Our company has many offices, which means frequently we have to collaborate with people we don’t ever see. Every experience I’ve had has been a train wreck! Do you have any suggestions on how to work together virtually? L.M., Mount Prospect, IL
The key challenge when collaborating virtually is communication—which is true when you work in person too! Pick up the phone, especially at the beginning of the project. It’s much more difficult to misinterpret a voice than an email. Make sure everyone is clear on their role and what is expected in terms of a deliverable. If you have examples of what you’re expecting, share them. Quite frequently offices have specific ideas of what a deliverable should look like. Make sure you’re aligned before you’re too far along.
Agree as a team that after 2 back-and-forth email rounds that you’ll pick up the phone to resolve the issue. What’s clear to you can easily be misunderstood and miscommunications can escalate into imagined slights that derail progress. Schedule regular team check-ins to keep your project top of mind and moving along. At the end of every call, make sure to get commitments from each team member regarding what they are going to do and by when. When everyone understands the next steps, the team is more likely to keep each other accountable.
When there is an actual problem, immediately take it offline and…wait for it…pick up the phone. You want to nip problems in the bud so that they don’t escalate and derail the project.