beep…”You are now entering the conference call.”

I’d probably heard that message a few hundred times during my first job out of college, at a global consumer goods company.  I clearly remember sitting on the edge of my seat, with the faceless voices filling my small gray cubicle as I tried to find a good time between overlapping arguments to make my point.

Working in virtual teams is hard. There are many issues to contend with: managing different time zones, interacting across cultures, dealing with different communication styles, and, of course, the ever-present technical glitches that arise.  And yet, we can all agree that virtual collaboration is vitally important and is here to stay.

Estimates indicate nearly half of organizations use virtual teams – and it is even higher for companies with global operations. Despite this ubiquity, it is rare to see traditional educational institutions preparing students for this reality. Thus, virtual collaboration is learned on the job or taught by organizations. But how do you teach this skill?

5 Best practices for an effective virtual team experience

At NovoEd, we’ve examined data, surveys, and stories from thousands of courses and tens of thousands of teams on the NovoEd platform, and we’ve established best practices, as well as guidelines for NovoEd team leaders. Below are five general best practices for creating an effective virtual team experience:

  1. Set up an ice-breaker call – Start with an introductory call (make sure to take into account timezones) with your team members to get to know each other. Some ice-breaker activities ideas:
    • Take a picture of your shoe: Share the picture and the story of your shoe
    • Time travel hypothetical: Have everyone answer the question: If you were able to travel through time, either forwards or backwards, where & when would you go?
    • Two truths and a lie: have each team member tell two truths and one lie about themselves and have the team try to guess which of the three is the lie.
  2. Always use agendas – Plan an agenda in advance, and start each meeting by the agenda. Teams that use agendas are more likely to stay on-topic and achieve their goals, even if they get side-tracked on occasion.
  3. Assign discrete roles to each team member – By having an assigned role or task to a project, each team member will have accountability for a unique aspect of a project. (Read more about the concept of felt accountability here).
  4. Encourage each other – If you notice that a team member hasn’t been attending meetings or has been less active, reach out to them to offer support or answer any questions.
  5. Plan how you will communicate – Clear communication is critical to establishing an effective collaboration, and each team should discuss this. For example, some teams prefer frequent regular check-in meetings, while others prefer asynchronous communication (e.g. messages), and have fewer synchronous (e.g. phone call or web chat) communications.

How NovoEd inspires effective virtual collaboration

NovoEd’s online learning platform is a terrific way to learn about virtual collaboration: our platform allows you to create project-based learning experiences online through team assignments. The platform supports team collaboration through a private team workspace and collaborative tools for synchronous chat, file sharing, and meeting scheduling.

In a recent corporate leadership training class run on the NovoEd platform, a learner shared how he learned from working with his team:

We took turns leading and submitting certain project material, we attended calls when possible, and we utilized email to coordinate when necessary…we were all able to practice these as part of the collaboration for this leadership class.”

Another student described the importance of virtual collaboration to develop as a leader:

“This course teaches you how to interact with others which is a strong characteristic of becoming a leader in today’s workplace. It also teaches an individual how to find common ground with one of his/her peers on a particular subject or project that needs to be completed in a timely manner.”

Thus, collaborating virtually with others across time and space is becoming a key skill in our modern workplace. This is a skill that can be learned, and there are best practices which can be shared. But most importantly, virtual collaboration can be practiced through thoughtfully designed online learning experiences that require people to work with each other, and, as a consequence, learn how to work with each other.

Interested in learning more about instructional design? Join us in a free 5-week course, The Foundations of Learning Experience Design, where you’ll collaborate with learning experts to develop your own online learning experience. Sign up now!