The key to successful collaboration is communication. In a networked world with email, texting, messenger apps, and being able to reach anyone anywhere we can think that we are communicating when we really are not communicating effectively. Effective communication takes teamwork, organization, and planning. And when you can’t get all your teams and team members in the same room, effective communication can take a little more effort.

Getting on the right track. 

Pulling together your team when you are all in the same location can be like herding cats. In general, it is easy to call a meeting and have everyone show up at the appointed time in the same room, and generally on the same page. When you’re working with a more wide flung network there are times when it is like herding cats while blindfolded. You need to get all of your cats moving in generally the same direction, with the same goal in mind. However, cats being cats, in the absence of actually hearing their name, they might not be paying any attention to you.

You could call a general meeting in a central location to which everyone will have to travel, with the attendant expenses of getting there, lodging, meals, and per diem. Or you could attempt to manage the project through a central web location such as Google Docs or Google Drive, communicating with everyone by email or private messenger app.

Conference calls, or a traditional room based webinar is certainly an option, however with conference calls you never actually get to see the people to whom you are speaking and they never get to see you. Whereas a webinar may not suit your needs to hear from numbers of people and get their input and feedback. Modern, cloud-based videoconferencing from companies like Blue Jeans has grown popular because it allows effective real-time communication between numbers of people no matter where they are.

On the same page, but not in the same room. 

Videoconferencing is very different from a webinar, or webcast. With webinars, the focus is on the keynote speaker, who has limited interaction with members of the audience. With a webcast the focus is monodirectional and there is no reciprocal information being transmitted the other way – essentially a broadcast akin to a television show. With the advent of affordable cloud-based services, applications, and storage the cost of deploying a cloud-based videoconferencing system is often far less than even a modest travel budget.

Cloud-based technology has become so widespread that Inc. magazine estimates that in just six years, 80 percent of small businesses will be using cloud-based technologies in everyday business. Cloud-based videoconferencing allows large groups of people to communicate with each other, face-to-face and in real time either in a traditional room based or desktop setting, or over a mobile device such as their laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Gigaom’s research, as mentioned on Fuze, points to several distinct advantages available only with cloud-based videoconferencing.

1. Cloud-based videoconferencing makes remote team members feel more connected to their team and engaged in the project by 87 percent to 13 percent who felt disengaged and disconnected from their team and project.

2. Cloud-based tools are less expensive and easier to use than proprietary systems that come with expensive hardware costs, and maintenance contracts.

Increasing engagement can enhance productivity, especially among highly educated and middle-aged workers from ages 30 to 64, which a Gallup poll reports are most likely to feel not engaged or even actively disengaged from their work. Business in psychological research shows a strong correlation between workplace engagement and the company’s overall performance.

Companies with active and engaged employees experience positive performance and enhanced productivity, whereas disengaged employees express dissatisfaction and even alienation from their work environment – at times contributing to excess turnover, and loss of experienced professionals. If you can’t retain your experienced employees, how can you retain your clients?

Building the relationship. 

Of course, hosting a video conference needs to have some basic ground rules to make sure that everyone has input, but that the input they provide is relevant to the subject at hand. Setting a date and time for the meeting and asking participants to RSVP will give you an idea of who is already engaged, and who you may need to work on.

Provide an agenda, and access to whatever relevant materials your people will need in order to participate. You may need to appoint a chairperson or moderator to implement the agenda and control the flow of conversation, making sure that all contributions are heard and noted. Each participant should have a clearly printed nameplate with their name, position, and location that will be visible to other participants.

Setting rules for basic etiquette, and disseminating them to the participants will also cut down on the incipient chaos of everyone wanting to talk at once. Having the moderator direct questions to certain participants will help smooth the flow of the meeting. Asking people to turn off cell phones, and mute their microphones when other people are speaking in order to cut down on background noises is entirely appropriate. With a little practice, and a little patience, you can make your team feel like a team, and feel like champions.