By: Leanne Armstrong
The term collaboration is used so frequently in today’s business environment, it’s easy to lose sight of why it’s important.
Working with others to create or accomplish something you might struggle to achieve on your own is one of the biggest, most powerful hallmarks of the collaboration process. Not only can cooperative platforms drive significant productivity improvements, statistics cite collaboration tools as important prerequisites for employee efficiency 67% of the time.
Despite the advancement of remote work however, we still tend to think of proficient teamwork as a face-to-face thing. So does that mean we have to settle for second-best outcomes when we choose to collaborate virtually?
Not at all!
Virtual collaboration in the workplace can prove equal to, if not more effective than pulling together while seated side-by-side with your teammates – especially when it comes to:
- Communicating in real-time
- Creating and sharing work files and other documentation
- Doing away with inefficient in-person meetings
In this article, we’ll tease out and explore what’s behind the virtual collaboration meaning by looking at where it excels, why you should be taking advantage of it, and what to watch out for when you do.
What is virtual collaboration?
Virtual collaboration refers to any partner or group activity that relies on digital technology or online tools to happen faster and more efficiently.
If you think that sounds a lot like remote collaboration, you’re right!
The key difference, however, is that cooperating virtually doesn’t just apply to team members working from home or on opposite sides of the globe.
To answer the question of what is virtual collaboration in fact, it’s important to understand that tech-driven communications can also be used to great effect by people sharing a physical workspace, but who want to:
- Respond to coworker questions or requests in a manner that won’t disrupt their focus or workflow
- Make time-sensitive data or documentation available to someone (or everyone) as quickly as possible
- Initiate brief, spontaneous, or last-minute brainstorming meet-ups with teammates
After all, most teams have to deal with the challenges of being dispersed in one way or another – even if it’s only office walls or mismatched work schedules keeping them apart.
How you can put virtual collaboration to work
It’s tough to succeed in any industry without prioritizing cooperation on a day-to-day basis. The pandemic may have accelerated the use of virtual collaboration, but its application has been an ongoing trend since digital communications first emerged.
Not only have companies long since realized that coworkers don’t have to share a desk to bounce ideas off one another and churn out impactful results, 70% of employees credit digital technologies with their ability to collaborate better.
Virtual connections can happen faster than physical interactions, they’re a great way to monitor the pulse of events as they unfold, and – because they encourage greater flexibility and accessibility – they’re more likely to keep team members engaged and aligned.
Working toward a common goal with the help of digital resources, for example, can prove extremely valuable when you need to optimize communication around group projects and ensure everyone stays in sync.
Virtual collaboration is also effective for:
- Breaking down workplace silos.
- Creating a more dynamic business environment.
- Keeping your team connected while socially distant.
Here are a few common workplace dilemmas that could easily be resolved by applying a little virtual know-how.
How many have you experienced?
Your report deadline is looming.
The good news is your colleague at head office has forwarded the figures you need to complete your report. The bad news is the numbers aren’t adding up and something just doesn’t make sense. You’ve asked your teammate to clarify their data via email, but the back-and-forth process is taking too long and your follow up phone call has done little to help you see where the problem actually lies.
Virtual collaboration solution: This is a great example of where the ability to leverage virtual collaboration tools like instant messaging, team chat rooms, and screen-sharing can come in handy for communicating and working through problems in real time.
You and your team have been put in charge of an important work project.
You quickly type up an outline of what’s required, then spend a number of hours laying out a rough, spreadsheet-based schedule and plan. Your coworkers are eager to get to work. But although they’ve been able to open your word document and spreadsheet file, tweaking them as a team has proved awkward – and a lack of clear visuals has left several project members feeling confused about how to proceed.
Virtual collaboration solution: Tools and platforms (like MindManager) that are specifically designed to streamline virtual visualization allow teams to create and access a single source of information (like a central map, for example) and co-edit it from wherever they are.
Your manager has requested yet another meeting.
You set a notification on your desktop in preparation for explaining where you’re at with your product design and getting updated on the client’s latest workaround strategy (being sure to leave enough time to save your work, sign off, and make your way to the 15th floor meeting room). Your manager, delayed by an important phone call, arrives 10 minutes late, spends another 5 minutes looking for and setting up the conference room whiteboard, then realizes they’ve left their notes behind in their office. It’s half an hour in, and you’ve yet to begin your meeting.
Virtual collaboration solution: Whether an employee or colleague is across the country or just down the hall, meeting virtually via video chat, or collaborating with the help of a virtual white boarding tool, can save time and frustration.
Virtual collaboration does more than just give staff in different branches, departments, or cities a convenient way to work together while seamlessly accessing the information they need. When done right, it can inspire your team to meet or exceed goals by lifting up joint creativity.
Benefits and challenges of collaborating virtually
Like any business methodology, virtual collaboration can have its ups and downs. That’s why building or managing a digitally-connected team usually takes forethought and an ongoing commitment to getting it right.
Still, adopting a virtual communication and cooperation work style comes with some tremendous opportunities. And the best part is that computer-based teamwork doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing affair. You can choose to implement group efforts digitally as, where, and when they make sense.
Here’s a rundown of some of the biggest challenges and benefits of virtual collaboration.
Benefits of virtual collaboration
Digital communications and work processes have the potential to bring talented people together in a way that builds productivity, efficiency, and engagement.
There are many ways to collaborate virtually, whether your team’s aim is to gain ready, secure access to business data – or one another.
- Flexible file-sharing tools, workflow management platforms, and dedicated team channels make it easy to conduct business online by connecting you with clients, partners, and colleagues alike
- Virtual chat and video tools can enhance (or replace) slow, legacy-style communication systems to promote more timely interactions and refined employee focus
- Versatile, visual dashboards facilitate the seamless exchange of conversation and data for enhanced brainstorming, planning, task scheduling, and problem solving
- Collaborating virtually reduces many manual tasks, allowing team members to achieve greater success in terms of meeting deliverables and generating more meaningful work
- Rather than relying on local personnel alone, digital connections make it possible to source and work with the best talent from diverse locations
By keeping people connected – but not overwhelmed – virtual collaboration is a worthwhile investment for remote, in-house, or hybrid teams.
Challenges of virtual collaboration
One of the biggest challenges of virtual collaboration is the need to stay organized, and to implement processes that ensure every time people link up, they’re equipped to take action that positively impacts results.
With that in mind, it’s worth noting that:
- Collaborating virtually sometimes makes it harder to establish and maintain bonds among team members.
- Unless preemptive and corrective measures are taken, virtual communications can lead to stunted dialogue or misunderstandings.
- It can be difficult for some team members to spontaneously contribute to or take the lead during digital discussions
Despite challenges like these, research suggests that with the right practices in place, virtual teams can perform better than co-located crews in many cases.
Because employees who collaborate virtually experience fewer work distractions, for example, they typically report greater productivity and are better able to meet deadlines. They also develop more efficient communication skills and strategies since they don’t always have the luxury of calling across to the next cubicle when they need to share or clarify work details.
The bottom line is that great things can happen when great minds stay connected.
Leveraging virtual collaboration in the workplace is the key to creating a robust, cohesive team of individuals who have the tools and the ability to build on one another’s strengths from wherever they happen to be.