Creating a Collaborative Virtual Team

WRITTEN BY TAMARA SCHROER

Challenges and Priorities Survey

The percentage of people working from home has grown exponentially in recent years. New technologies make it so much easier for remote workers to perform their tasks. Creating an environment of collaboration can improve the performance of individuals and teams who don’t work face-to-face. It can also increase worker retention and enhance a caring culture that attracts new talent.

A collaborative environment requires several underpinnings:

  1. Caring culture: To enable workers to bond, a business should nurture an empathetic workplace wherever the job gets done. Workers who believe they are valued and part of a mutually beneficial team will give a lot in return.
  2. Ongoing commitment: To achieve, workers need to be coached to perform as a team—from day one. This requires educating them in the business upfront, fostering camaraderie and investing in their development.
  3. Operational framework: To run well, efficient processes and tools have to be in place unifying people and the work. A remote workforce can feel disconnected if there aren’t readily available ways to communicate with each other and management.

Welcoming Workplace

A company’s culture is personified by the people who work there, be they employees or contractors. And the ethos of that culture begins with the founder or chief executive. His or her character and beliefs form the core, which infuses the workplace with vibes and feelings, bad or good—in the office and out in the field.

A chief executive’s tenor sets the stage for how workers engage each other, customers and business associates. A cold fish in the corner office makes for an icy and unwelcoming work environment. An inspiring CEO, on the other hand, is one who values people and creates an atmosphere where workers, near and far, come together. The resulting collaboration builds teamwork and the brand.

Granted, that’s hard enough to pull off working face to face. Done remotely, the ante goes up, as does the appreciation for businesses that excel at it. Under a shared vision, success begins with remote workers embracing the fundamentals—a company’s values.

Onboarding the Right Way

Remote workers need to understand the company’s values so they can act in ways that reinforce them. That’s why onboarding plays such an important role. It’s about so much more than showing someone their duties and tasks.

Take the contact center industry, for example. Independent contractors, located in different states or even countries, work from home as part of an extended team of remote customer service agents. Thousands of miles might separate them, but their workforce mindset must be as one to perform in unison on a client program.

During orientation, conducted in a virtual classroom, values are laid out as a living doctrine, not just words on a page. Examples are given to exemplify what they mean in terms of how things should work and what’s expected.

Once grounded in a contact center’s values, assigned agents then are schooled in the client’s culture by degreed educators, experts in long-distance learning. Over days and sometimes weeks of instruction, they practice real-world customer situations and role-play different scenarios. Each exchange strengthens their sense of team.

Teamwork Tools: Close the Distance

Unlike brick-and-mortar call centers, where agents all work in one place, an on-demand contact center operates in a far-flung, virtual network. Thus, contact center leaders cannot physically gather agents into a meeting room or observe in person how they work.

This is where technology can enable collaboration. For instance, at Working Solutions, remote workers come together on Vyne, an agent website. There, they receive business updates, chat with peers on client programs, check their performance and seek new job opportunities.

Besides being an information exchange, the site promotes agent community and shared interests. Distance doesn’t deter personal and professional friendships (some of which have lasted for years) from being formed.

Leaders use the site as venue to rally teams, praise performance and arrange ongoing agent development. Beyond the Vyne site, leaders engage workers via:

  • OneNote—an app to create, share and store client program curriculum and lesson plans.
  • Nearpod—classroom IT for interactive presentations and content delivery for self-paced or group learning.
  • Powtoon—quick-turn video sessions to motivate agents.
  • Skype—communications for messaging and business conferences.
  • Slack—collaboration software to better connect remote teams.

Clear Communication Always

Even with all of this technology, things still can be misinterpreted and misunderstood. A good-natured email, meant to be a joke, might be misconstrued as a poor attempt at humor.

To avoid confusion, everyone must communicate a lot and much more efficiently than when working side-by-side in an office. And it should be done within approved channels, mapped to proven processes.

Constant communications should be the norm with any remote job, whether it’s group chat, email or instant messaging. This is how agents can ensure that their tasks and duties for the day or week are clear and are aligned with current projects.

As always, it’s good to put a name to a face, so regular video conferences play a big part, too. They can even be used to start off-topic conversations with other team members.

Common Goals: Mutual Appreciation

Just as a company has a shared mission, it’s good for remote workers to be united around common goals. This helps the team to bond and to support each other more.

Once milestones are achieved, it’s important to celebrate and recognize every individual’s contributions. Making colleagues feel appreciated is essential for a healthy and happy team.

Author Nicholas Sparks, an expert in the human heart, once wrote: “When people care about each other, they always find a way to make it work.” That thinking applies to remote work and the people who do it every day. Distance should not be a deterrent to getting the job done as part of a collaborative, caring team.

As Vice President of Education and Development, Tamara Schroer leads the design and implementation of all agent preparation for client programs at Working Solutions, an on-demand contact center outsourcer.