Effective collaboration in remote teams isn’t a product of luck, it takes preparation and work from every single team member.
As we’re entering into a new age of work, companies are having to learn how to navigate remote work and overcome the various challenges that come with it. But how can we improve remote collaboration without having to resort to days spent on video calls?
This article will guide you through how best to collaborate effectively as a remote team, giving you seven best researched-backed strategies and ideas for successful remote working. We’re going to look at:
- Leverage Technology
- Fewer Calls
- Goals And Objectives
- Radical Truth Policy
- Team Building
What Is Remote Collaboration?
Before we even focus on how we can improve, it’s essential to understand what collaboration is at its core.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, collaboration is defined as:
‘the act of working together with other people or organizations to create or achieve something.’ Cambridge Dictionary
Add being remote into the mix, and remote collaboration becomes working together from a distance. That added factor of physical distance makes the world of distance in a work environment. Not being physically present forces work teams to learn how to collaborate effectively and make use of strategies and tools to ensure productivity is kept up to par.
Challenges Of Remote Collaboration
A recent study by Harvard Business School found that about 40% of managers don’t feel confident in their ability to manage and collaborate with their remote team, while another study showed that almost 20% of employees said collaborating is the most difficult part of remote work.
The main challenge presented by remote work is the most obvious, a lack of physical presence.
When working in the same office space, it's easy for team members to chat informally, pick up body language cues from interactions and get instant answers to little queries that pop up during the working day.
Remote team members, on the other hand, are reliant on messaging apps and video calls. Collaborating in a team becomes a lot harder when we are having to communicate via messaging apps and video calls. It’s a lot harder to decipher subtle changes in voice tone or cues over messaging apps, and those lost cues could be essential to understanding the right message.
If remote teams don’t learn how to communicate effectively early on then a toxic cycle can arise, as illustrated below. Poor communication leads to an increase in misunderstandings which fosters low trust levels and a lack of transparency. The low trust levels then feed back into even poorer communication, and so the toxic cycle continues.
Other obvious remote collaboration challenges include having to deal with different team members’ time zones or work schedules. Work might get missed, or messages could get delayed with employees being spread across different locations. Cohesive schedules are key for ensuring work gets done on time and deadlines aren’t missed.
So, how can remote teams overcome these obstacles and create a harmonious remote working environment that fosters smooth and productive collaboration?
Here are our seven research-based ideas to help you collaborate effectively with your remote team.
7 Best Ways To Improve Remote Work Collaboration
Effective communication is the cornerstone of successful remote working, but if an effort is not made then communication can easily fall short within a remote working environment.
A large-scale study on the impact of remote working found that remote workers communicate less frequently outside of their immediate teams. The researchers from Microsoft and the University Of California Berkeley analysed the communication habits of Microsoft workers before and after the pandemic forced the workforce remote.
By collecting data from messaging apps, emails, calls, and meetings, researchers found that remote employees spend on average 25% less time collaborating across groups and spend less time with "new connections" — people they had not collaborated with previously.
So, how do you ensure that communication doesn’t fall short?
Establish which channels should be used for communication and then stick to them.
Projects can get complicated and messages can get lost when team members are using a combination of Whatsapp, email and messaging tools to collaborate on one project.
Keep Messages Simple
Once channel norms are established, keep communication clear and simple.
Try to articulate your messages in simple language that is clear and precise, and make sure your team members ask any questions if they aren’t sure.
If you know some team members aren’t very good at being clear, encourage the use of bullet point instructions.
No Useless Information
Don’t bombard team members with useless information.
Effective collaboration is a result of getting work done efficiently, respecting others’ time and being selective in what needs to be said.
Finally, make sure you spend time deciding on the right communication tools for your company, ones that suit your culture and specific needs, which leads us on to our next strategy.
Leveraging technology is a no-brainer for remote teams; finding the right digital tools is central to the success of remote collaboration.
From simple file-sharing tools, and project management systems to flexible work scheduling platforms, there are a whole host of tools and platforms out there designed to make the transition to remote work seamless.
You’ll need to find effective tools to:
- Share files and project updates
- Ask questions and leave comments
- Track progress
- Schedule calls across time zones
- Maintain the workflow
- Manage projects and workflow
It’s vital your company finds the right tools to ensure remote working is a productive success. Having clear visibility of a project's progress, allows a remote manager to stay in the loop without resorting to micromanaging.
Flexible working tools like DuoMe enables teams to show what they are working on and share their achievements easily, sharing progress with the team as you work, and keeping communication on a high level.
The centralized hub provides team members with everything they need to collaborate, accomplish their work, and stay in touch no matter their timezone.
3. Fewer Calls And Meetings
In a study of 182 senior managers, conducted by Harvard, a massive 71% said they felt meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
This needs to change.
Getting together on calls and meetings is not always the solution for effective collaboration. As the study showed, meetings can be some of the most time-consuming parts of a workday, mindless small talk leads to people going off on tangents away from the agenda, resulting in a 30 minute meeting where nothing gets accomplished.
