In a world where more than 30 million people work from home at least one day a week, the virtual workforce is rapidly becoming the rule, rather than the exception. And whether you work from your home office, your favorite coffee shop or your kitchen table, chances are good that online collaboration is critical to just about everything you do.
Of course, working with people who may be a city, state, time zone or country away can be tricky, but with a few simple tips, a little patience and a steaming mug of caffeinated goodness, you can probably get more done at home than at the office. In fact, according to a study by the Telework Research Network, more than two-thirds of employers report increased productivity among their teleworkers.
So let’s take a look at seven of the best ways to make seamless online collaboration a reality:
- Identify roles and responsibilities—Whether you’re working virtually or in the same office, if your team doesn’t know who’s responsible for what—and when—chaos ensues. Before starting any group project, make sure that everyone knows who’s managing the project, who’s doing what and when it’s due.
- Instant messaging—Find an instant messaging service that works across devices, including laptops, desktops, tablets and mobiles. This way, you can have quick conversations with your colleagues—no matter where they are or what type of device they’re using. You can also use IM to connect with colleagues socially. It’s amazing how a few minutes of banter from time to time can help you build a personal relationship with a colleague who is hundreds of miles away. Just a little effort like this can go a long way when it’s time to ask someone for help, information or advice.
- Collaborative software—This may be an obvious suggestion, but it’s surprising how many organizations lack software that makes real-time collaboration on documents possible. By finding software that allows team members to co-author or work simultaneously on the same document, you can ensure that everyone has access to the latest version, and can knock out deliverables in less time.
- Virtual meetings—When you need to get the team together and bring everyone up to speed on a project, idea or development, use a meeting service that allows for screen sharing. This way, you can keep people engaged (and away from their mountain of laundry that they need to fold) and share your point precisely.
- Check your ego—Collaboration is about bringing people together to support a common goal. You naturally have experience in areas that others do not, and vice versa. Allow your team members the same courtesy you’d expect and give everyone the chance to shine.
- Be accountable—Whether you are running the project or just have a role in completing it, when you’re collaborating online it’s important for your team to know what you’re working on and that you’re on track for an on-time delivery. By communicating this type of information and living up to your commitments, you can not only build trust, but help team members prepare for the next phase of the project.
- Be yourself, but reconsider sarcasm—Behaving like a task master or corporate drone will only get you so far before your colleagues start avoiding your emails and IMs. So don’t let your personality fall by the wayside just because you’re communicating in writing. After all, when your coworkers like you (and realize that they can count on you to get the job done on time), they’ll actually WANT to work with you. That said, if sarcasm is your basic M.O., you might want to reconsider using it in writing. Some things just don’t translate well in email and IM, and sarcasm is one of them.
The right online collaboration tools, the right attitude and a killer collection of comfy clothes make working remotely a dream. However, with the wrong technology and teams you can’t communicate with (or trust), it can be a living nightmare. So before you start working remotely or managing remote teams, make sure that you have the tools you need to work together and run projects as you would if you were in the office. But most importantly, muster the discipline necessary to do the work properly and on time—no matter where you are.