In the modern work environment, virtual teams have become the new normal. Team members communicate almost entirely through electronic means.
But without the benefit of daily in-person interactions, building a cohesive virtual team culture poses unique challenges. In fact, it’s not like building an office culture. Virtual team members don’t bump into each other in the hallway every day.
That’s why in-person events like annual retreats remain important to building a virtual team spirit. Even a bit of physical face time makes a big difference in overcoming the challenges of distance, time, and culture.
Nonetheless, 99.9 percent of your interactions are going to be over wires and wi-fi.
For that reason, your choice of technology for team communications and collaboration is critical for your team’s success. It needs to take the place of physically being there, as much as possible.
The right apps and virtual workspaces can not only meet the technical challenges, but help you create a positive, trusting virtual team culture in the absence of in-person interactions.
Microsoft Teams is built for this.
What Should Virtual Team Software Do?
At its most basic, collaboration means sharing files and talking about them.
Your technology needs to enable this over a wide range of conditions: home, office, the road, a co-working space, or some combination. Your team may be employees or contract workers. In the same time zone or spread across several, or around the world. They’re using different operating systems, desktop, web, and mobile.
To meet these challenges, virtual team technology needs to provide three things:
- A common set of tools for working on documents
- A central place to store files and share information
- A range of tools appropriate for different communication needs.
The vital component of any team’s success is trust — the trust its members have in each other. In a virtual team, getting things accomplished, openly and with accountability, is one of the surest ways to build that trust.
Of course, there are many great apps and platforms for getting things done: cloud storage, chatting, scheduling, document sharing, video conferencing, and the rest.
But a team cannot function effectively if everyone is using something different for the same purposes. Sharing files and talking about them becomes cumbersome at best.
In short, the less your team has to struggle with technology, the more productive it can be.
Put another way, the right technology builds a team’s culture by enabling you to get things done more easily.
Integrating Your Team
Teams is a chat-based workspace that enables both file sharing and communication within the familiar Office 365 environment.
Teams integrates under one roof with the familiar Microsoft apps and features: Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, OneDrive, OneNote, and the rest.
In this way, it works alongside a common set of tools for work and storage — the first two requirements for a virtual team workspace. Teams fulfills the third requirement, that of communication.
In short, adding Teams to your Office 365 environment gives your virtual teams everything they need for working, talking, even hanging out by the virtual water cooler — no matter where they’re physically located.
Choosing Your Apps
On the other hand, letting your team pick some apps — ones they like and all agree to use — can be a great team-building exercise in itself.
For that reason, Teams lets you integrate non-Microsoft tools that team members may prefer: Dropbox, Evernote, Zendesk, HootSuite, and hundreds more.
So you can have the best of both worlds: both built-in and external tools, integrated under a unified interface.
You can also integrate YouTube, Twitter, and other social media. Get customer feedback, for instance, by feeding your Twitter stream right into Teams.
And like Word, Excel, and the others, the Teams app is available for desktop, web, and mobile; and for Mac and PC, iOS and Android.
Over time, a common, integrated, well-liked set of tools enables your team to develop their own collaborative workflows. That builds your team culture too.
Talking the Talk
A virtual team workspace needs to provide the right tool for different needs and types of communication. What’s missing from nearly all online communications is body language.
Email is the most common tool, but not well suited to many types of communications. We’ve all experienced a misinterpreted tone of voice in an email. Quick questions and conversations are better handled in chats. Video is better for team meetings, where participants can see facial expressions and body language, which promotes personal relationship building.
Teams is a chat-based workspace providing three options — text, audio, and video — for communicating in the most appropriate way. You can archive all your meetings and conversations for future reference — as well as schedule calls and meetings, and join them with a single click.
Create and Innovate
Finally, innovation and creativity are essential for building a strong team culture. They require the free exchange of ideas and the tools to create and exchange them.
- Customized backgrounds for video meetings (blurred, beach, fancier office than you actually have)
- New whiteboard technologies that will enable online attendees to interact with an actual, physical whiteboard in real time
- Real-time screening for sensitive information in chats and channels
The new app integrations include some of the most popular and useful platforms available: MindMeister for brainstorming, Trello for project management, and the Adobe Creative Cloud. And you can use them without leaving the common Teams workspace.
The Adobe blog gives a good illustration of how to use Creative Cloud in conjunction with Teams:
“Designers used to working in Creative Cloud applications need to be able to work with the creative briefs that marketers provide in Microsoft Word, or reference the project timeline in an Excel spreadsheet. Business managers need to grab creative assets from their creative teams to include in their PowerPoint presentation. Managers of small and medium-sized businesses need to be able to do it all.”
Obviously, this is just the beginning of what you and your team can dream up.
A Final Word
The technology your team uses to communicate and collaborate can play a valuable role in building a cohesive, productive, and satisfied virtual team.
Microsoft Teams is built to increase productivity —the quantitative side of your work — but also to improve the quality of your team’s interactions. That’s what builds a virtual team culture.
As a certified Microsoft partner, we’re experts in Teams, Office 365, and other apps and services that can help your virtual (and in-office) teams work together better. Contact PC Professional today to find out how we can get all this technology working for you.
Banner photo by Burst on Pexels.