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6 ways to work more effectively on a virtual team

Business, Technology, Virtualization

Author: jbrace@heartlandtechnologies.com

used with permission from Microsoft at Work

Working on a virtual team can be a challenge. Communications on global teams, with team members in different time zones, can be difficult. Managing remote teams and keeping track of where people store critical information can be tiresome. Here are some suggestions to help with virtual team management and to help your team work more effectively.

1. Use Instant Messaging for quick impromptu meetings

Use instant messaging (also known as IM or chat) to get quick answers or opinions from your teammates. IM programs, such as Windows Live Messenger, are free. At a glance, you can check your coworkers’ status to see whether they’re available to chat online. Use IM in the way that suits the occasion:

  • Use video chat to connect visually. All you need is a webcam.
  • Use multi-person chat to conduct a spontaneous online meeting.
  • IM your teammates’ cell phones when they’re away from their computers. It’s easy if they’re using a Windows Phone or other smartphone.

If your company uses Microsoft Lync 2010, the new unified communications platform from Microsoft, you can make use of its powerful instant messaging features without leaving your corporate intranet.

2. Use a virtual conference room for more formal online meetings

Web-based conferencing, or web conferencing, makes it possible to brainstorm, create a slide presentation, have a staff meeting, or conduct training sessions with a group of people—even if they are thousands of miles apart. Everyone attending sees the same information at the same time, as if they were gathered around one table. These web conferencing programs, such as Microsoft Office Live Meeting, also enable you to share files, use digital whiteboards, and even save the presentation for people who weren’t at the meeting.

You can take notes during a meeting using a digital whiteboard in Office Live Meeting.

Microsoft Lync lets you organize online meetings, including video conferences, and collaborate through whiteboard documents and desktop sharing.

3. Share meeting information

When organizing meetings, the simplest way to keep your team members on the same page is to create a web-based, shared calendar that everyone can edit. Then you’ll know that everyone is looking at exactly the same schedule and can see any changes instantly. You can create a shared calendar in a variety of programs, including Windows Live Hotmail and Outlook.

If you’re using Outlook, you can further organize team meetings by setting up a Meeting Workspace—a website you can use as a repository for all the information and materials you need for a meeting. Before your meeting, send an invitation to those attending and include a link to the workspace where they can see the agenda and find the pertinent documents. After the meeting, use the Meeting Workspace to publish the meeting results and track tasks.

4. Set up a virtual water cooler (a team website)

Set up a website for everyone on your team to share the materials you’re working on. For example, use SkyDrive, which is a free Windows Live service that provides 25 gigabytes (GB) of password-protected online file storage, making it possible to store, access, and share files online with coworkers—from almost anywhere.

If your organization has a Microsoft SharePoint site or an account on a SharePoint server, you can create a team site that has additional features, such as access and version control of documents. You’ll be able to sync documents stored on your SharePoint site with those on your computer and your mobile phone.

5. Review edits of remote coworkers

When you can’t pore over a document together, your team can collaborate on edits by tracking the changes each of you make in your Microsoft Office documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote).

Edits and comments appear color coded by reviewer, and each edit is tagged with the date and time of the change, in addition to the reviewer’s initials.

You can accept or reject proposed changes, and when it’s time to distribute the document, you can accept all of the changes to make sure that no stray revision marks or comments remain in the document you plan to distribute.

1. The edits and comments of each person are color coded.
2. Edits are tagged with the reviewer’s initial, in addition to the date and time.

If you don’t want your brainstorming efforts to lose steam while you take turns waiting for one person at a time to finish their edits, take advantage of the simultaneous editing (co-authoring) features in Office 2010. This works a little differently, depending on the program you’re using. For example, in OneNote 2010, you can edit the same OneNote notebook with virtually anyone using OneNote 2010 or OneNote Web App when you save the file to a SharePoint 2010 site or to SkyDrive.

6. Stay in touch: Use a smartphone to keep your important data with you

One challenge to long-distance collaboration is making sure that you have all the documents you need to contribute to a conference call or an online meeting, even when you’re away from your PC. With a mobile device, such as a Windows Phone, and software such as Office Mobile, you can work with docs right on your phone. And with SkyDrive, you can keep them synchronized with your computer, so you always have the latest information with you. Plus, if your team stores information on SharePoint or SkyDrive, you can sync directly from your phone to the documents stored there.


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