When it comes to working in virtual teams, using the right productivity and work collaboration tool can be both a blessing and a curse. Armed with all kinds of devices and software solutions, teams remain challenged by complex workflows, tight deadlines, and geographical boundaries. Here are some ways technology is holding teams back and what your virtual team can do about it.

Overreliance on traditional tools

Despite the rapid development in everything from instantly accessible SaaS solutions to mobile devices, organisations continue to rely on outdated, disparate tools for project and team collaboration. Surveys have shown that there is a lot of waste due to poor work collaboration. What could you accomplish if your team could get 20 working days back per year?

The average team member uses about five different tools to manage projects. Click to Tweet

Some hurdles are more obvious than others. For example, while email has a role in connecting teams, it can cause headaches and concerns about missing important information. The drawbacks of traditional solutions, such as email and spreadsheets, are evident in the work collaboration obstacles: trouble accessing up-to-date information, lack of workload visibility, and confusing cross-functional team collaboration.

Doing more with less, rather than less with more

Newer tools are not necessarily a solution to all problems. In fact, in a recent survey of 200 business professionals who manage or participate in projects, respondents also cited the use of different tools as a top work collaboration challenge. About 40 percent of those surveyed said they have tried various online work collaboration solutions, but most provide only some capabilities needed to work together effectively. In fact, the average team member uses about five different tools to manage projects. One-third also revealed that no one in their company uses the same tools. This is the Bring Your Own software dilemma. The IT department doesn’t have the same control in larger organisations as it once had, and from small teams to large enterprises, people’s adoption of a new messaging or productivity tool is just a click away.

It becomes a vicious cycle: With team members using too many different tools, no one can work together effectively. As a result, people turn back to email.

Productivity app requirements for teams

If traditional software solutions aren’t dynamic enough, and the latest enterprise messaging apps don’t mesh well for virtual teams, then what exactly do teams need to successfully work together? The professionals in the survey mentioned above were clear on four requirements:

  1. Reliable, cloud-based document sharing with version control and iteration
  2. Planning, scheduling, charting, and milestone tracking capabilities
  3. Workload and workflow visualisation, for the team and the individual
  4. All in one place, one platform to access all crucial tools.

Here’s what to look out for.

Document sharing

Teams must be able to share the latest documents with all colleagues, whether they are in the next room or a continent away. Relying on email and internal document repositories often spiral into a never-ending search for the most up-to-date data and documents. External team members, such as consultants, vendors, etc., can sometimes find it difficult to access and navigate these sources. Cloud-based document systems alleviate the challenge of sharing information: but often fall short in key project management areas. Look for applications that are available to everyone on the team and offer full version control, locking, reviews, and relation back to project activities and tasks.

Collaborative planning and scheduling

The ability to plan visually is a way to get virtual teams on the same page. In traditional project management, Gantt charts are used to plan and track projects using classic constructs such as activities, milestones, dependencies, and due dates. Seek solutions that incorporate Gantt charts digitally and enable the distributed team to view and update them at any time.

Task visualisation

Whether you are a traditional or an accidental project manager, one way to complement the planning done via Gantt charting is Kanban boards. Resembling Post-it® notes, Kanban cards represent tasks that individual project members are working on at any given time. Placed in columns, these cards represent workflows of projects and provide an at-a-glance view into the work of each individual team member. This helps with workload management by identifying who is busy and who is free for more tasks. Some applications offer the ability to add documents, hyperlinks, and comments to cards for more interactive team collaboration. Combined with Gantt charting, Kanban boards can provide a unified view into the progress of overall activities and milestones.

A virtual office

A central, cloud-based work and project management solution can facilitate effective collaboration among virtual teams. This mitigates the security concerns some companies have about integrating their existing infrastructure with external organisations. It also avoids the headaches and expense of building and hosting solutions that may not be conducive to working with outside parties.

By establishing virtual offices online, distributed teams can collaborate, communicate, and stay up-to-date regardless of their whereabouts. Combined with the right tools, the team has one place to communicate directly with anyone, keep current on project deliverables, access and update project documents, and ensure work gets done. In addition, the most capable platforms also offer out-of-the-box integrations with third party solution. Services like Zapier of IFTTT makes it possible for you, or your team members, to continue to use your single-purpose app of choice.

These productivity solutions represent the needs of modern, innovative teams that work across boundaries and require transparency into the team’s progress, bottlenecks, opportunities, and outcomes. A good place to start is to audit and normalise all team technology in light of these four requirements. Every tool should be easy for remote staff to access and use. Once a tool has been chosen, the only way to ensure success is for the team to use it consistently. By having the right capabilities available in one virtual, secure workspace, teams can elevate their productivity and increase work collaboration.