More and more professionals are being required to work from home. For many teams, this is an unprecedented event. They’ve suddenly gone from working together in a collaborative, face-to-face environment to remote parts of a team. It can be frustrating and challenging, but a few tips will help ensure that you can collaborate and work together just as seamlessly as if you were still in the same office.
Use the Right Tools
First and foremost, your team needs the tools for the job. Choosing the right software from the plethora of options out there can be hard, of course. There’s Trello for file sharing and task assignments. You can choose Slack for chat-like communication and other benefits. If you need video conferencing, you can go with Facetime (for Apple devices), or use Skype, and numerous other options. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to tools. It’s the choosing that matters. Look for software that:
- Fosters reliable, direct communication
- Duplicates in-office tasks in a virtual environment, such as file and document sharing
- Is secure enough that it doesn’t pose a security risk
- Is affordable (many options are free for personal accounts, but some require a fee for organizational use)
Have a Digital Water Cooler
A critical difference between in-office work and remote work is the lack of person-to-person engagement. In the office, workers can gather to talk and catch up with one another. So-called water cooler talk helps form stronger bonds between team members and ensures a more cohesive team overall. That is missing in the digital environment. A critical consideration for team collaboration is to have a digital water cooler where your team can chat, blow off steam, share jokes, and more.
Often, the collaboration tools you choose can also double as water-cooler space. For instance, Slack offers the ability for your team to chat with one another in real-time, which can help them bond, share jokes and memes and more. Slack’s just one option of many, though. The important thing is to provide the team with the ability to engage in small talk and create a sense of unity.
Focus on Communication
How often do you ask another team member a question during a normal workday in the office? We all need regular input from our team members to accomplish our tasks. Make that simple and easy by focusing on communication. Chat programs, including things like Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts, can simplify this. Focus on informal, direct communication between team members so that they can get their work done with a minimum of hassle.
However, don’t bombard one another with communication. Send an email, but don’t follow up by phone as well. Call a team member, but don’t try to micromanage by sending a text message, too. You need to strike a balance between clear, ongoing communication and over-communicating.
Let’s face it. Most meetings are just a waste of time. Sure, they promise to give you the ability to share information and make sure that the entire team is on the same page, but how much do you accomplish? How much time do your team members waste sitting in those meetings?
Limit meetings to what is truly important. Instead of having daily meetings, scale back to once per week. Also, remember that your remote team members probably have multiple other meetings during the week, so it may be wise to combine those where possible.
Check-In Daily Instead
While meetings might be a waste of time, there is still value in getting together to make sure everyone is on the same page and progressing appropriately, which is more important than ever in a remote environment. So, instead of regular meetings that might last an hour or two, opt for shorter daily check-ins.
These might be five or 10-minute mini-meetings where everyone shares a little bit of information about what they’re working on, how their project is progressing, have the chance to ask questions and get clarification, and more. Check-ins waste less time, build a sense of cohesion with remote workers, and help connect everyone.
For many teams, working remotely is very new. Team members are coming to grips with their new situation. Be flexible when dealing with most team-related situations. Understand that everyone on the team has a lot going on right now, particularly if they have school-age children at home who are transitioning to distance learning. Here are a few examples of how to be flexible:
- Understand that “regular work hours” probably won’t happen. Most of your team members will schedule work around other facets of life.
- Understand that staying in communication may mean something as simple as sending or replying to a text message.
- Understand that pets, children, delivery personnel, and other things will interrupt phone calls and video meetings.
Trust your team to uphold their responsibilities and meet deadlines without micromanagement. Take a deep breath and then step back. Flexibility is the only way to ensure that remote teams work.
Make Time for Fun
Working remotely may not be fun, but you can take steps to add a bit of enjoyment. Take the time to send one another jokes. Share music playlists. Encourage off-project discussions about lighthearted topics. No, you shouldn’t frivolously waste time, but it is important to bring a sense of normalcy to your new normal.
Celebrating might seem strange in a remote team, but it’s important. What should you celebrate? Anything and everything. Celebrate project milestones, but also birthdays and anniversaries. Tip your hat to fun national calendar days like National Pizza Day. Add in elements of fun to help make the new normal a little less daunting.
Working remotely is challenging. Remote collaboration is hard. There’s no denying those facts. However, with a little planning, the willingness to be flexible, and the ability to communicate with one another, there is no reason that remote workers cannot be just as effective as in-house teams, or even more so.