How To Effectively Collaborate When All You See Are Pixels

Face-to-face interactions have always been considered as more superior to online meetings.

We resort to video conferencing only when face-to-face meetups are not possible. After all, non-verbal cues are conveyed better in person, and personal interactions allow for a more meaningful bonding and collaboration.

But that said, there’s actually a serious case to be made about online meetings. So before getting into how one can make the most out of these online meetings, let’s quickly look at how they can be objectively as good, if not much better, than face-to-face interactions.

Here’s why:

#1 Efficiency

It’s often lost on many business people just how revolutionary video conferencing is. In ancient times, to get 15 minutes with an important prospect, he would need to go to a ticketing office to buy round-trip tickets out of state. On the day of his flight, he would leave the office early on a Tuesday afternoon, to pack and go to the airport, where he would be holed up with the rest of humanity for the next 3 hours before boarding the plane.

Upon landing, he would feel like a fish out of water looking for transport to get him out of the busy airport and drop him at the hotel. This hotel would be the kind that has seen better days and his room, you guessed it, would always smell as if the previous occupant was the CEO of some cigarette company about to go broke.

The next day, he will get his chance with the purchasing officer, only to be told after the presentation that the organization has “gone in a different direction.”

That’s in the old days. Today, technology has let people set up appointments anywhere in the world, at any time of day…while wearing comfortable clothes.

Imagine how convenient that is, not to mention, cost-effective. And that’s just for a one-on-one meeting.

Imagine the cost of having multiple guys drop everything they have, to get to the same place at precisely the same time. And compare that with the little hassle of looking for a quiet corner in your house so that people from opposite corners of the globe can talk.     

#2 Productivity

Video conferencing works together with a suite of project management tools that make collaboration happen in real time. You even have tools that automate, integrate and evaluate team activities.

In face-to-face meetings, you hear something like, “Send me a copy of that file and I’ll get around to it…” Only to hear two weeks later, “Try these revisions, make the copy punchier and the colours more vibrant.”

With online meetings, the participants are already looking closely at the files or proposals and are discussing the merits and offering suggestions.

Tools like Asana, Teams, Slack, Trello and Monday make face-to-face meetings feel like a waste of precious time that could have been spent on productive work.

It’s a whole different league.     

#3 Non-verbal Cues

Non-verbal cues have always been the core advantage of personal meetings.

But when you really think about it, online meetings actually provide more visual cues and non-verbal data. Each participant, after all, faces the camera squarely, where you have body language front row seats, where you can closely observe them. In personal meetings, you can barely see the faces of the people seating beside you, much less look at them closely (without being branded weird or accused of breaking personal space).

In online meetings, by using a headphone or earphones, audio can be directly piped into your ears, allowing you to have more insights into tones and auditory cues.

Because video meetings also allow one to “mute” oneself, people are more relaxed and transparent than in personal interactions, where every little thing can be possibly heard. People are less guarded in online meetings, especially as thing drags on.

Most of all, you can record the whole thing. You can assess what happened or listen back to what was said and review how things went. And if non-verbal cues are your thing, you have a treasure of data that you can go over.

How To Collaborate Better Online

1) Get a good prep game.

They have their differences, but on this point, online and face-to-face meetings agree: a good prep game is required for any type of meeting. (Online may need even more prep because things happen in real-time.)

So much of the “productivity” and “progress” that takes place during a meeting happens because of the behind-the-scenes work participants have done before the actual event.

Here are some of the things you need to remember before jumping into any meeting:

  • Write down a list of your talking points.

Expect to talk and bring something to the table. Write these down on a piece of paper or Post-It note and stick it around the monitor. I know you’re often tempted to just “wing it.” Don’t.

  • Prepare several options for design or copy.

 Say, the meeting will decide which photos should go with a campaign. Have several options up your sleeve and don’t get caught like a deer in headlights in case people don’t approve of the first option. Prepare something to say about the options, explaining why you think they’re good. 

  • Test the tech.

Glitch happens. Make sure to run the programs, software or files beforehand to at least minimize the possibility of them conking out on you. Make sure your mic picks up your voice clearly, your camera is angled correctly, and the lighting works to your benefit. Backups, in all levels, can be a lifesaver.

  1. Have a clean visual space behind you.

A picture speaks a thousand words. Make sure they’re the right ones by making your background as professional as possible. (Your Bob Marley poster might need to go down.)

  • Show up and stay.

Don’t be late. This sets the tone of the whole meeting. Have everything you need within reach to avoid running back and forth. Don’t leave participants to stare at a blank chair because you went off-screen to get something.   

2) Be a good online “conversationalist.”

A Zoom meet-up just takes about an hour, maybe even less. But collaborating online is an ongoing “conversation.” Asynchronous work is a kind of meeting that never ends (or until the project finishes). There will be a robust back-and-forth of messages between colleagues.

