Tips for Working in a Virtual Team

As the landscape of the modern office changes, so does the way we get work done. We often find ourselves closely interacting with co-workers who aren’t in the same physical location, whether they’re on a different floor or in a different hemisphere. Use these handy tools to stay on the same page as your team members:

Instant Messaging—Instant messaging (IM, or “chat”) works like email, except you know who’s online and when. It’s a great tool for quick check-ins and questions when you need a rapid response. Popular free IM programs include Google Chat (integrated with Gmail), Yahoo! Chat, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), and Windows Live. These programs use your email address as your login. If your team isn’t all using the same one, programs like Pidgin, Spark IM, or Digsby work across multiple platforms. Digsby also lets you manage your social media, as well as chat. For secure chat, Microsoft Lync Server provides IM services that never leave your corporate intranet. It’s not free but has a 180-day trial period.

Central Storage—If your team needs access to the same documents, set up an online file cabinet to keep pertinent documents in a single spot. Applications like Microsoft SharePoint, DropBox, Google Docs, and provide easy and secure access to your group’s files, which helps eliminate version-control issues with documents that receive heavy edits.

Track Changes—Microsoft Word allows users to see what changes have been made to a document, and by whom. This is a great feature if you have a question about why changes have been made or need to quickly see what edits have occurred without having to read through the entire document. Enable “Track Changes” through Word’s “Review” menu.

Conferencing Tools—For more formal meets, such as one a client attends, a tool like GoToMeeting provides both audio and visual conferencing, allowing your group to simultaneously view documents or presentations. GoToMeeting also allows you to record meetings for future reference.

The key to successful virtual collaboration is communication so that the proverbial right hand knows what the left hand is doing. These tools will help you keep in touch with all your virtual hands.

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