Virtual collaboration has become essential for effective operations in today’s workplace. However, many organizations are finding this type of collaboration difficult to manage, with 80 percent of companies reporting a need to foster more collaboration, and 78 percent experiencing struggles to make collaboration work in a virtual environment, an IBM study reports. Eighty-six percent of employees identify lack of collaboration as the chief culprit behind failures in the workplace, a Fierce, Inc. survey reveals.
While virtual collaboration can be challenging, organizations can make it work by implementing some effective project management strategies. Here are four ways to improve collaboration between your virtual team members.
Standard Operating Procedure
Having a clearly defined, well-documented standard operating procedure (SOP) is a key to effective virtual collaboration. An SOP ensures that each team member knows exactly what operations to perform in order to complete their assigned task. It also helps prevent mistakes that have already been experienced on previous occasions from being repeated.
To be effective, your SOP should be written and published in an online format where your team members can easily access it, such as a Google Docs file. It should be incorporated into your task management system so that when team members are working on projects online, their display should make a link to your SOP visible for ready reference. Your SOP should also be kept up-to-date, incorporating improvements to your procedures that are learned through experience. Schedule regular periodic reviews and revisions of your SOP document.
A standard operating procedure defines what tasks your team needs to perform. In order to accomplish these tasks, each team member needs to have a clear grasp of what role they are to perform in achieving the overall task. Defining team members’ roles enables them to better understand and perform their own responsibilities, as well as understand what tasks other team members are responsible for and how their own role interacts with that of other workers. Clear role delegation also promotes better security by limiting access to sensitive data to workers who need it to perform their tasks.
The best way to implement effective role management is to use a collaboration tool that allows role-based access control (RBAC). RBAC allows your IT team to define access permissions based on the different roles within your organization, so that workers can then be assigned roles that grant the access privileges corresponding to their responsibilities. Microsoft recommends that when using RBAC, organizations should follow security best practices, such as allowing your IT team to manage user identities from a single location, allowing single sign-on access to apps on your network and using two-factor authentication.
Training is essential for executing your standard operating procedures and ensuring that your workers fulfill their roles effectively. Training should include hard skills such as how to use your collaboration software and how to perform collaborative functions. It can also include soft skills such as communication, teamwork and emotional intelligence.
Training can be incorporated into your on-boarding process and formal training sessions such as webinars and workshops. You can also build informal on-the-job training into your operations by assigning managers and experienced workers as mentors to help train newer employees.
Trust is another crucial component of effective collaboration. Trust underlies good communication, critical for virtual collaboration. Trust enables managers and workers to have confidence that other team members are carrying out their assigned tasks, enabling them to concentrate on their own roles. Trust also underpins effective scheduling and deadline management, allowing managers to depend on team members for timely completion of tasks.
Ferrazzi Greenlight recommends building trust when team members first meet by articulating the team’s goals and emphasizing each member’s expertise, reinforcing the sentiment that everyone is in the same boat contributing to a common goal. Communicating at regular intervals can also help build trust. Using a virtual phone system with telepresence features such as 8×8 Virtual Office can also help establish trust by enabling face-to-face communication and real-time collaboration. Providing workers with opportunities for non-work interaction such as discussion groups and annual retreats can further foster trust among virtual team members.