In eLearning, collaborating online can be demanding. Getting the hardware setup-up right is one thing, organising your team well and effieciently is another story. In this article we share 10 Tips to make your virtual eLearning Team a sustainable and wholesome experience.
If you are an author, trainer or coach producing your own eLearning courses, you probably know how things work these days: One collaborates with freelance copy writers, visual designers, programmers, some of them, if not all, working from different places and offices. Clients are typically also spread all over the country; but one still needs to stay in touch with them throughout production, or in the build-up to a seminar.
Even if you are an in-house eLearning manager in a larger cooperation, I am sure you have similar situations. One must stay in touch with agencies that work from different cities, and collaborate with team members across departments, maybe even countries.
Fine-tune your virtual team setup.
A fine-tuned virtual collaboration is the key for eLearning teams to function optimally.
There are some hard-facts that one needs to consider in order to get going. Choosing a suitable video-calling software, like Skype, Microsoft Teams or Zoom, is one of them. Furthermore, you may want to choose a file-sharing software that works for you, like Dropbox, or Sharepoint, for sharing documents and such. In other words: a basic infrastructure is needed. But that is nothing new.
Virtual eLearning Teams work differently.
Besides this basic infrastructure, there are a number of soft-factors that will decide whether your team will ultimately be able to work online, or fail.
Virtual teams require each team member to be a motivated, self sufficient and an independently working individual, but also at the same time, a good team player. This can prove to be a challenge, especially since virtual teams lack the physical and social presence of a shared office space. Being able to quickly discuss problems, ask for a second opinion, or to get immediate feedback, etc., can be uplifting and deadline saving.
There are other important things that online teams miss out on. Things that won't always come across easily, when relying on email, messenger services and video calls. Something like a colleague's body language, tone of voice, casual chit-chat and subtle humour; non-verbal aspects which are not utterly unimportant in our lives and in the office.
10 Tips to make eLearning teams work
You can make our online eLearning teams work quite well.
Here, we summarise the most important aspects that you should consider in order to make your virtual eLearning team work, aspects that will, hopefully, help you to collaborate effectively AND wholesomely.
- For your eLearning team to work, make sure people know who is part of the team (and who is not). Define each member's responsibilities.
- Clarify each team member's role: Leader, organiser, contributor or listener. Make sure someone is responsible for team building and social aspects.
- Set a regular and "official" meeting schedule for your eLearning team, e.g. organising weekly and recurring progress meetings on fixed days and time-slots. Define the technology the team is using too, i.e. the video call software you will be using. For each meeting, set an agenda and clearly communicate expected meeting outcomes.
- Always agree on to-dos and deadlines. Make sure everyone knows what he or she is expected to work on, what others are working on, and when the assignment is expected to be delivered. While this may be true for any successful team work, virtual teams provide less room to notice progress, problems and misunderstandings.
- Increase communication: If your team members are working a lot, but communicate less then needed, you may still appear to be an inactive or inefficient team. Therefore, it is crucial to communicate progress and intermediate results more often than you would in normal office setups.
- All team members should have access to the same information and documents. If not, individuals may quickly feel excluded from your virtual team.
- Punctuality: Don't let others wait online. Online meetings are still meetings. Respecting meeting times and others' online schedules will make your virtual team endure, and keep the motivation up.
- In online meetings, use your webcam as much as possible. Seeing another person creates a social atmosphere and a greater sense of community.
- Make sure your virtual team meetings make enough time and space for being social, emotional and empathic, e.g. plan to have some time for chit-chat or a 'how do you do' session in your online meetings.
- Continuity is key. Regularly manage your virtual team, stick to an agreed time structure, fix meeting slots in advance, and keep going. Stick to the plan. Don't let go. Established virtual team routines and habits can break apart sooner than one may like if you get complacent.
... and make sure you meet in person as often as you can.
Working and collaborating online can be tough. It requires a lot of effort from each individual. One must nurture their virtual teams, be consistent and keep going. Above all, one must believe that it will work, for it to work!
However, sometimes the best way to make a virtual team work, to motivate and engage your team members, is to simply meet them in person. So whenever you have a chance to meet, talk and have a coffee together: Do it.
Michael Leitner is part of Learn Tomorrow. With cBook, Learn Tomorrow aims to create eLearning-authoring tools that help virtually distributed teams to collaborate throughout the eLearning production process.