The Four Roles of a Virtual Collaborator

Is it on? Can you hear me? Maybe refresh the browser?

Phrases many of us have uttered infinitely lately while collectively going through the global “remote working” experiment.

Guiding decision-making, creating collective consciousness and steering people towards possibilities are the superpowers shared by leaders (and collaboration designers) and in a virtual world demanding a reinvention of how we bring people together these skills have never been so critical.

So how do you create effective virtual collaboration sessions that go beyond achieving your basic objectives and harness the full potential of your team and organisation? 


1. Be their hero

Psychological safety is one of the key components for a successful team. We might seem more vulnerable because we can hear our colleague’s children screaming and see cats walking across the screen, but this doesn’t mean mutual trust is guaranteed.

  • Foster virtual psychological safety. Have participants take on a digital persona, like avatars in video games. By introducing ourselves in our own personal way, we establish vulnerability in the group. An example of this exercise can be found in my previous post.
  • Let people speak. Whatever time you have allocated for sharing a personal story in the beginning of your session, increase it with a few minutes. We are all locked up in our houses and ready to share some of our thoughts with someone else other than our partners or pets. Recent months have been a time for reflection for a lot of us and enabling discussions while collaborating is of greater importance than ever before. 

2. Be the Guide

One of the undeniable benefits of remote work days has been the demise of many unfocused and directionless meetings. Zoom fatigue and distractions have opened up a small window for genuinely effective collaboration and the good news is you only need a few trusty tools.  For those of us who have been preaching the gospel of whiteboards, visualisation, models and (yep post-its) it’s your time to shine.

  • Fast Track processes. Embrace white-boarding tools such as Mural or Miro by uploading your prioritization templates, feedback grids and stakeholder maps. Preload post-its and facilitate sessions you could only have dreamed of in an in-person setting. Don’t reinvent the wheel, use pre-existing templates on Mural, Miro or our website to get started. And if you’re ready to design your own session, see our previous blog post on how to do just that!
  • Time Time Time. When using these templates, make sure to time-box every step of the way. Setting an alarm in your meeting room maybe felt a step too far, but the built-in timers in your white-boarding tools work like a charm. As the steady guide of this virtual environment, you are in full control of making sure meetings run more efficient than ever.

3. Be the Entertainer

Let’s be honest. Few of us are currently waking up dancing to the song “Walking on Sunshine” playing in our heads. As a host, lifting people’s energy and ensuring positivity can make all the difference between a good and great session.

  • Balance group energy. Let people enter the session early, play upbeat tunes, and tell them to grab a cup of coffee, get comfortable, and familiarise themselves with the tools. You are creating an ambience to set people up for success. When it comes to successful virtual collaboration, well begun is half done (and with “Well”, I of course mean “Play some Robyn”).
  • Mix up your media. Your session might be your first of that day, but some came out of five consecutive hours of zzzzooming. To combat zoom fatigue, use mixed media, such as visuals to introduce topics, and videos to explain your point. People digest information in different ways, and you have the power to use all the media on the internet to spice up your session.

4. Be a Leader

The last great superpower that can be unlocked in this virtual world comes with great responsibility. While the digital tools that are at our disposal create the greatest collaboration experiences people may have had – they can simultaneously hinder others. Be mindful of both when facilitating virtual collaboration.

  •  Be inclusive. While some of may be digital natives, others are still carrying their paper agenda. Everybody should be able to partake in virtual collaboration. Setting up an onboarding process (e.g. a video that introduces the various digital tools) creates space for less tech-savvy participants.
  • Look further. Including diverse perspectives in collaborative work is important. Some perspectives might have been excluded by the locations and buildings we were in. Now, free from those constraints, it is our responsibility to look beyond our immediate circle and use virtual collaboration tools to include a wider array of perspectives, ultimately resulting in a better outcome of our session and our work in general.


Excited to use the tools of virtual collaboration to unlock the full potential of your work? Get in touch!

Leave a comment