Zoom, Google Docs, virtual private networks (VPNs), and other virtual collaboration tools essentially became household names during the pandemic. Also, cybersecurity ceased to become an exclusive IT problem but an everyday concern for all employees, although security solutions, such as VPNs, have helped address the security issues tied to working remotely.

While a segment of the global workforce is already used to collaborating remotely with teammates from across the globe, the pandemic became a catalyst that forced almost everyone to adapt to such a setup.

But will this era of virtual collaboration outlast the pandemic? Or is this only a band-aid solution to keep employees productive and safe during the global health crisis?

Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford professor and researcher focusing on the benefits of working from home feared that isolation would kill productivity. He says that face-to-face collaboration brings forth creativity and innovation. People, after all, are stimulated by human contact. Moreover, promotion may be difficult to achieve when working remotely, according to this study by Harvard doctoral students.

Virtual Collaboration Strategies and Tools

As always, technology tries to address the issues raised above. For some teams, the right virtual collaboration tools may be enough to foster creativity and productivity. Then again, what works for one group may not for another.

Generally speaking, some virtual collaboration tools can benefit most teams. These include video conferencing, project management, and file management tools, to name a few. Let’s take a closer look at them.

Video Conferencing and Beyond

Among the strategies that Bloom says can help curb productivity decline is virtual face-to-face collaboration. Right now, that is possible through video conferencing, and there are several players in the market.

Zoom, for one, seemingly became an overnight success at the beginning of the pandemic. However, the security and privacy issues it faced made it easier for other video conferencing services, such as Microsoft Teams and Google Meet, to tap into the market. Even Facebook has its own video conferencing platform called “Messenger Rooms.” And while these video conferencing tools also have their own set of privacy issues, there are free VPNs that have helped mitigate such risks.

Furthermore, technology leaders are beginning to take virtual collaboration a step further with the help of extended reality (XR) technology. XR is a collective term for augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR)—spatial technologies we are most familiar with in the realms of film, gaming, and automotive.

Soon, it may become a norm in remote workplaces, although some Fortune 500 companies are already using XR. Watch the video below to see how XR can help create a collaborative virtual environment. 

Could this be a good enough substitute for human contact? Only time will tell.

Project Management Tools

Task and project management systems are among the most indispensable virtual collaboration tools, as they help establish accountability and workflow transparency. Teams can’t effectively collaborate if they can’t keep track of tasks.

The online project management software market is huge, estimated at US$3.5 billion in 2020 and projected to grow 7.9% by 2027. Whether teams go for Basecamp, Trello, Asana, or Monday.com, the following features are necessary to build a collaborative virtual environment:

  • Real-time updates
  • Automatic notifications
  • Ability to comment
  • Task dependencies

File Management and Collaboration Systems

Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365 are among the first that come to mind when talking about a document management system that allows multiple users to collaborate on a single document.

For software developers and programmers, platforms like Codingteam, Motepair, and Microsoft Visual Studio Live Share can provide a collaborative virtual environment. The video below shows a sketch of how programmers collaborate using pair coding platforms.

General Virtual Collaboration Tips

Several virtual collaboration tools and strategies abound, which can help employees remain productive regardless of where they work. When choosing which tools to use, the most important criterion has to be their ability to foster teamwork and collaboration in the absence of face-to-face contact. Again, the choice may differ from one team to another. 

Creating virtual team routines and sticking to fixed schedules could help teams collaborate more effectively and be more productive. Regular team and one-on-one meetings enable everyone to catch up with each other and help managers keep track of projects and tasks.

Finally, companies have to implement and improve remote working policies. These policies can help ensure that productivity doesn’t decline and everyone is protected from cyberthreats targeting remote workers.

Creating a collaborative virtual environment may be the key to keeping businesses afloat as the pandemic continues to threaten both our health and the economy. Remote working or a hybrid setup, where employees split a workweek between working from home and at the office, may even remain the norm after the pandemic and become the future of workspaces.

A hybrid work setup seems to be expected by 57% of executives in a McKinsey study. JPMorgan, for one, has announced early on that more than 60,000 of its employees may be allowed to work from home a few days a week permanently. Be that as it may, virtual collaboration tools would continue being used and developed in the coming years.