Get it right and we will get paid more, promoted faster and given credit for more innovative ideas (read to the end to find out how). However most of us don’t think consciously about the best way to communicate with our virtual colleagues. We try to get through each day staying just about on top of our emails and feel proud if we’ve kept awake during the many one-way virtual PowerPoint presentations or conference calls we’re invited to. Or, maybe we see ourselves as digitally-savvy and are busy using Slack or Yammer etc… whilst getting frustrated that our colleagues still insist on sending us hundreds of emails. Either way the system isn’t working well.
76% of C-suite executives predict their organizations will move away from email toward more sophisticated digital tools, according to a 2016 survey by Deloitte.
Another study found that team members use an average of 8-12 applications to do their jobs – with 33% saying everyone is using different tools.
On a practical level, how should we make sure we’re using these tools to our virtual advantage, rather than letting them consume our waking lives?
First, we need clear, organization-wide ways of virtual team working. These should include how we will communicate, who needs to be cc’d/ threaded into which aspects, who will be on what calls, what platform we will use for what purpose.
We must also explicitly agree on the social norms and team etiquette that we will commit to following – for example, what hours of the day is it or is it not OK to contact people. People on virtual teams often find themselves saying, ‘I thought it was obvious that…’. It isn’t. So be explicit from the start.
Let’s also constantly think of how to use visual and audio cues in our virtual meetings and to plan in interactivity. In webinars, use only concise written slides and involve people early and often by getting them to use the ‘chat’ functions and annotation tools, with webcams on. Note who isn’t participating much and use direct questions to bring them back. This allows all nationalities to follow and engage in what’s being discussed. See www.killbadmeetings.com for more tips on running effective virtual meetings.
Whatever business collaboration tool we chose should have a social element to it too, to help build a sense of community and keep people using it. Cognizant suggests that features that can help people stay engaged with the tool and the wider virtual community include familiar social techniques such as status updates, ‘following,’ networks of ‘friends’, personal profiles, trending topics, threaded conversations, video posting and ‘liking’.
Gaming techniques such as leader boards for those that have contributed the most, or ‘senior contributor’ status can also encourage use. Cognizant advises assigning an ambassador to promote use of the collaboration tool and be an active participant themselves. Finally, they assert that successful online communities need to be scalable, self-perpetuating, integrated with business processes and accepted by the company culture as being essential to productivity, not just a nice to have.
Finally, remind people that community and network building is worth it for them too. Studies have found that workers with extensive connections get paid more, promoted faster, given credit for more innovative ideas and are less likely to leave.