August 10, 2022
“Hi! Am I audible?”
“Can you see my screen?”
“It seems you are muted.”
If you have ever worked remotely, these might just be the top four sentences from a lot of your Zoom calls.
Remote collaboration is fraught with challenges. And broken Zoom calls are only the tip of this iceberg. In this blog, we talk about how you can conquer some of the hurdles and build effective remote team collaboration.
Effective remote team collaboration is the glue that holds and keeps dispersed teams together as they work on a common goal.
It is the force that allows a team to accomplish much more than its individual members could do on their own. When team collaboration is effective, it brings synergies to the team that can help it achieve ambitious goals faster and more efficiently.
Working remotely is soon set to be the norm rather than the exception.
The pandemic may very well have brought the future of work to the present, with 61% of employees surveyed by Growmotely (a matchmaking platform for remote job seekers and employers) in 2020 confessing they would want to keep working fully remotely.
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Companies such as AirBnB, Atlassian, Coinbase, 3M, and more have already announced permanent work-from-home policies, with many others expected to follow suit.
While it has its benefits, remote team collaboration presents a new challenge for many of us struggling with problems such as isolation-loneliness, distractions and demands that hurt our productivity at home, and the more-than-occasional breakdown of communication with our colleagues.
As we account for the problems while observing the trends around remote work, we can see why team leaders as well as team members need to rethink strategies for making remote team collaboration a success.
Here are some of the best practices and strategies for ensuring effective virtual team collaboration in a remote-first world of work.
Having a corporate culture conducive to cooperation lays the foundation for effective collaboration across teams and departments, whether remote or otherwise.
Such a culture values cooperative employees, prioritizes teamwork, provides training, ensures faster conflict resolution, creates support systems, fosters psychological safety, and lays down structures that reward working together as a team.
A strong collaborative culture makes employees feel seen and appreciated. It can boost their initiative, productivity, and engagement at work, which is a victory for both the employee and the employer.
At Oslash, for example, we have a dedicated Slack channel called o-ask where everyone can ask for help from anyone and people readily volunteer to answer a question or solve a problem. o-kudos is our channel for publicly appreciating wins of our team members, both big and small.
You could also take a leaf out of Typeform’s book to create a collaborative culture. The company introduces new (remote) employees to EVERY department during their three-day onboarding to provide them an overall picture of Typeform, which is impossible to glean otherwise while working from home.
Remote team-leaders and managers have to set clear expectations and communicate them clearly for their teams to collaborate effectively.
It is helpful to have guidelines in place around
A little bit of clarity goes a long way in avoiding chaos and confusion that can stem from the geographical distance among the team members.
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Multiple barriers to effective communication exist even when teams work together in an office. Add to this the chaos of working from different locations, cultures, possibly different time-zones, and you almost have a recipe for disaster.
The absence of visual and non-verbal clues such as tone of voice and body language (aside from video calls) makes remote communication a unique challenge.
There are some golden commandments, though, for communicating effectively while working remotely:
Since a lot of remote work involves asynchronous communication, it helps to not leave your colleagues hanging during a conversation. For example, if you ping a remote colleague to ask for their help and they aren’t online, don’t just say hi and expect an immediate response. Craft a message stating your ask clearly and let them get to it when they can, without relying on the off chance that you’ll both be online and available at the same time.
Can’t find the link to the strategy deck you need to present in the next 10 minutes? You know it’s somewhere on your email but the 1440 unread mails don’t help, nor do the 250 search results for the keyword “strategy”.
If you or your teammates constantly find yourselves in this frustrating boat, you’re not alone. Over 50% of knowledge workers spend between 30 minutes and two hours per day looking for the right information we need to do our jobs
The solution? Create dedicated spaces for information: have specific Slack channels for specific topics or projects (or even memes, pets, recipes!), set up email filters to group related information together, use a note-taking app to organize stuff, or maybe even invest in tools for link management and/or knowledge management.
One of the keys for effective remote communication is knowing (and also advising your counterparts) when not to communicate.
Having boundaries is important. Not every text deserves an (immediate) response, not every problem is an emergency, and communication after office-hours should be an exception, if at all, not the norm. After all, if you expect someone to reply to your work related texts at 10 pm in the night, they have every right to expect the same from you.
Companies such as Merck have created acronyms like “Four Hour Response (4HR)” and “No Need to Respond (NNTR)” that help enforce stricter boundaries and create consistency within virtual communication.
Recommended reading: Guide to effective communication in the new remote world
According to an Owl Labs report, 80% of the full-time remote workers surveyed expressed that they wanted at least one day a week with no meetings at all. This isn’t surprising. According to 26% of respondents, more meetings than usual was also one of the top three difficulties of remote work.
