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Five Tips for Improving Employee Collaboration in the Virtual Workplace

Attention business leadership: Your workers are about to stage a revolt against the traditional office environment. Remote work models are virtually (pun intended) knocking on the door of employers all over the globe.

FlexJobs reports that two-thirds of all companies have remote workers, and nearly five million people work from home. By next year, one-half of the American workforce will have some type of remote work option. But it’s not just in the U.S.; the virtual workplace has turned into a global phenomenon. What are the challenges of team collaboration with a remote workforce, and how can companies overcome them?

Improving Communication and Collaboration in Remote Work Arrangements

Far from being a fad, the virtual workforce is both more productive and less overhead cost heavy for the more than two-thirds of American businesses that embrace these models. These arrangements will become increasingly accepted in 2020. Still, organizations failing to develop well-crafted work-from-home rules and policies will struggle to capitalize on the positives found in these new work models, including:

  • Higher employee productivity and engagement.
  • Lower overhead costs.
  • Less sick time.
  • Higher retention rates and happier workers.

These new arrangements will require a shift in leadership skills for most managers. Fortunately, technology tools can help business leadership stay in touch with these workers and foster team collaboration—from wherever and whenever the work occurs.

The virtual workforce is growing. How will your leadership team handle it?

Tips to Improve Communication with Remote Workers

Here are five tips to improve team communication between virtual and on-site workers:

  1. Use technology to collaborate. This is an obvious suggestion in a virtual world, but it’s how we use the technology that will improve our efforts to stay connected. Email, texting, and instant messaging are fine, but having regular team meetings via videoconferencing is essential for the team to put faces to the words on a screen. Writing an email or Slack is impersonal, so meeting face-to-face or face to screen is incredibly important to foster a more intimate team environment.
  2.  Build new leadership skills for the remote workforce. Failing to provide your management team with the tools they’ll need to engage remote teams is a mistake. This means teaching them new ways to communicate when they can’t just walk over to an employee to have a conversation. Business leadership must learn to fully brief remote teams on more than just the problem that needs solving. While in-office workers may pick up on the reasons behind the tasks, leadership teams need to foster transparency even with off-site teams because these teams can sometimes miss the context of the assignment.
  3. Set smaller, easily managed tasks. This will keep remote teams focused and force business leaders to learn to monitor and provide feedback to virtual workers frequently. It will also keep remote employees motivated and improve communication among the entire team.
  4. Proactive planning reduces risk for leadership teams. Creating an assignment and letting teams run with it could work in an office setting. But sending virtual workers off without clear milestones gives managers no way to spot red flags before the project has gone off course. Work with teams to set clear communication pathways at every step in the project. Track problems, how long they’ll take to fix, and who is responsible as a standard part of the workflow. Remote workers should never feel as if they don’t have a vehicle for reporting issues. Remember, they can’t just walk over to the next office to ask for help.
  5. Speaking of asking for help, it’s more important than ever for leadership teams to allow open communication between employees. A benefit of remote work is that it enables employees to work when they are most productive. But this means questions may arise at both 2 pm and 2 am, so establish ways for virtual workers to reach team members on multiple channels.

Developing a remote team is beneficial for companies and their employees. But managing collaboration with dispersed teams is crucial to harnessing the power of these models.