Here are some tips to make you a better online collaborator:

  • Acknowledge receipt of files.

This makes the other person feel “heard,” and assures them that you received that thing which they spent several nights working on. Inform them of this, appreciate the work, and tell them what further things you are going to do, and when.

Say something like: “Thanks for this copy, Betty! I’m gonna add a few details to it and forward the file to John this afternoon for final approval.”

  • Don’t be the bottleneck.

Online collaboration can sometimes be an intricate game of “hot potato” where you are assigned one aspect of the project before you pass it on to others. Complex projects sometimes have a serial phase where people can’t move until certain actions are completed.

It’s like there’s a wedding invitation that needed to be sent, but things won’t move forward until a list of the names of the entourage or the wedding party is given. (And, of course, it is your job to provide that list of names and their roles.)

This “wedding invitation” thing could easily be a business project, campaign, operation or scheme.

Don’t be the fellow that holds everything up. 

The excuse, “I was just too busy,” never goes well with the team because they don’t really care about other things you have on your plate. All they want is for the project to progress and move along.

  • Stick to your guns.

In the spirit of not messing up the group’s schedule, if you declare that you’re going to finish something by this date, do everything in your power to follow through. Remember that people believe what you write in Asana, Teams or Trello. And they adjust their schedules, loads, and expectations according to what you declare.

If you say, “This is gonna take me ‘til Tuesday,” know that people will believe it. Not being able to do so, regardless of the reason, will plummet your stock in the group.

  • Use the “Sandwich Technique.”

When collaborating with others, there comes a time when the work done by a colleague just doesn’t pass muster, and you need to point out some edits or changes to the work, be it a design, copy or code.

Use the “Sandwich Technique” when dealing with these matters. The idea is to sandwich the “negative” element of your reply between two positive comments.

So for example, if the design needs some alterations, you might message with something like, “You got the colours spot on! They really evoke the emotions that we want in the graphic. I do think that some of the elements need some resizing (like the logo and tagline). We don’t want them to overpower and steal focus. Other than that, great work Sam! I love how this is coming along.”

Embedding the edits between two positive comments provides a cushion for the reader, bucking him up for the task, and avoids unnecessary disruption of group dynamics.   

  1. Basic courtesies matter…more.           

Words and phrases like “Thank you,” “Appreciate it,” “Nicely done,” “Please,” and “Good morning,” that lubricate face-to-face interactions may matter even more in online collaborations where text messages could not convey tone and intent.

They may sound passé, almost to the point of meaninglessness, but pepper your text communications with them. They are polite and friendly. You don’t want to sound bossy, pushy or arrogant, and you don’t want to leave any room for misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

In an arena where you are banking on the cooperation and goodwill of others in order to succeed, it pays to be a little courteous.  

3) Learn how to “dance.”

Freddie Roach, the famed coach of 8-division champion boxer Manny Pacquiao, once said that when he studies an opponent, he doesn’t look for mistakes. Because they may never come. And if they do, they could come too few and far between. So he never hangs his hopes on them. Instead, he closely studies a fighter’s tendencies, routines, impulses and predispositions.

What are his go-to moves? How does he usually react in pressure situations? All these help him create a fight plan.

Now, your colleagues are, of course, not your opponents. That’s not the point. But it does pay to know their “tendencies” so you can “dance” with them.

  • How many days does it usually take him to finish these types of projects?
  • What days does he usually submit?
  • What are his design aesthetics in general?
  • Does he underpromise but then over-deliver?
  • How has he handled similar projects in the past?

Knowing these factors will help when collaborating with someone who’s a plane ride away or who sleeps the very second you open your eyes.   

If you know, for example, that this colleague writes soaring prose or loves to use nature themes in his designs, you might pass on a specific project to them. Or if you know you’ll get a draft in 3-4 days from this colleague, then you can align certain tasks accordingly.

Knowing an individual’s “tendencies” helps you anticipate so you can collaborate in the most meaningful of ways.  

Those are just some of the tips you can deploy to successfully work with others online. Distance, time and technical difficulties can never stop a team focused and united in a common goal.  

We at Kinetic Innovative Staffing know what working with remote partners is like because that is at the core of our business. We help companies hire remote workers. We help them look for competent professionals like coders, designers, developers, writers, customer service associates, virtual assistants, social media managers, marketers, data analysts, etc.

Kinetic knows how collaborating online can be a game-changer for companies and organizations. What’s more, is the significant cost savings of hiring remote teams. On average, companies save 70% each month on their labour costs.

If you or your organization would like to tap this opportunity, contact us and we’ll provide you with more information.  


Kinetic Innovative Staffing has been providing hundreds of companies in the Asia Pacific, North America, the Middle East, and Europe with professionals working remotely from the Philippines since 2013. Get in touch to know more.

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