Best Practices For Online Teamwork Success

While many conventional "nine-to-five" physical offices still exist today, they are becoming less and less prevalent as technology improves and different business needs become the norm. Once upon a time, we worked in a brick and mortar office with our co-workers - many of whom lived in the same area as we did - and "punched in" each weekday morning and left the office each evening with no contact with our peers or clients until the next morning. Online teamwork and collaboration, say the internet didn't even exist.

Interoffice memos circulated from one desk to the next. When a worker was out sick, we left a sticky note with messages they missed on their desk for when they returned. We gathered in the conference room for meetings, which included our entire team - or maybe even our entire company!

For better or worse (and probably some of each) we no longer live in our isolated towns and our office might be a home, an airplane or a car. Our connections are continuous, via email, texts, phone calls, and our office hours are varied. Our best clients might be in another city, state or country. Our closest working team members might be on another continent.Illustration of online and cloud collaboration. The clouds are all connected.

While our face-to-face communications may be dwindling, our businesses are growing and our responsibilities multiplying. Our methods of successfully managing our teams and working effectively together need to change as our new workplace evolves.

Working Together Respectfully

As members of an online team, we must remain aware and considerate of each others situations. While the structures of our workdays may differ (team member "Joe" works from home and manages a family; member "Joan" is in a physical branch office from 8 until 5 daily; "Jan" works 4 days for 10 hours daily and is in another time zone; etc.) each team member is an important part of the whole. Efforts need to be made to keep everyone in the loop and apprised of developments and important business decisions, projects, and occurrences. Emphasize that that online collaboration is as important as any in-person work. Value every team member for his or her contribution for better online teamwork.

Meet Regularly

While meetings may not be at conventional times, around a physical meeting table, these virtual meetings are perhaps even more important.

Man is coomunicating over the pcSome times may work better for some members than others, but make the time and day as convenient for everyone as possible. Unless there is a real emergency, make the meetings at the same time and day, and do not cancel or postpone. Do not encourage people to skip any meetings. Make them short, efficient and very productive.

Meet regularly via Skype, conference calling and/or online meetings for a specified length of time on a regular basis. These meetings need to include everyone on the team. This is the perfect opportunity to involve everyone in teamwork online. You may have a manager lead the meeting each time (daily, weekly, etc.) or a team member might lead it, but it is important to have a lead. This will help keep the team conversation on track and on topic.

Meetings need to follow an agenda. It is best when the agenda (developed by the lead) is shared before the meeting so the members have time to prepare questions or bring additional information to the table.

An action item should be developed and declared at the end of each topic. It needs to be clearly stated.

For example:
Item 1. Prepare a proposal for the client ABC meeting on June 1. Action items: Jan, collect basic information about ABC company and outline the needs of their new project by May 1.
Submit to Joe for proposal draft, due May 4.
Joe, email draft to all team members May 4.
Joan, proofread, layout and print proposal. Get copies to all team members May 18.

In addition to confirming action items with each member in the meeting, assign a minute-taker in every meeting. Email minutes of every meeting to the entire team as quickly as possible after every meeting.

Effective Emails

Email is a very helpful way of communicating, but there are a few ways to make it more helpful.

  • First, if you are addressing the entire team, make it clear you are doing so. People in a rush can miss that and end up thinking it is a personal correspondence just between you and them.
  • Second, if the email starts getting replies and replies to replies, don't keep the subject the same if it has changed. Rename it and make it clear that you have renamed it.
  • Third, if there is a way to simplify something with a quick call, make it. Don't make everyone open and read another email if it is more efficient to make a quick call and clear things up right away. Even if it means calling (or leaving messages) for everyone on the team.
  • Fourth, when possible, send one email with clearly outlined topics, rather than several emails. More communications will likely result in one or more getting overlooked.

Be Part of the Best Team

If you don't think your team is the best possible, it is your duty to examine what is not working and how it can be improved. If you are the team lead, it is not only imperative, but it is your responsibility to do so. Excellent articles on Team Leadership and Management, can be found here and worth examining. Workshops and trainings are excellent opportunities for you and your team to grow and develop. The best option is an in-person seminar you could all attend together, but if that is not possible, an online training could be good for everyone.

As a manager, working on becoming the best team leader will pay off for you, your team members and your organization.