Work from home has transformed overnight from an occasional perk to a (seemingly) permanent necessity. A big chunk of corporate employees have remodeled their living rooms or kitchens into home offices. While this new set-up definitely has had its advantages, there are a lot of challenges that resulted from this new normal way of doing business.
One of these ongoing struggles is facilitating team collaboration. Physical distance makes it difficult and the initial overuse of videoconferencing apps lead to a new kind of fatigue as people feel like they have to make more emotional effort to seem engaged, and since non-verbal cues are not apparent in online conferencing, the incessant focus on words and continuous eye contact is exhausting.
5 Tips on sustaining collaboration in remote teams
Fortunately, there are some simple practices that managers can employ to make team collaboration possible and smooth even in today’s remote setting.
Communication needs to be very clear
Think of it in terms of instructions for operating heavy machinery – some of them might seem redundant or funny but they are there because there is a chance some people might need them.
When all the team meetings happen online and are backed by either endless email threads or mobile app conversations, people can easily miss relevant chunks of the conversation. Therefore, it’s essential that the old-fashioned meeting minutes are brought back.
These are concise written records that comprise:
- Decisions that were made;
- The next steps that were agreed upon;
- The timeline for completion of the above-mentioned steps;
- The people who are responsible for various tasks.
Such summarizing emails act as reliable records where team members can check their own understanding or look for information they have missed.
Read more: On designing a great L&D communication plan
Teams need the right tools to succeed
If at the start of the current health crisis everybody was just doing their best with what was available, the past months have revealed precisely what set of tools are necessary for the team to function properly and achieve the desired results.
There is a vast market, displaying everything from project management software and video conferencing apps to survey generators or feedback gathering engines. Most vendors are offering free trials so it’s possible to test and see what is the best match for the team’s requirements.
Getting input from all team members is crucial in a good selection process. Even if getting this digital equipment will be considered an expense, if it is done correctly it will not delay in showing its merits as a necessary and good investment.
Clear schedules ensure flawless collaboration
Working from home allows for some flexibility for the employee. Some managers worry that this will translate into a lack of availability but that will not be the case if everyone is aware of set schedules.
There are some factors that leaders should consider before setting these:
- What are the different time zones that team members are in?
- What are the overlapping ‘office hours’?
- What issues are relevant enough so that an employee may be contacted outside these times?
- What are the appropriate response times for different requests?
- What are the tasks that need to be completed simultaneously by several team members?
With the answers to these questions, managers should be able to construct viable timetables for their teams and get the buy-in for keeping them.
Communication should be done through several channels
Today’s teams are both geographically and generationally diverse and as a result, have very varied preferences when it comes to communication. Furthermore, different projects may be suited for completion over varied platforms.
Using only text or only video communication can take quite a toll on team collaboration – some members might find it daunting to read very long threads or pay attention to numerous screens for hours.
It’s up to team leaders to figure out what means is suited for each task and to encourage team members to speak up when they feel overwhelmed. Urgent matters are best dealt with over a voice call while complex issues require written support.
Team building is possible (and advisable) with remote teams
While the general idea of team-buildings involved physical interaction, there are some rather surprisingly engaging options that the digital revolution has brought forth.
The best way to go about it is to ask people what they would prefer as a team-building activity and go with the most popular choice.
You can go for after-hours online drinks, virtual home office tours, show and tell activities, video charades, or even multiplayer games. The point is for the team members to interact in a non-work-related setting and enjoy themselves. You can find more ideas here.
Joint participation is the backbone of any team. Even though the necessity for remote work has been a great disruption, effective leaders will recognize the importance of nurturing continuous collaboration.
Graham is the CEO and Founder of CYPHER LEARNING and MATRIX. He is a serial entrepreneur, e-learning enthusiast, published author, and educator.