progress in a virtual setting.
  • Solution: Use project management tools and establish a regular reporting routine. Instead of counting hours, count deliverables. Set up weekly check-ins where team members briefly outline what they've done and their plans for the coming week.

5. Time zone differences

  • Challenge: With teams spread across various time zones, coordinating meetings or collaborative sessions becomes tricky.
  • Solution: Use scheduling tools that can display multiple time zones and plan major collaborations for overlapping work hours. If half the team is in New York and the other half in London, schedule main meetings for the late morning in New York, which will be the afternoon in London.

6. Over-reliance on written communication

  • Challenge: Too much reliance on emails and chats can lead to information overload and miscommunication.
  • Solution: Balance written communication with voice calls or video meetings to define collaboration in the workplace more clearly. If a topic requires lengthy explanation, opt for a quick call rather than a long email chain.

7. Potential for burnout

  • Challenge: Without the clear boundaries of an office, some might struggle to switch off, leading to burnout.
  • Solution: Encourage regular breaks and ensure there's a clear distinction between work hours and personal time in your collaborative workplace. You can implement a policy where no work-related emails or messages are sent after a particular hour, allowing employees to truly switch off.

Considering the advantages and disadvantages of collaboration in the workplace helps teams maximize the former and mitigate the latter, making virtual work both productive and pleasant.

How Do You Collaborate Effectively Virtually?

Ever been in one of those virtual meetings where half the team's cameras are off, there's awkward silence, and by the end of it, you're wondering, "What did we even accomplish?" 

Virtual workplaces have increased collaboration options in the workplace, but it doesn't always mean it's easy to get it right. Here's how you can hit the sweet spot between the two.

  1. Crystal clear communication

We often hear that communication is key to effective collaboration in the workplace, but in virtual settings, it’s even more vital. When you’re not in the same physical space, nuances can be lost. 

It's not enough just to send messages; it's essential to ensure they're understood. Encouraging team members to repeat or summarize what they've heard can clear up misconceptions before they become problems. And hey, when in doubt, over-communicate. Better safe than sorry, right? 

Example: Instead of a vague "Let's discuss the project," opt for more specificity. Say, "Tomorrow, let's discuss the project’s design phase, especially the color schemes."

  1. Embrace video

There's a lot in a smile, a nod, or even a raised eyebrow. Turning on that camera might seem like a small step, but it makes all the difference. It builds a sense of connection and trust among team members. It also provides a semblance of the in-person interaction many of us miss.

Example: During team huddles, make it a point to switch on the camera, even if it's just for the initial greetings. It brings the team closer, creating a more 'together' feel.

However, it’s important to use video conferencing technology effectively by setting clear agendas for meetings, using breakout rooms for smaller discussions, and avoiding multitasking during meetings.

  1. Set clear boundaries

With remote work becoming more prevalent, the line between our personal space and professional life often becomes blurred. It's not uncommon for team members to feel like they're in a perpetual "on-call" state. This can cause burnout and reduced efficiency. 

As managers, it's essential to establish and respect boundaries. This not only promotes work-life balance for the team but also sets a precedent for how communications should be managed. Define specific working hours and stick to them. No sending work emails at midnight!

Example: Imagine you've had a late-night brainstorm and want to share your ideas with a team member. Rather than expecting an immediate response, accompany your message with a note: "I'm sharing this now while it's on my mind, but please look into it during regular work hours."

  1. Regular check-ins

With the shift to virtual workspaces, the casual face-to-face interactions that naturally occur in physical offices are missing. You no longer bump into a colleague at the coffee machine or have impromptu chats in the hallway. This can make it harder to gauge the team's overall morale, understand their immediate challenges, or even celebrate small victories. 

This is why it's important to take the pulse of your team through check-ins and surveys.

Example: Organize weekly or bi-weekly team huddles to share updates, challenges, and successes.You can also use Assembly’s survey tool to receive both regular and anonymous feedback from your team.

  1. Feedback loop

We've all been on the receiving end of feedback, both good and bad. As managers, it's your responsibility to make feedback actionable. It's not just about telling someone what they did wrong or right; it's about guiding them towards improvement. 

