We’ve focused on meetings over the last couple of weeks—how many more we’re attending as teams grow increasingly distributed and collaborative, and how important it is to find the right strategies and tools to make them productive. But even as meetings remain an essential part of our workplace communications, they certainly aren’t the only way to collaborate. This week, I want to look at a broader suite of strategies that can bridge the geographic gaps between distributed team members and facilitate successful virtual communication.

Conference Calls
While it’s far from the only collaboration tool distributed teams have at their disposal, nothing simulates an in-person meeting quite as well as a good conference call solution. Regular conference calls (using, as I suggested last week, technology that is high quality, easy to use and easy to take on the go) can give distributed teams the kind of camaraderie that only comes from real-time conversation. They’re also a great opportunity for your whole team to check in, voice concerns, resolve questions and make sure everyone is working toward the same goals on the same schedule. When they’re well facilitated, conference calls can be an effective tool for boosting team morale and productivity.

Enterprise Chat
Enterprise chat platforms allow teams to message in secure centralized environments. Great for achieving near-instant communication in a more casual setting (while you can set up a time to chat, it’s more common to simply set up chat rooms you can leave open while you do other work), workers can chat one on one or in groups of any size. Chat tools give teams the flexibility to share files, ask and answer questions quickly and keep consistent lines of communication open. And, as chat services usually have monitoring capabilities, it’s easy for managers and supervisors to ensure that teams stay on task.

An oldie but a goodie, email is an accessible, inclusive tool for communicating across continents and time zones. Good email clients are easy to use, easy to search and easy to organize, and allow teams to file away their communications for future reference. And, since they can go out to lots of team members at a time, emails are an easy, effective way to alert teams to changes in project parameters and deadlines.

Instant Messaging
While they’re less secure and tougher to monitor than enterprise chat tools, instant messaging programs are still a great way for teams to communicate in real time during collaborative projects or in preparation for meetings. IM is quick, easy and accessible to nearly everyone in one form or another—not a perfect tool, but certainly not bad in a pinch.

Despite all the tools we have access to, finding the right recipe for effective collaboration can be a tricky thing. How does your team tackle it? What tools—or combination of tools—are you using to communicate? What’s been the most successful?

**Image credit: TheNextWeb