The Corona pandemic has greatly changed our everyday working lives. Even though the trend towards virtual collaboration was already apparent before the pandemic, the pandemic has accelerated this trend. Studies predict that as early as 2024, only 25% of all meetings will take place in the presence of the participants on site; the majority will be held online. This change has a particular impact on group dynamics, communication and trust within teams. In the virtual space we are confronted with a new limited kind of communication. Signals that are sent and received by us when we speak to a person facing us, through our body posture or facial expression, are more difficult to recognise and understand in the virtual space. For example, it is more common in virtual meetings that the different roles within a team are not clearly visible and it is more difficult to filter out which person in the group is perhaps particularly important for further cooperation. In addition, more than 30% of the participants in meetings or workshops in the virtual space do several tasks at the same time and become self-proclaimed multitaskers. Accordingly, less attention remains for the respective tasks. This makes it difficult to build trust within a group or team as a necessary condition for taking responsibility for the group or the task.
So there are already a lot of known challenges for virtual teams and their online collaboration and yet, even after the pandemic, the trend will continue to move towards virtual collaboration. So what can we do to facilitate our virtual collaboration, strengthen the virtual team and keep them motivated? Here are five simple but effective tips to help facilitate successful meetings even in the virtual space and bring teams that are geographically separated a little closer together:
Visualise the work. Especially in the virtual space, studies have shown that good visualisation of results and work steps leads to group members becoming more involved and participating more in discussions. There are many visualisation tools that are suitable for different purposes. If it needs to be simple and quick, Google Jamboard, for example, is perfectly adequate. For more complicated processes and visualisations that go beyond Post-Its, we recommend miro or mural.
Feedback rounds. Asking for feedback that addresses not only the results of a work but also the process promotes the cooperation of virtual teams. It is important how the feedback is formulated. Negative or attacking feedback has a negative effect. Again, visualisations and discussion guides for feedback (e.g. sandwich feedback) are suitable, avoiding poorly formulated feedback.
If possible, allow occasional physical meetings. Especially for teams that work together virtually over a very long period of time and the collaboration goes beyond a single workshop, it is recommended to enable team members to meet and get to know each other in person. These meetings strengthen trust within the teams and thus counteract so-called social loafing (individual group members contribute little or not at all because they rely on others to do the work).
Good facilitation of meetings and workshops. Good moderation is indispensable. Especially in large teams or groups, engagement and participation in discussions or work steps often decreases. Careful moderation can counteract this.
Camera and sound on. In meetings or workshops, ask team members to keep the cameras and, if necessary, the sound on and to remain visible. This leads to more engagement and willingness to discuss.