Constructive feedback is crucial. It helps in course correction and ensures everyone's efforts align with the bigger picture. However, giving effective feedback is an art. It needs to be clear, direct, and specific, avoiding any ambiguity. Approach manager feedback as a collaborative process, a two-way street, and ensure it's rooted in the goal of mutual growth.

Example: Instead of vague feedback like "this can be better," be specific. Say something like, "Can you add more data to back up this point?"

  1. Be flexible

We're all unique, not just in how we think or approach problems, but in how and when we work best. The traditional 9-to-5 workday might not bring out the best in everyone. Some are morning larks, while others are night owls. 

The key is not to confine everyone to a rigid structure but to embrace the ebb and flow of individual work rhythms. Recognizing and respecting these rhythms can boost productivity.

Example: If a team member prefers to start their day early and wrap up by 4 pm, let them. As long as the work gets done and they're available for essential collaborations, it's all good.

  1. Ensure equal participation

When operating in a virtual environment, the dynamics are a bit different than in face-to-face interactions. Sometimes, louder voices can dominate, and there's a risk that quieter team members might get overshadowed. It's crucial to ensure everyone has an equal seat at the table.

This can be achieved by setting clear agendas for meetings, using round-robin techniques for decision-making, and encouraging all team members to share their ideas.

Example: Imagine you're in a virtual meeting, and you notice a couple of team members haven't contributed much. Instead of moving forward, take a moment. Prompt them with something like, "Hey [Name], you've had great insights about this in the past. What are your thoughts on the current discussion?" This simple gesture can make all the difference in ensuring comprehensive collaboration.

  1. Training and skill development

Workplace collaboration software and virtual team collaboration tools change everyday. It is  your responsibility to ensure your team isn't left scratching their heads when a software update rolls out or when a new tool is introduced.

Better still, you should pick a user-friendly collaboration tool that combines all the basic project management features and integrates seamlessly with other platforms. 

Pro tip: Click here to for more tips on how to assemble your culture suite for increased productivity. 

  1. Use collaborative tools

Effective virtual collaboration is significantly influenced by the platform that facilitates it. With the myriad of tools available today, it's the attention to detail, user-friendliness, and depth of features that differentiate the best from the rest. Assembly stands out in this respect, designed to not just be a tool, but a partner in encouraging cohesive team interactions.

Here are some Assembly features that can enhance virtual collaboration in your workplace:

  • Employee engagement tools: Assembly prioritizes employee sentiments and feedback. Our survey, feedback, and performance review tools ensure everyone feels seen and heard, leading to a more connected team.
  • Recognition & rewards: Appreciating teammates' efforts is straightforward with Assembly. With our rewards program, you can build a culture where gratitude and motivation are at the forefront.
  • Workplace search: The hustle of virtual offices demands quick access to information. Assembly's search features ensure you have the right data at your fingertips, significantly speeding up decision-making.
  • Communication & collaboration tools: Streamlined communication forms the core of any effective team. Assembly helps facilitate smooth conversations, reduce misunderstandings, and promote clarity.
  • Knowledge management: Having the right information and accessing it efficiently is paramount. Assembly assists teams in storing, retrieving, and managing knowledge, so it’s there whenever you need it. Always.

Example: Each feature contributes to a cohesive and efficient collaborative process. Imagine leading a cross-functional project with three different teams. You could start with Assembly's search to gather all necessary past reports. 

As the project progresses, seamless communication is maintained with your customized and centralized communication tool. Throughout the journey, team members hitting milestones are appreciated with our recognition & rewards features. And finally, all project learnings are subsequently stored for future reference. 

Master Virtual Collaboration with Assembly

Effective collaboration in the workplace, especially in a virtual setting  hinges on the right tools, clear communication, and mutual respect. When these pieces align, remarkable productivity follows. And what’s more? You build a team that trusts, respects, and genuinely enjoys working with each other 

Assembly can play a significant role here. Its features boost employee engagement, making everyone (remote or hybrid) feel valued and appreciated As remote teams grow and their needs evolve, having a tool that addresses both the basic and intricate challenges of collaboration becomes vital. Opting for Assembly means choosing a partner in creating a cohesive, efficient, and happy team.

Make the decision to unite, to collaborate, and to thrive. Try Assembly now. No credit card required.

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