If you’ve ever tried working remotely without the tools I suggest below, you’ll know that working remotely can quickly get the best of you. Virtual workers consistently complain that email “gets in the way”. Emails become cumbersome and difficult to organise. Enter, online project management tools.
Collaborative online project management tools
Tools like TeamworkProjects, Basecamp and Asana are the first tool of choice for virtual teams. These tools often completely replace email. All tasks are kept in one place, instead of being referenced in multiple emails. Messages can now be more concise – they are located exactly where the task is also described.
Virtual teams love online project management tools. Greg Nelson at Lamb Agency uses Basecamp because “…it’s a great way of keeping project communication out of email and into an organised repository where things don’t get lost.”
In Greg’s view Basecamp allows people at all levels of the project to have visibility into what is happening with the project, without necessarily being interrupted by the stream of emails that are produced as a result.
Running a business or an organisation is often about delivering a set of actions repeatedly. Online project management tools provide the perfect place to discuss these activities and see ad hoc activities in the context of their purpose (or ‘project’).
However, as we all know, there is more to working in a team than swapping information on tasks and outcomes.
A suite of tools
Most commonly, teams that work virtually use a suite of tools to support their collaboration.
Maria Loades is the Managing Director of Black Cliff Media. She uses a combination of Google Drive, Skype and Asana. She says “The combination forms a very powerful tool for working on creative projects with an international team.”
Maria is not alone in her use of multiple tools. Every successful virtual team uses a suite of tools.
Marcela Mias is a photographer based in Cyprus. She produces a podcast together with her partner who lives in New York. They collaborate using three main tools.
The first tool they use is Google Hangouts – a videoconferencing platform, which they use to record the podcast. The second is Google Drive, where they store everything and create documents. Marcela and her partner also use Asana to manage all tasks. Marcela says she finds Asana “…amazing for collaborating on projects.”
Often medium-sized organisations setting up virtual teams are looking for enterprise-grade solutions. Some communications providers are now getting into this space. For example, Sydney-based Arrow Voice and Data offer a suite of services designed for the virtual/remote worker. These tools allow remote workers to easily access and collaborate on documents as well as interact seamlessly with their on-site co-workers by giving them access anywhere, at anytime, on any device.
I recommend to my clients that their virtual team technology suite consists of at least five elements.
The five essential functions of virtual team technology
- An online project management tool – Cloud-based project management software enables you to keep messages assigned to various outcomes or tasks while still creating new tasks at any time. You can usually link files and set up tailored notifications, which replaces sending multiple emails.
- Videoconferencing – Face to face interaction is vital in virtual teams. Even voice and audio calls can be lacking. Be aware of the situation and choose the platform that gives as much verbal and non-verbal communication as possible: videoconferencing is a minimum.
- Screen sharing – Most teams that work together need to work on the same documents together at some point in time. Often it is most efficient and productive to literally point to a part of the document that you’re discussing. Screen-sharing can make life a lot easier.
- Document sharing – Emailing yourself files so you can access them later means that the documents you’re working with are hours behind real-time. Instead, document sharing solutions are cloud-based so that you can store, synchronize, stream and share content on various screens and in various locations – usually from any device.
- Secure online password storage – Most businesses that work remotely will need to access a common set of passwords at some point. For example, at Transformed Teams we share passwords for professional services, website access, travel accounts and so on.
Note that this list does not include instant messaging and call recording but these are also highly valuable tools. Some organisations choose to use social media platforms for instant messaging. For call recording, apps like Call Recorder for Skype make it easy to record meetings – a search quickly brings up a range of options so you can easily find one for your device.
With these seven functions in your technology suite, you can be confident you have the right set up.
Internal communication for large organisations
If you’re in a larger organisation, you could find it beneficial to use an internal social network.
Megan Iemma is a Digital Coach specifically working with businesses to improve digital productivity. She has found Yammer, a MIcrosoft product, to be particularly useful: “I used it at the State Library of Victoria to work with my team and the whole organisation. It supported collaboration in a great way, because there could be a team approach or sub-teams but yet a whole company as well.”
Recently, Knight Frank announced that they will be rolling out Skype for Business across their global operations. Over 800 Australian employees will transition to the platform to enable the company to work towards a centralised global communications model.
The right technology suite is an important element of a successful virtual team. However few virtual team leaders are prepared to handle the issues that arise in virtual teams. We will look at how to handle these issues in a few weeks.