If you want to boost performance using collaborative technologies, focus on the people who use them, write N Sharon Hill and Kathryn M Bartol for MIT Sloan Management Review.
Software such as Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365, Slack, and Asana has transformed the way teams collaborate – but using collaborative software does not guarantee better performance. Performance depends on people.
Research by the authors suggests the success of virtual teams depends on getting five things right.
1) Match the technology to the task. Don’t take the easy option and use the technology you are most familiar with.
“The purpose of the communication should determine the delivery mechanism,” write Sharon Hill and Bartol.
For simple tasks, such as sharing information or ideas, use bulletin boards, chat or email. For complex tasks, such as negotiation and problem solving, use videoconferencing or web conferencing to replicate face-to-face meetings.
2) Make intentions clear. When using text-based tools, such as email, often too much is left to interpretation.
You must take steps to make sure your messages are as clear as possible. Review all messages before sending them; use emojis to convey positive emotion; highlight important information; consider inserting “response requested” in the subject line; or separate important requests into multiple messages.
3) Stay in sync. With virtual communication, it’s easier for teams to get out of step. It’s harder to see when messages have been received and read, it’s easy for team members to be excluded from important emails, and team members focus on “local demands” and neglect team members further afield.
Maintain regular communication with all team members; share information about your “local situation” with the whole team, acknowledge receipt of all important messages, and seek clarification if you are uncertain of anything.
4) Be responsive and supportive. Trust is vital to productive teamwork, but it’s harder to build when you are not dealing with people face-to-face.
“Trust between teammates in the same workspace is influenced to a large extent by familiarity and liking; however, in dispersed teams, people must signal their trustworthiness by how they work with others on a task,” write Sharon Hill and Bartol.
You will be judged on your actions.
5) Be open and inclusive. Virtual communication can discourage people from speaking up. It’s vital that leaders go out of their way to include all team members in important communications and decisions.
BE CLEAR FROM THE START
Before you start using virtual collaboration, create a team charter that clearly sets out how you are going to work together.
Which technologies are you going to use for which tasks? What are the standard formats for written communications? What communications should be shared with all team members?
“We found that clearly conveyed norms do make a difference,” write Sharon Hill and Bartol.