Last year, Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer drew some flak for putting an end to the company’s work-from-home policy. A week later, Best Buy followed suit. It should be noted that these two companies both onboarded new CEOs at the time, and both had been struggling for some time. Telecommuting, according to them, didn’t fit into their turnaround plans.

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On the flipside, tech giants IBM and Salesforce are showing no signs of putting a stop to their telecommuting practices as of yet, which goes to show that telecommuting – and virtual collaboration, for that matter – works like a charm for these two companies.

How to make virtual collaboration work

If telecommuters, remote workers and distributed teams are part and parcel of your ongoing business efforts, collaboration, being a force that brings these disparate components together, is a must. But with lack of face-to-face communication that collocated teams enjoy to foster personal and/or out-of-office relationships – hence, bonding that cultivates trust – virtual collaboration can become difficult.

Here are five tips to make collaboration work for geographically dispersed teams:

#1. Set ground rules.

At the outset, make your expectations clear. Examples of ground rules can include the following:

  • Full participation is required during virtual meetings and conference calls, meaning, no other tasks should be done while the meeting is ongoing, including side conversations.
  • Everyone should come to meetings prepared and ready to share their thoughts.
  • When someone is speaking, interruptions must be discouraged, whether or not people agree with the ideas presented.

#2. Make communication a priority.

Effective communication is what keeps teams together, whether onsite or remote, and effective communication starts with listening. This makes team members feel respected and that their contributions are valued, creating an atmosphere of openness that encourages creative thinking and issue resolution.

#3. Align personal and professional goals.

WIIFT stands for “what’s in it for them?” And leaders nowadays aren’t naïve to think that their team members do their level best just because it’s good for the project, or the company, for that matter. Remote or not, if you want your team members to make the business’ goals their goals, appeal to their self-interest.

For example, if you’re employing the services of a freelance designer for the first time, one way to ensure he’ll go the extra mile is a provision stating he’ll be awarded other design projects the company needs done if the first few turn out to be really good. A win-win all around, right?

#4. Make way for employee bonding.

As Aristotle puts it: “Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.” Bottom line, humans are inherently social beings, hence, the proliferation of team buildings and social functions to promote bonding and trust among leaders and team members.

What about teams distributed across the globe? Surely, it’s going to take a lot of effort and resources to get everyone in the same physical location for some bonding time, right?

Here are sample activities for virtual team building:

  • Designate a virtual water cooler where everyone can talk about anything and everything under the sun, like their hobbies and interests, what they did during the weekend, what they plan to do for the upcoming holidays, what they think of the latest Marvel flick, and so on.
  • Create a virtual board where members can upload photos of their families and the places they’ve been to, or if they’re the creative kind, art projects they’re working on.

#5. Leverage the right technologies.

Technology has gone a long way, and with the emergence of Web 2.0, communication platforms have become more interactive. From static pages that were primarily used to retrieve employee information, like contact numbers, leaves accrued, and others, web-based intranet software now include features that allow employees to create, store, share and retrieve content specific to their unique needs.

Add in real-time capability, and the technology of your choice can be an invaluable instrument to engender effective collaboration for your distributed teams.