Virtual collaboration is the key to every remote and hybrid team’s success.. When not everyone can work together in person, collaboration establishes connections between employees so they can work together more effectively.
How well your remote and hybrid teams collaborate has a significant impact on team engagement, skills development, and productivity. When your company fosters a work environment that emphasizes virtual collaboration, you're better equipped to set your employees up for success.
To make teamwork easier, and drive better outcomes, follow these six tips for virtual collaboration.
1. Make knowledge accessible to everyone
A culture of collaboration and knowledge sharing will guide your virtual teams to collaborate and solve problems together. Without access to company knowledge and information, it’s harder for your teams to make informed, insightful decisions.
For in-person teams, employees can meet with each other to share information and resources. For example, if a marketing assistant needs to know what the company mission statement is, they can get up from their desk and ask their supervisor or a coworker where that information is. For a virtual employee, it’s much more difficult and time-consuming if they don’t have easy and complete access to a single source of truth, like a knowledge base or company wiki.
When it comes to a single source of truth, you need a designated space or tool for all of your knowledge and information for team members to find resources, make contributions, ask questions, and get clarification. But you also need to provide access and training to use those resources.
2. Establish your primary communication channels
By keeping remote communication streamlined, you can help your remote employees stay connected to the company and their work.
To keep everyone using the right channels for the right instances, establish where each type of communication happens and when. Maybe you keep all customer communication in emails, and all internal communication is through a messaging tool (like Slack or Teams). Designating channels for specific types of communication also helps employees when they need to refer back to a specific conversation.
In an office environment where everyone works together, communication happens in a number of ways — in person, on the phone, or via email. But to keep communication easy and effective in a remote work setting, it’s more efficient to designate just one or two primary channels for communication.
Create a policy that outlines your communications guideline, so every employee knows which channels to use for which type of communication. Then put this information into the tool you’ve designated as the single source of truth — whether it’s a company wiki or another type of knowledge management tool.
3. Schedule recurring team meetings (if they’ll add real value)
Regular meetings with all remote team members help everyone stay aligned and communicate better, and foster more effective interactions. Video meetings are often the only face-to-face interaction that remote employees have with each other. By having regular video calls, you can help keep everyone on the same page and help team members connect on a regular basis.
But remember — don’t overload your remote employees with meetings just to have meetings. Too many meetings may overwhelm your team and make it hard for them to focus on their tasks. Schedule meetings that bring value to your team. These meetings include team meetings, one-on-one check-ins, and performance reviews.
When in doubt, ask yourself: Should I schedule this meeting?
Share meeting agendas in advance, so all team members are aware of what the meeting is about and how they can contribute if they have questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions. Also, you should use visual collaboration tactics in team meetings to ensure that you get broad engagement and participation.
4. Use icebreakers to help teams get to know each other
Virtual icebreakers can help get your team more comfortable working together. Since icebreakers are less formal than a meeting where everyone introduces themselves, they can help your team build stronger connections with each other.
In-person teams can host onsite team bonding activities, where team members work together and get to know each other better. But remote or hybrid teams who can’t get everyone together in person can still hold these team-building activities in a remote meeting using a remote collaboration tool like a virtual whiteboard.
Dedicate one of your regular team meetings (or schedule a one-off meeting) to icebreakers. Here are a few ideas:
- Play games like show-and-tell, team trivia, two truths and a lie, or rock paper scissors.
- Ask engaging or unique questions like, “What’s a song that makes you feel motivated?” or “What would be your superpower if you could choose?”
- Share fun facts like favorite quotes, movies, or books.
These icebreakers are fun for your employees and can help make virtual collaboration more engaging.
5. Host co-working sessions
Co-working sessions (also called working sessions) are meetings where your team members work side-by-side (virtually) to stay focused on completing their tasks. These sessions allow employees to be in the same “room” to work independently or engage in spontaneous collaboration in real-time. Co-working gives team members time to engage in deep work, solve problems, share ideas, and collaborate on projects.
Onsite teams can easily work together since they’re located in the same building and often in adjacent workspaces. For virtual teams, co-working doesn’t happen naturally, so you’ll need to “make space” for it. Providing these co-working opportunities fosters a sense of teamwork and collaboration.
Try scheduling meetings where there are no agendas or expectations other than the whole team getting together to work collectively. Decide in advance if teams will work independently or collaborate as a group. Aim to hold co-working sessions once per week or once biweekly so your employees have regularly scheduled focus sessions where they can complete deep work or meet to collaborate.
For distributed teams spread out across different time zones, find focus times that work for all (or most) of your team. If you find that there’s no way to make one time work across your team, host co-working at varying times, so if someone misses a session, they can make it to the next one.
Related: A guide to virtual brainstorming — why online ideation is different.
6. Adopt the right collaboration tools
For a remote team to collaborate effectively, they need a tool stack that facilitates collaboration. With people spread out across various locations, the tools and systems you provide are what dictate how well they work together.
Most workplaces use tools that were designed when the majority of the workforce was in office. With their entire team working from company-owned facilities, employers used a centralized network that all computers were connected to, and it was assumed that collaboration took place in person.
When you add remote and hybrid work setups to the mix, things get more complicated. For instance, cloud-based tools become much more important.
In our collaboration stack guide for hybrid teams, we outline the tools that we recommend to unlock virtual collaboration.
- Communication tools for instant messaging, e.g., Slack or Microsoft Teams
- Video conferencing tools, e.g., Microsoft Teams or Zoom
- Project management tools, e.g., Asana or Jira
- Company wiki or knowledge management tools, e.g., Confluence or Notion
- Digital asset management (DAM), e.g. Adobe experience manager
- Content creation or word processing tools, e.g., Google Workspace or Canva
- Visual collaboration software, e.g., Mural
To set your team up for a collaborative work culture, take stock of the tools and apps you already have and identify what’s missing that would facilitate more and better collaboration. For example, maybe you have a chat tool and a company wiki, but you need to adopt a video conferencing tool for virtual meetings and a visual collaboration tool for workshopping and planning.
Look into tools built for virtual collaboration
Remote and hybrid work has brought us into the future of work, but with some tradeoffs. Teams in a virtual environment no longer have face-to-face meetings to build rapport and grow, but that can be helped.
There are plenty of ways to make team collaboration easier using virtual collaboration tools. The ideas we’ve laid out here can be used by any remote team — from marketers and designers to sales and product teams.
By carefully choosing the virtual collaboration tools that work for your team and your goals, you can keep your team members on the same page with ease. Visual collaboration tools, like an online whiteboard, can be used in a number of collaborative ways, from brainstorming and ideation, to retrospectives.
Check out our guide on five everyday uses of Mural for inspiration. You can use Mural for mind mapping, meeting agendas, retrospectives and feedback, brainstorming, and more use cases.