The room was impressive. The huge wall screens provided a full view of participants at tables in other locations. The ceiling-mounted microphones and speakers and the large, locked cabinet of sophisticated controls showed the effort and expense invested in this facility.
The only problem was that this room—like most expensive videoconference facilities I’ve toured—was rarely used, required an IT person to assist with the complex setup, and was so precious that executive approval was required for use.
Sometimes, the same attitude prevails when shopping for virtual team technology. But what I’ve found is that the best technology for virtual work isn’t the most elaborate—it’s the most easily used. This prioritized list is based on the belief that for effective virtual teamwork and collaboration, accessibility and simplicity are most essential.
1. Phone headset. When we don’t have visual cues, we need to listen more carefully for tone, hesitation, word choice, and what isn’t being said. A speaker phone simply doesn’t have the microphone and speaker quality needed for deep listening. If you can add only one piece of technology, this provides the greatest return on investment.
2. Shared calendar. Working across time zones to coordinate meetings is often cited as one of the most challenging issues virtual teams face. A shared calendar that displays availability and automatically places the meeting in the time zone of each participant saves hours of coordination time.
3. Phone rollover. Rolling your office phone to a home line or a cell phone means that your customers and colleagues only place one call to find you. Make sure that a voice mail feature is automatic if you aren’t available.
4. Instant conference lines. These services provide global toll-free numbers and access codes and don’t require a reservation. This is the best resource for an instant or planned conversation within a team.
5. Webcam. Most modern laptops have a built-in webcam and many types of communication software allow its use. If you want people to truly collaborate, handle conflict, and build relationships, encourage your team members to see each other while chatting. Seeing facial expressions increases trust and personal connection.
6. Two screens or large computer display screen. The ability to have your calendar, document, and video connection up at the same time makes it easy to collaborate, share thoughts, and coordinate work.
7. Shared document site. This is the most complex of the technology tools listed here. Shared sites require team agreements around maintenance and use (such as document-naming conventions). Whether your team uses a public or private platform for sharing is an important decision. But when used well, these sites can reduce email, provide a way to instantly update project plans, and allow around-the-clock collaboration with a single focus and product.
There are many other innovations that are also useful. Technological platforms that allow screen sharing and polling, project tracking software, and, yes, even video conferencing can be useful and worth the investment if used and readily accessible.
Well, that’s my list—what’s on yours? Any other tools you would add as accessible and cost-effective?
About the author
Carmela Sperlazza Southers is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in increasing organizational, team, and leader effectiveness in the virtual work world.