Virtual Connections

Imagine Communications’ home office is in Nevada. I live in Michigan. Julie lives in Florida. Thousands of miles separate us from our co-workers and one another. It can be a challenge at times, yet we seem to make it work — for ourselves and our clients.

A screen shot from a recent team meeting with all three locations on board.

A screen shot from a recent team meeting with all three locations on board.

Virtual collaboration is on the rise, and some analysts predict that nearly half the full-time workforce will be working from home by 2020. Anyone with a high-speed Internet connection and a working tablet can create their own workspace and be productive. What does that mean for teamwork? Can you work as a team and replicate the same results when your co-worker is 1,000 miles away? Yes, but it takes time and effort to get there.

Harvard Business Review offered 10 basic principles to make a virtual team work, including getting the team together physically early on, clarifying tasks and processes, and using the best communication tools available. Here’s what I would add to their list:

  1. Upgrade your Internet service. It may be costlier, but there is nothing more frustrating than getting into a creative groove only to be slowed down by upload speeds or frozen videos.
  2. Don’t be scared of video conferencing. We have a team meeting every Monday, and there are always a few people who immediately turn the camera away from them or move out of view, which makes it difficult for those of us not in the room to connect. Seeing our co-workers on video is necessary because non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication. Yes, we know what you look like, but we don’t know how you’re reacting to what we say, or we can’t tell if your news is good or bad when we can’t see your face.
  3. Be considerate of time zones. Julie and I are in the Eastern time zone, our teammates are in the Pacific time zone and our clients can fall anywhere in-between. When scheduling conference calls or tasks, or before turning in work that was assigned, you have to work a couple steps ahead. For example, if you need something by 11 a.m. EST on Friday and the person working on it is in PST, use Thursday for the project due date.
  4. Make yourself heard. You know that expression “Out of sight, out of mind”? That applies to the telecommuter, too. Sometimes you’ll get left out of consideration because there is no physical reminder of you. Sometimes you have to make an extra call or text or email or smoke signal, whether you’re the telecommuter or in the office, to be heard. And sometimes you just have to yell “HEY!” in a virtual meeting to catch someone’s attention.
  5. Be flexible. There are times that I’ve had to work until 8 p.m. because a client on the West Coast needed a later meeting. There are times when we planned for a video conference so we could share our screens and had to switch to a teleconference last minute. There are times when a face-to-face meeting is necessary. Things will happen, no matter how much you prepare, so be ready and willing to roll with the punches.

If you’re part of a virtual team, which tactics have you found to be most successful? Which ones do you avoid?

An account manager with Imagine Communications, Nadia Zerka has been telecommuting for more than four years and loves it.

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