Think your team has remote collaboration troubles? VSee, makers of a video conferencing solution, has probably seen more difficult circumstances. Besides serving corporate clients like IBM, the Silicon Valley-based start-up has helped link up refugee camps with the U.S. State Department, bridged the communication gap between foreign language speakers and their doctors and is itself run by a team spread from Taipei to California.
So how does VSee overcome the collaboration challenges inherent in such widely dispersed teams? CEO Milton Chen offered WorkSnug some tips in an interview:
Onboard quickly… and well. When everyone shares a space, you can rely on random water cooler chats to help everyone get to know each other. But mobile teams need to be more deliberate about onboarding new members. “We introduce new people to all the people they will work with, typically over video. We want to accelerate them from being a new person to being friends – to really having a level of trust with people,” says Chen, who adds: “We assign each new hire a mentor – someone who has been in the company awhile. Because we’re all remote, it’s a little harder to tell, for example, OK, this person has a certain habit. A mentor helps to integrate the new person into the team fabric.”
Use the right tools. This is always important but its even more important if your team is mobile – and getting it right takes practice. “We find a lot of people come from an email culture. They depend on email too much. We teach them the differences between email versus instant messaging versus Skype or WebEx or VSee. When do you use which tool?” says Chen. And, of course, as purveyors of a video conferencing tool, the VSee team are big believers in remote face time. “For us, video is a must have,” says Chen. “If there’s no video, you will have a sense of isolation. Our brains are very visual. We like to see faces.”
Get personal. Traditionally, employees left their personal lives at their office doors. That works less well if you’re mobile, according to Chen. “Suppose you called me and I had a super clean background – just a cubicle – you wouldn’t learn anything about me the person, versus if you saw me in my personal environment or even if I called from my favorite coffee shop. You’d pick up little cues,” he says. VSee encourages everyone to let more of their personality shine through on video calls and other means of communication to build trust and encourage collaboration.
Big company? Small teams still rule. Big company, small company, it doesn’t matter for mobile working, says Chen. All that’s important is that individual teams are a manageable size. “It doesn’t matter the overall size of the company, the unit of getting things done tends to be a team of roughly a handful of people. As soon as you get a team of five, six people, there’s a certain dynamic, and whether you’re the U.S. Congress or a start-up, it’s all about sharing ideas, critiquing each other, learning from each other, building stuff.”
Experiment. It’s worth bearing in mind that mobile work is new, and we’re all still learning how to do it right. “There is no magic bullet. You could read about best practices, and a lot of this stuff may or may not work. Have a spirit of rapid experiments. Make changes,” advises Chen. ”We can’t just say, ‘follow this prescription, you’ll have this effective virtual team where people collaborate.’ There are a lot of things people are still trying to discover.”
Photo credit: SpecMode