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10 Ways to Collaborate Better Virtually

by Ram Srinivasan, Organizational Effectiveness Coach

Editor's note: This article is one of a series designed to be At Your Service as we all learn to connect with one another even while we're remote. Because together we are not alone.


There’s a self-fulfilling prophecy with regard to virtual meetings: You experience mediocre virtual meetings, you expect mediocre meetings, you create a culture of mediocre meetings — the cycle perpetuates itself. It’s up to teams to break the cycle and co-create a remote meeting agreement so you actually enjoy virtual meetings. Here are some tips:

  1. Say no to phones. 

Just like text communications, phone conversations lack the human element that helps foster compassion, understanding, and therefore collaboration. Agree to a policy of video conferencing for any conversation that takes more than a few lines of text — you’ll save yourself both time and wasted energy.

  1. Use body language.

This is especially courteous if you’ve muted your microphone. That Brady bunch-level video conferencing screen is far more enjoyable, useful, and engaging if team members nod, smile, give thumbs up or down, and show that they’re actively participating in the meeting.

  1. Courtesy trumps convenience. 

Join every meeting with your video on in a quiet place, or don’t join at all. If your mic is picking up the noises of your commute or coffee shop, you’re making it difficult for your colleagues to work with you. Don’t be the person who creates a bad meeting culture for your team.

  1. Adopt a no multi-tasking policy. 

Take seriously the communication challenges of being remote. If you’re “there,” be there. Participate in the virtual meeting with the same level of attention (or more) engagement as you would an in-person meeting. Have you ever heard the toilet flush when you’re on a conference call? People often forget to mute their phones or computer if you can’t see them. It’s safe to bet you will not hear that when you all turn on the video. Make an agreement that everyone turns on video, no disabling it. 

  1. Talk to the screen/camera. 

Don’t set up your video on a monitor that’s looking at the side of your face. Just like in-person interactions, nobody wants to talk to the side of your face.

  1. Socialize! 

If every interaction you have with someone is about a stressful work project, that person becomes a source of stress. In each meeting, try to engage in small-talk, games, and fun ways of catching up or connecting. Build social time into your virtual meetings as well, and even consider hosting virtual gatherings that are strictly for social happy hours.

  1. Downsize your meetings.

Remote meetings should be generally smaller and more focused than in-person meetings. The more people there are in a meeting, the less engaged everyone is overall. Make it a team goal to break most of your meetings down into groups of six or fewer people focused on one or two goals for the meeting.

  1. Co-create an inclusive culture.

Like my friend Mike Dwyer says – use the NOSTUESO rule – no one speaks twice until everyone speaks once. When one person speaks, if nobody jumps in to follow, have the speaker nominate the next person. Each team member has the right to pass. This creates space for less assertive people to speak up. It also ensures full participation.

  1. Co-create a psychologically safe work experience.

Create a space for psychological safety and engagement from everyone into the working agreement. Think about what might damage psychological safety (sometimes unconsciously). To counteract this happening, agree to paraphrase and repeat back what a speaker said. This makes people pay more attention and also ensures that the speaker’s message landed as intended.

  1. Develop individual routines for mental wellness. 

To improve your collaborative experiences, don’t just show up physically prepared; do what it takes to show up mentally prepared as well. Just as good meetings have a purpose and desired outcome, each person on a remote team is responsible for creating an individual routine that helps you show up to meetings aligned with a sense of purpose, aware of your desired outcomes, and open to collaboration. Don’t skip your workouts, meditations, individual planning sessions, etc. — do the personal work that keeps you mentally fit for this new way of working together.

However agile your team might be, remote collaboration presents such a unique set of challenges that it truly takes the effort of an entire team to make it both effective and enjoyable for everyone involved. If you want to enjoy your work, how can you show up ready to take action toward that goal each day?

Sharpen your skills! Find a live online training that fits your schedule.

Find tips for hosting engaging virtual meetings here. An early version of this article by Ram Srinivasan, Organizational Effectiveness Coach, appeared on his website: Innovagility.com.

Special thanks to Gene Gendel, Scrum Alliance Certified Agile Coach, for his contributions to this article. 

Author Bio: Ram Srinivasan is a Scrum Alliance Certified Agile Coach and Trainer and holds the certifications Certified Team Coach and Certified Scrum Trainer as well as the Professional Scrum Trainer from scrum.org. His mission is to help his clients build great organizations and he does this by focusing on people, process and product development. Ram holds a master’s degree in engineering from The University of Arizona and is currently based out of Boston.


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