Remote collaboration: a primer for distributed teams
By: Leanne Armstrong
Even before the pandemic, businesses relied on remote work teams to help cut operating expenses, reduce turnover, and expand talent pools. Today, 78% of global CEOs believe recent, larger shifts toward remote collaboration are here to stay.
Keeping individuals in the loop and on the same page is one of the biggest remote collaboration challenges you’re likely to face. Whereas cooperative relationships happen fairly organically in office-based environments, it can be incredibly easy for people working apart to feel disconnected from one another and the goals that they share.
Whether you’re brand-new to managing teams from afar – or you’re just starting to get the hang of it all – consider this your introductory primer to collaborating remotely.
In this guide, we’ll delve into the question of what is remote collaboration, the kind of challenges you can expect to encounter, and some core principles that will help keep you and your team sailing forward together.
What is remote collaboration?
If collaboration is all about teamwork, then remote collaboration is what happens when teams work toward common objectives while they’re physically apart.
Virtual team members may work from home, or they may occupy dedicated workspaces across different cities or countries. Thanks to modern software and cloud-based communication technologies, however, today’s remote teams have the potential to collaborate just as effectively as workers who all share an office.
Your company, for example, may already use a communication platform like Microsoft Teams or a video conferencing tool like Zoom to bridge the distance between departments or branches. But did you know you can also take advantage of visualization software to align team members on critical ideas, projects, and plans?
At the end of the day, it takes clear communication, cooperative work processes, and the right tools to ensure strong remote collaboration across virtual teams.
3 core principles for collaborating remotely
Sharing digital rather than physical space usually means finding new ways to stay in-sync and productive. As you re-evaluate how you and your team connect and work together, keep these three remote collaboration principles in mind.
1. Clarity in communications is essential
Remote team members face a variety of interaction challenges. Communicating at a distance, for example, is very different from speaking with coworkers face-to-face. For one thing, fewer visual cues can make it difficult to understand the content or judge the urgency of another individual’s words.
According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), you may need to re-learn how to collaborate effectively with an approach that better reflects the unique demands of today’s digital communication channels.
For example, rather than trying to save time by assuming recipients will understand what your dashed-off email shorthand really means:
- Take that extra moment to ensure your communications are crystal clear
- Preempt follow-up questions by including or linking to all the resources groups or individuals are likely to need to move forward
- Make ongoing communications more efficient by summarizing information into fewer, distinct messages
It’s also a good idea to establish protocols upfront for various communication channels in terms of when, why, and how they get used. Think in terms of regular team check-ins, non-urgent contact hours, and more pressing communications. And don’t forget to make time and room for remote teams to socialize and celebrate together.
2. Cooperative work processes are vital
Remote collaboration success will often depend on your ability to manage cooperative practices and challenges from a different location. To improve remote task management, documentation, and team feedback, for example, you may need to re-evaluate your processes for:
- Brainstorming, problem-solving, and planning
- Scheduling and file sharing
- Project management
It’s worth noting that MindManager visualization and mind mapping software helps in all of these areas by giving your team the means to identify and understand joint problems, priorities, progress, and goals. MindManager’s suite of sharing options and collaboration tools is ideal for remote work – whether you need to create a new project plan or establish a daily workflow agenda.
Whichever route or platform you choose, remember that finding a way to visualize shared work processes will help everyone stay better aligned and connected.
3. Proven digital tools are a must
Remote collaboration is primed to thrive in environments supported by intuitive software or cloud-based technology. What you shouldn’t do, however, is adopt so many digital tools that you reduce, rather than enhance, team efficiency!
Not only can latching onto every remote tool that hits the market get expensive, it can be distracting and disruptive for your team – chewing into their valuable time in terms of both training and usage.
Explore your options carefully and try to limit your investment to technology that’s either relevant to your specific industry, or that’s proven itself practical in a wide range of collaborative situations.
You might, for example, start by considering:
- Remote task management tools
- Time tracking devices (to help team members manage both their own schedules and project timelines)
- Document storage and collaboration platforms
The key is to find a set of tools that will make it easier for your remote team to work together in real time, while keeping stakeholders involved and accommodating feedback and suggestions.
Remote collaboration challenges (and solutions)
Many of the challenges attached to remote collaboration are the result of poor communication, sketchy procedures, or technical troubles. Let’s take a look at a few of these problems and how you can fix or prevent them.
Problem #1: Miscommunication and lack of connection
Without someone looking over their shoulder, or stopping by for a chat, remote employees can often feel socially disconnected and unclear on the context of the work that they do.
Not only does HBR recognize that new forms of miscommunication and misunderstanding are likely as more of our interactions happen digitally, it’s become evident that empathy and meaningful interactions are essential to your remote team’s happiness and productivity.
The solution to challenges like these is two-fold: you need to keep team members on track and accountable while also encouraging them to inspire and learn from one another.
Here are some suggestions to help make that happen.
- Enable one-on-one video calls and collaboration as much as you reasonably can
- Keep assignment milestones, goals, and timelines clear with the help of a task management tool like MindManager
- Request that individual team members check in with you directly at designated times
- Schedule regular, virtual get-togethers outside office hours
You can also help to prioritize interpersonal interactions by using less formal instant messaging during work hours, or a tool like SharePoint to build a dedicated team site that promotes the sharing of information and ideas.
Problem #2: Impersonal work processes
With so many processes no longer requiring their physical presence, it can be all too easy for remote team members to lose their sense of urgency or commitment to organizational goals.
To ramp up engagement and buy-in, make sure all your activities, workflows, and procedures are as visual and transparent as possible.
That may include:
- Scheduling virtual brainstorming sessions
- Seeking regular input or feedback on project objectives
- Running meaningful online meetings that keep your team up to date on individual, joint, and company-wide progress and outcomes
You may also find it helpful to use work process software that offers built-in alerts for potential roadblocks, bottlenecks, and other delays.
Problem #3: Technological turmoil
Modern advancements are critical to effective collaboration. But technical glitches, lack of familiarity with certain technologies, and good old screen fatigue can prevent remote team members from working efficiently or getting the help that they need.
Make sure everyone in your charge can make the most of your collaboration tools by:
- Ensuring every team member has access to prompt and reliable IT support
- Setting up online training sessions and making user help and tutorials readily available
- Keeping virtual meetings and other interactive sessions short and to the point
While you’re at it, don’t forget to mandate regular, intentional breaks for team members. You can check to see that they’re actually taking the recuperative time they need by leveraging employee scheduling software.
A word about productivity
Despite the challenges described here, when the right tools and techniques are in place, remote teams can become better positioned to maximize productivity. There’s plenty of research, in fact, that shows remote teams are as productive – if not more productive – than workers in shared physical spaces.
In one study, remote employees were found to average 1.4 more days of work each month than their office counterparts, while losing less time to daily distractions. In another example, the flexible work program introduced by Best Buy led to a 35% increase in productivity.
Not only does remote collaboration technology give individuals the flexibility to set their work hours for when they’re most productive, it allows team members across time zones to literally extend their organization’s work day.
As you explore your options for collaborative communications, tools, and work processes, why not check out our support kit filled with valuable and free resources. It’s sure to make the shift to remote work seamless, productive, and successful for both you and your team.
- How to collaborate effectively if your team is remote: techniques and best practices
- 7 remote collaboration tools for dispersed teams