There are significant lessons for remote managers here. And all of them can help make remote team collaboration more effective.
If a meeting can be wrapped up in an email, or a memo, or a recorded Loom message or a Slack thread, it’s best not to call for it. One of the biggest draws of remote work is flexibility and having frequent unexpected meetings can reduce both focus and engagement for remote workers.
Productive time is sacred and should be put to best use.
If a meeting is necessary, keeping a clear agenda can make it worthwhile for the participants. It gives them an incentive to come prepared and to chime in with suggestions if needed. And it signals that their time is too valuable to waste in winding conversations that lead to no results.
Shifting to an async work model is a godsend for remote collaboration and productivity. An async-first approach would reduce dependencies among workers and lead to faster task completion.
74% of remote workers believe they should have core hours, for example, four hours a day where they're available to colleagues and work on their own schedule the rest of the time.
Gone are the days when a stable internet connection, a laptop, and a high degree of intrinsic motivation and discipline were enough to work remotely
Remote teams today need a variety of sophisticated software to amp up their productivity and deliver results.
When chosen correctly, these tools can reduce the costs associated with duplication of effort and prevent your team from working in silos. Investing in the right tools is indispensable for improving communication, cohesion, and collaboration within a remote team.
The right kind of software has always been the backbone for effective virtual team collaboration, be it in-office or remote.
Here are the kinds of tools you should invest in to power up remote collaboration for your team:
Chat tools are the virtual equivalent of walking up to your colleague’s desk for a quick question. The most popular ones including MS Teams and Slack also come with a ton of additional functions. You can create dedicated spaces for projects and discussions, control who has access to which conversations, share files and docs with varying permissions, call people up, and even recreate the serendipity of watercooler moments with fun channels.
Sometimes, a quick message can turn into a longer discussion between you and your teammates, one which may be better (and faster) resolved over a video call instead. This is why tools such as Google Meet and Zoom exist. And of course, for your recurring meetings — your daily standup or your monthly townhall. You may not be co-located with your colleagues, but that shouldn’t stop you from adding the personal touch to your meetings every now and then.
It costs our brains less time and energy to process visuals than words. This is why you may find yourself more enthused about planning tactics, brainstorming ideas and concepts, and designing solutions when it’s all being done visually.
Visual collaboration and whiteboard tools such as Miro, Sketchboard, ClickUp etc. not only simplify complex workflows as mentioned above but also improve cross-functional team collaboration. This is made possible with async collaboration features such as comments, tags, discussion threads etc.
Online documents sit right at the heart of workplace collaboration. Most work today does not take place in local files or folders but on the browser. It’s imperative that documents and/or files be collaborative in real-time, so that people can work with each other on the same doc without needing to synchronize version after version replete with changes and updates. Collaborative documents save a lot of time for everyone involved.
Tools like Google Docs (and Sheets), Notion, Coda, and others are solving the challenges of document collaboration for distributed teams successfully.
Project management (or task management) tools are almost like a panacea for all pains, especially for remote teams. You can use them to plan, organize, prioritize, and optimize your projects together, even over a distance.
Popular project management tools such Asana, Trello, and Wrike among others, will give you access to all the must-haves for working together without friction. Think chats, workspaces, forums, kanban boards, dashboards, tagging and commenting, file sharing etc.
With efficient knowledge management tools in place, teams waste less time waiting for the information they need.
A central knowledge base or company wiki aids collaboration by making information accessible to everyone who needs it right when they need it. Access to a single source of truth for important company information can radically speed up business processes and workflows for remote teams including recruitment and onboarding, inventory management, payroll management, and much more.
Did you know that you could use a tool such as OSlash to effortlessly build your company wiki?
With OSlash, you can create simple and easy-to-recall shortcuts to all your links. By letting you name your everyday links using everyday words, OSlash lets you find, navigate, and share workplace information at lightning speed.
So your product roadmap can be accessed at o/roadmap instead of https://www.notion.so/xhtryE/roadmap-d60645aa5640422ebcd8238510e156eaxty and your payroll at o/payroll.
By simplifying URLs, OSlash simplifies finding information at fingertips — for you, your team, your department, and your entire organization. And saves you upto 10 hours a week.
Recommended reading: Top collaboration tools for your team
Creating a collaborative remote team does take a lot of intention, time, and effort, as you may have guessed from the above tips and examples. You have to onboard teams, find and implement the right technology, communicate effectively, and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
So, is it worth the effort? As a distributed team that has unlocked higher productivity, engagement, and fulfillment on the job using these tips, we bet it is!
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