Three Tips for the “Anywhere” Workplace: Collaborating with Virtual Technologies

By Dr. Roberta Neault

Do you ever wish you could be in two places at once? Have you struggled to schedule meetings? Do you need to roll out training to team members in distributed locations? Are you trying to maximize the reach, and respect the time, of your specialist trainer? Technology can facilitate working virtually.

Connecting Across Distances
As HR professionals, you are in the business of connecting people and strengthening relationships. Meetings and training initiatives likely comprise much of your time. Scheduling can be a nightmare, especially if multiple locations across diverse time zones are involved.

Canadian winters can also interfere with meetings or training plans. I once spent three hours in a taxi in a snowstorm going to the airport for a flight that was ultimately cancelled. It could have been worse. Participants were planning to drive to a central location; roads were treacherous. I called my assistant from the cab; she reached the onsite organizer who, in turn, reached the participants in time to keep them off the roads. By the time my taxi got me home, my assistant had a webinar set up; the session started on time with participants logging in remotely.

Virtual technologies are more prevalent and, in most cases, much more user-friendly than they were just a few years ago. Perhaps it’s time to refresh your toolkits? Here are a few tips to facilitate that process.

#1 Begin With the End in Mind
This famous “habit” of author Stephen Covey’s is particularly appropriate as you contemplate working with virtual technologies. What problem are you hoping to solve? What outcome are you hoping to achieve?

Technologies serve distinctly different purposes and each one may come with a steep learning curve. Be strategic and intentional, recognizing that not everyone on your team will have the same comfort with technology and that some messages are much better delivered in person or, at least, in real-time.

Virtual teams lose many of the visual cues that are available to co-workers in an office. Do you need access to shared calendars so that you can tell when a colleague is available? Or would simply adjusting Skype status be sufficient? It’s relatively easy to tell if someone in the office is sick, but how would virtual team members communicate that they aren’t working at full capacity? How do you know that your online students are really completing their learning activities?

#2 Start Small
Make a list of technologies your team members are already using. It is likely that most have access to a smart phone. Are they permitted to use personal phones for connecting with colleagues? With clients? Is texting acceptable? For what purposes?

Most also have access to the Internet. Are there firewalls in your offices that preclude use of specific technologies such as Skype or GoToMeeting? Do you have privacy policies or other restrictions regarding which free or inexpensive tools your employees are permitted to use for work?

Are calendars, files, and databases accessible remotely? By whom? Using which devices? Do you have policies on how files may be transmitted out of the main office? Policies on temporary storage of confidential information?

Are you concerned about tracking time or progress on complex projects? There are now many web-based (cloud-based) solutions that are free or inexpensive and relatively easy to use. For time-tracking, I’m finding myhours.com very straightforward and effective; for project-tracking, it’s likely best to strategically reflect on your needs and then take time to read more about the options available. Just use the search terms “project management software,” skip past the ads, and you’ll find current reviews. For scheduling meetings, I find that many people are relying on polls from doodle.com.

And remember, before introducing new technologies, it’s important to ensure that existing devices, software, and systems are being used efficiently and appropriately.

#3 Technology is Just the Tool
There are endless ways that you could facilitate working virtually; it’s essential, therefore, to think strategically about how to proceed and who needs which level of access to what. However, regardless of planning, technology fails at times. Ensure that you have a back-up plan (and, of course, that you back-up your data) to be ready for those frustrating moments.

In a world with increasingly virtual interactions, the key to training, working, and collaborating effectively is to continuously reflect on what’s working and what’s not. As the old adage goes, “Don’t fix what ain’t broke” – don’t keep piling on new technologies just because they’re available. However, do seek out solutions for anything that’s limiting the effectiveness of your virtual training or teams.

Are you feeling inspired and eager to learn more? Check out this expanded tip sheet.

Roberta Neault is presenting the Extending Your Reach: Training, Working, and Collaborating with Virtual Technologies webinar on April 18. For more information on this and other professional development opportunities, please visit cphrbc.ca.

Dr. Roberta Neault is president of Life Strategies Ltd., celebrating 25 years of providing coaching, counselling, and consulting services locally and internationally. Recipient of numerous awards for leadership in career development and educating career practitioners, Roberta walks her talk. She has taught online in Masters and continuing education programs for 15 years, collaborated virtually and onsite on international teams, and managed teams of remote workers in large and small organizations.

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