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Technology has not only changed the way we work, it has changed where we work. Online tools now exist that make it possible for work teams to contribute from outside a traditional office setting. As remote work becomes more commonplace, employers and organizations rightly have a number of concerns. Chief among them: what tools would facilitate such an arrangement and how to cultivate a collaborative spirit among team members?
TechSoup, itself a distributed organization with virtual teams, recently held a tweet chat on Virtual Teams to explore these questions.
In addition to the benefit of saving on office space and utilities, organizations can benefit by finding highly talented employees from a much wider pool of candidates than might be available locally. A strong work ethic is an important qualification for the members of a virtual team as remote staff work without being micromanaged. Organizations can build their virtual teams by incorporating virtual and micro-volunteers.
By reducing time spent on commuting, members of your virtual team can devote more time to getting work done — a benefit for both the employees and employer. Employees can also work more efficiently by working when their biorhythms make them the most productive.
Similar to working in an office, distributed team members require the capability for file sharing. A cloud server, such as Dropbox, or online access to physical servers, such as is provided by Citrix's GoToMyPC, are two methods to enable remote file sharing. Other tools for collaborative work to consider include Google Apps, Evernote, Yahoo Groups, web conferencing tools such as ReadyTalk, or even a wiki created especially for your team. Tools such as Basecamp or Cohuman can facilitate task assignment and management.
The third, and arguably most important, type of tools are communications tools. Instant messaging services, including those integrated with Skype and Google mail, are great for quick, up-to-the-minute communications. Longer conversations can benefit from conference calling accounts or video conferencing, much like what is offered by Skype, Google Chat, Citrix, or Watchitoo.
With all the tools available for a distributed workforce and for all the ease with which it is now possible to collaborate and get work done, a problem can arise when boundaries are not clear around deadlines. An emphasis on communications is required to foster clear expectations and a strong team spirit. Remote workers run the risk of missing the benefits of subtle nonverbal and verbal cues that are such an important part of communicating.
Although time-zone differences and other commitments can make scheduling time for longer chats via phone or video conferencing difficult, it must be done. Phone or video conferences should be scheduled regularly, at least weekly, for one-on-one and group check-ins. If cost and geography permit, then occasional real-life meetings should be scheduled, as sometimes nothing can beat meeting in person — even for those die-hard remote work fans.
Susan ChavezOnline Community & Social Media Team, TechSoup Global@Susan_Chavez
Only five tweets?
Nope, these were just some highlights from the live TweetChat. You can see more of the conversation by viewing this compilation from Storify: storify.com/.../techsoup-virtualteam-tweetchat-7112011
And also by searching for #VirtualTeams on Twitter!
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.
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