How to collaborate effectively if your team is remote

Emily Hackeling

Emily Hackeling,

Content Marketing at Front

17 September 20200 min read

Hint: Another collaboration tool won’t solve it.

When you’re with your team in person, there’s a lot that doesn’t need to be put into a rigid structure or perfectly documented. You can just get together, talk it out, and everyone’s clear on next steps.

In the world of remote work, this is not so. Many teams that had no clear collaboration processes in person were faced with glaring problems. The obvious solution? Throw a new collaboration tool at it.

We’ll be the first to say, collaboration tools can be simply wonderful and absolutely essential to your life, like a silky smooth bar of Cadbury or an oaky bottle from Robert Mondavi’s reserves. But unlike chocolate or wine, with collaboration tools, less is most definitely more. You’re not getting work done when you’re updating 12 apps with your tasks and due dates half the day.

We’ll come right out and say it: Getting remote collaboration right means forging strong communication processes, not just throwing more tools at your team.

With the remote collaboration methods below, you can build strong communication for your team so that collaborating on projects becomes natural even while you’re staring at a computer screen. (And unlike buying more collaboration software licenses, these ideas are free!)

Draw up an internal communication guide for what should be communicated over what platform

A big issue teammates run into, especially when they’re new to a team, is understanding how they should communicate, and in what tool. You’ve got email. You’ve got chat. You’ve got documents where you can comment on things. You’ve got Zoom for meetings …And I’m just trying to ask where I can find a logo png??? Sweat runs down your face and suddenly a quick question becomes a wild goose chase that unintentionally wasted the time of 5 other teammates.

Our solution to this problem at Front is a simple Guide to Productive and Effective Communication. Every new teammate can read through it, and it’s linked in our handbook for people to reference. It gives a framework (which you can see below) to help people decide: “How should I ask this question to get an answer fastest, not waste time, and make good relationships with my teammates?”

Create multiple outlets of communication to be inclusive of those with different collaboration styles

When it comes to remote collaboration, it’s important to understand that you can assume nothing about how people like to manage their remote work life. Not everyone will be comfortable writing up their feedback in a novelette email or Slack message. Don’t force the Zoom call if the Google Doc works best. Or maybe plain old phone works better — face to face is great, but it doesn’t have to be everyone’s cup of tea.

As a leader, you need to put multiple methods of feedback in place so that individuals feel comfortable giving feedback and working together. A few options to make available:

  • A Front internal discussion or a Slack group for your project team to collaborate and ask questions in

  • An anonymous Google Form for submitting team feedback about a project (make sure to un-check “Collect email” in the form)

  • A weekly office hours over Zoom for anyone of the team to jump into and toss ideas around

  • A regular old Google Doc of inspiration where people are welcome to throw images, quotes, resources, etc

Assess your micromanagement tendencies to lead with trust instead

It’s important to lead with trust when your team is remote. Fully remote company Doist knows a thing or two about effective remote collaboration, and according to their approach, micromanagement destroys trust between teammates, and particularly between teammates and leaders. They provided questions for staying self-aware and assessing your own micromanagement tendencies:

  • What excuses am I making to justify micromanaging this person?

  • What is preventing me from seeing the bigger picture?

  • What is the current status of the employee’s work in question?

  • What’s my impetus for wanting this person to be online?

Implement one-on-one meetings between your direct reports

One-on-ones are a tried-and-true method for getting closer to your direct reports, but if you’re trying to collaborate effectively when your team is remote, you might want your team to start doing these meetings with one another, too. Give your team questions to ask to run an effective one-on-one meeting, and let them take it from there. If weekly feels like too much, suggest every other week.

Start brainstorms with a creative virtual game

When you’re leading a brainstorm session, it’s always a good idea to get people’s creative juices flowing. And when you’re trying to lead a brainstorm while staring at a gallery of heads on a computer screen, you’ll probably need that little extra creativity nudge even more. Try starting out your a brainstorms with a virtual game to help your remote team socialize. A few good ones include:

  • A quiz game on

  • A virtual murder mystery (yes, this exists)

  • An emoji-guessing game (everyone submit, and then vote on who it belongs to)

  • A photo-guessing game (everyone submit a photo and chat about it before the meeting)

How we promote effective remote collaboration here at Front

CEO Mathilde Collin wrote up the 25 initiatives we implemented to keep a collaborative culture while remote. They range from silly quick events like Skincare Fridays to a 24/7 Zoom Room. Our Workplace Experience Manager Harper Casimiro wrote up Front’s Guide to Successful Remote Work, a combination of employee expectations, health and mindfulness tips, and pointers for remote team leaders.

Written by Emily Hackeling

Originally Published: 17 September 2020

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