You're leading a brand new global project team. The best and brightest, representing a cross-section of functions from all over the world, will be collaborating over a very compressed period of time to pull off what many claim is a near-impossible feat. Never one to be daunted by naysayers, you are confident that with the right motivation, energy, passion, and tools, this terrific team is up to the task.
As a successful leader of virtual teams, you know you have what it takes to keep the team motivated and focused. Choosing the best combination of tools to enable this team to collaborate and communicate in lockstep - that's your greatest challenge. Fortunately, your company has invested heavily in collaboration tools over the last few years. If anything, your options feel overwhelming. Your team needs to determine which tools will work best, under what conditions, to achieve these ambitious goals, from afar.
For this article, I interviewed Michael Frenette, Project Manager for Sierra Systems, whose LinkedIn posting on essential virtual collaboration tools caught my eye. Here's a "short list" of "must have" tools for geographically dispersed teams, or for any type of team that relies on virtual collaboration tools to get work done.
- A virtual shared work area (a.k.a. team portal or collaboration site) gives people one place where they can post and access team documents. Members can save hours of time they otherwise might spend chasing down documents buried in their inboxes or sitting somewhere on a server. Properly used, a team portal can also safeguard against unintentional duplicates or old versions of important documents. (No more guessing which email attachment has the latest revision, since documents are no longer transported via email!) Teams can store other vital content in this shared area; such as, a definitive contact list, status reports and announcements. Many tools make it easy to set up asynchronous discussions and surveys, enabling members to provide input, generate ideas or make decisions more quickly. Automatic subscription alerts notify members of new or modified content on their favorite areas of the site. Try sending out site links with "teasers" via email - and stop sending attachments! Think of your shared work area as your own "Facebook for business."
- Desktop-sharing tools allow team members to view another desktop or share theirs. Dozens of such tools are available, from fairly pricey and robust options to simple and inexpensive (or even free) solutions. Popular examples include Go to Meeting, Office Communicator and WebEx. If you're sharing your desktop, make sure to close down all other apps, especially those that might pop up without warning, such as an email or an IM. If you are recording your meeting, specify what elements to record, such as presentation materials, comments, or questions. Many such tools have an ability to annotate items on the screen, and some allow everyone on the call to collaborate on a document concurrently.
- Tools that integrate teleconferencing and desktop sharing can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of virtual meetings dramatically. This way, team members can dial in and connect their call to their presence within the web meeting, allowing others to see who is speaking, whose hand is up, whose line may be muted, etc. Standalone teleconferencing programs are becoming more sophisticated, giving people the ability to form audio breakouts, conduct simple polling, etc.
- VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) - Some teleconferencing tools simply don't work in some locations, which can leave some team members out in the cold. In this case, consider moving the entire team to a VOIP solution like Skype, Google Call or others. Although it won't be integrated with your desktop-sharing tool, it will have the ability to accommodate all team members equally. Occasional disadvantages include overall call quality and the number of allowable participants. However, given the cost (in most cases, nothing!), VOIP teleconferences can provide great value. Note that it's best to have members either all dial in or all use VOIP. That's because with VOIP, there can be slight delays which are not the case for those who dial in, causing some people to unintentionally cut each other off. In addition, speaker phones that are half-duplex vs. full duplex sometimes make it impossible to jump in when someone else is talking, which can let someone continue droning on for a frustratingly long time.