In order to make meetings productive in a remote environment follow these best practices:
- Have a clear purpose for the meeting.
- Create an agenda
- Set meeting norms and rules
- Reduce the number of meetings
- Make sure everyone can attend
Finding the right time or day to ensure everyone’s on the call at once can cut down on unnecessary repeats of calls taking away from a project’s progress.
Unfortunately, when teams are located across different time zones or working to different hybrid schedules it can feel almost impossible to schedule a meeting for everyone at once. That’s where hybrid work scheduling tools like DuoMe come in to enable the process.
4. Clear Goals & Plans
Shared goals, along with clear communication, are another crucial component for a remote team that can collaborate effectively. It is important to establish goals that everyone can take ownership of. Make sure everyone in the team understands what the objectives are and how they will be achieved.
Be sure to involve the whole team when making decisions, a democratic approach helps everyone feel a part of the bigger picture and keeps people feeling motivated.
Keeping your remote team focused on a shared goal will create a sense of team accomplishment that rewards collaboration. Make sure to celebrate individual wins as well, highlighting individual contributions to larger projects is vital to keeping a remote team motivated to keep going and reach the next goal together.
When planning your team's goals, make sure expectations are clear and, vitally, make them realistic.
Having too high expectations on a remote team can cause your ability to collaborate effectively to fall apart around you. Not all employees work well under pressure, in fact employee stress costs US businesses over $300 billion annually.
When faced with unachievable targets, some team members feel unable to push themselves and can begin to experience stress and anxiety as a result. Other remote team members might feel undervalued and like they are being set up to fail, leading to a total disengagement from any collaboration efforts.
Even though it may seem counterproductive, by lowering objectives your team will actually become more productive.
Remote teams need to have enough space to see the bigger picture and shared goals, if they are constantly stressed about trying to hit the next deadline, then they will be less likely to collaborate with other team members on shared goals and overarching objectives.
“If I had to pick the one thing to get right about any collaborative effort, I would choose trust. More than incentives, technology, roles, missions, or structures, it is trust that makes collaboration really work. There can be collaboration without it, but it won’t be very productive or sustainable in the long run.” Larry Prusak, Senior Advisor and Faculty, Columbia University, author, Working Knowledge.
When it comes to effective collaboration as a remote team, trust is arguably the most important element of a productive, happy team.
Trust isn’t easily built but it sure is easily lost. Although it can be easy to accidentally forget to mention a certain point or relevant information to team members when communicating virtually, it can have devastating effects for trust levels.
All remote team members need to understand the importance of transparency and trust building. Encourage open communication and honest feedback between all team members for a high level of trust that will pay dividends in productivity.
6. Radical Truth Policy
Radical truth policy was created by Ray Dalio, founder of the world’s largest hedge fund - Bridgewater Associates, referring to one of his company’s culture’s key principles.
While lots of companies struggle with collaboration because of their hierarchical structure, Bridgewater Associates operates on a radical truth policy where even junior members of staff can say what they think to the CEO without any fear of repercussions.
In all work environments, team members need to build a genuinely open forum that focus on finding solutions openly, honestly, and together.
A remote team, by definition, finds its members isolated and alone, making the need for an open, democratic culture even more vital. Individuals need to feel that sense of belonging, that feeling of being part of something bigger than themselves in order to work together as a team.
A radical truth policy can help with that.
As well as fostering a teams hybrid culture, honest feedback helps people understand their strengths and weaknesses. This self-awareness can then lead to behaviour changes that enable people to become more effective and efficient.
The trouble is, people do not get enough feedback. A study by OfficeVibe found that 65% of people want more feedback at work than they currently get, people want to improve and do better. If you can create an environment where people feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback openly, it can transform your organisation.
7. Team Building
Virtual team building can be a fun and powerful way to help improve the way your team works together by boosting morale and fostering friendships outside of work. Team activities can build camaraderie, and trust, while having a fun time.
Explore different team building activities that you can organise virtually and if possible, in person as well. Ideas could include
- Puzzle solving
- Honesty circles
- Brainstorming sessions
- Virtual house tours
- Virtual board games
- Share your personality
- Book club
Get inventive using your public chat channels and let people show their true selves!
It will be said that nothing can beat an in-person team building activity. The camaraderie gained from a team retreat can be hugely beneficial, helping team members get to know one another outside of a computer screen. However, with a remote or hybrid team, that can be hard to organise, so any team building activities you can organise will be worth it, virtually or physical.
Effective remote collaboration requires a strong commitment from all team members, from the manager to the most junior.
By focusing on open communication, clear objectives and, most importantly, trust, a successful remote working environment can be nurtured where all team members feel valued and are able to collaborate effectively.
What Is DuoMe?
DuoMe is a flexible work scheduling platform to help hybrid and remote teams collaborate with ease. Letting you understand where people plan to work and on what topics enables hybrid teams pick the most impactful days to attend the office.
Graham Joyce is co-founder of DuoMe, a flexible working advocate and a frequent panellist/commentator on the issues of flexibility or hybrid working.