When we need something done quickly, the ability to peak your head over your cubicle wall and ask your coworker can be a life saver. Meetings create a forum for a spirited discussion to occur organically, which can lead to new and innovate ideas and solutions.

These are just two examples of the benefits that centralized teams experience, however, the reality is that more companies are becoming decentralized.This shift is increasing the number of virtual teams that are trying to work together.

Working virtually certainly has its own benefits, but for those of us that are not physically next to our colleagues – we can’t help but feel like we are missing out on some things that would make our work environment more productive.

So if you are considering making the shift to a virtual team, or if you are already working virtually, here are a few tips to increase productivity:

1. Be Accessible

There are many times when you have a small question, and receiving an answer quickly is invaluable to your productivity. The introduction of instant messaging, or team chats, have been so useful for this purpose, that even teams that are located together use them! If you are part of a virtual team, you should choose a instant messaging system that works best for you.

I recommend Skype, as you can easily create chats for specific teams or projects, and easily see whether someone is available or not. The obvious additional advantage with Skype is the video conferencing, so that you can get some face time with your team members. In reality, the ability to quickly receive an answer to your question will be a function that is used more often when working virtually, than the ability to video chat a coworker.

2. Build Relationships

When working in person, you have plenty of opportunities to thank your coworkers for helping you out. Building relationships and giving recognition is a key aspect of the working environment that tends to get overlooked for virtual teams. Receiving a token of appreciation goes a long way, and tends to help your future requests to colleagues be handled faster.

eCards are a simple way to recognize an achievement or show appreciate. There are plenty of sites to find your perfect card, but I love JibJab for their humorous and personalized options. If you want a more typical token of appreciation, Starbucks offers eGifts that you can personalize.

Additionally, it is helpful to schedule virtual “coffee chats.” Coffee Chats are the concept or sharing your break to get coffee with a coworker so you can get to know each other a little better. By having a virtual coffee chat, you to get to know your coworkers’ backgrounds and hear about what they are working on, even if it is not directly related to your project.

I recommend 30 minute chats once a month with key partners. This may seem like a lot of time, but when you work in an office with your partners you spend quite a bit of time getting to know your colleagues.

3. Centralize your Ideas

Having a central location for your projects is extremely important. The back and forth exchange between coworkers is vital, but without a physical presence you end up with a ton of emails and not a lot of organization. Questions tend to remain open longer, because it is not obvious that someone needs to do something. Applications for the cloud are designed to solve these types of problems.

Conceptboard is a great SaaS application for teams who need to collaborate when working virtually. [Disclaimer: I work at Conceptboard].  Conceptboard  provides a central place for you to review and discuss content. With their new release, you can assign tasks to your colleagues and receive alerts based on your activity. It is a great tool for managing projects, without the need for constant meetings.

About the author: Melissa Kilbourne has a passion for improving online collaboration, currently serving as the Marketing and PR manager for Conceptboard. You can connect with her on Google+Facebook or Twitter.

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