I’ve worked remotely for most of my career; as a designer, a developer, and now as a writer. I’ve also worked in an office, and I have to say that neither is more dynamic than the other — it’s about the individual effort you bring to the team and how effectively you include team members into the conversation.
Aside from carefully articulating your words, you also need to find ways to inspire informative, contextual, high-value responses that everybody in the team can benefit from.
Let’s take a look at 10 ways to ensure effective collaboration.
1. Be Available
Communication is the ultimate key to collaboration. More often than not, communication is nothing more than a simple question, a clarification, or a request for information. In a real office you would tip your head over your computer and simply speak to a colleague, but in remote teams it can be hard to determine if somebody is available, and in most cases, you’d likely forget about it and try to find an answer by yourself.
Your team should always try to use a core messaging app and remain “available” or “online”. You don’t have to be chatty at all times, but be available in case anybody else needs help.
2. Prepare Your Messages
You know that your time is valuable, so don’t forget that everybody else’s time is valuable too. Any time spent communicating is time spent not-working. One of the main reasons for “going remote” may have been to avoid meetings and have enough “alone time” to actually do some work — don’t waste those opportunities by sending vague messages back and forth.
Because we’re not having face-to-face conversations, and even more so because of timezone differences, we can receive responses to our communications hours later. Always offer the correct information and be clear about what you’re saying or asking; too much information is better than not enough information. Send images, code examples and source files to supplement your messages.
3. Communicate When Necessary
Like I said, communicating takes you away from actually doing work. Don’t use your core messaging app to chit-chat all day, and only ever include others in the conversation when it concerns them. Other team members don’t want to be CC’d into every email, every response and every sub-comment connected to it.
Instead of trying to “read” the room, communicate facial expressions verbally, or when messaging online, use emoticons so that everyone is confident about the overall vibe in the “room”.
4. Schedule Non-Work Related Hangouts
Working remotely can be lonely and it’s totally natural to want to engage in some normal, work-unrelated banter. However, it can be terribly counterproductive to open up the core dialogue to free discussion. Instead, schedule some time on Google Hangouts or Skype (at certain intervals in the day) to facilitate free, healthy discussions. It’s a bonding moment for the team too.
5. Use Apps That Make Communication Productive
Slack has made a significant impact on the future of team communication. Some, however, have said that the “always online” approach results in far too much communication and day-long meetings. I don’t think that’s Slack’s fault, but there certainly are drawbacks to look out for.
Making communication too accessible can result in fruitless back-and-forth conversations, but many apps these days have a way to set up integrations — Slack included. Essentially, this is a way of taking data from your favourite apps (Wunderlist, Trello, Dropbox, Zeplin, InVision — the list is endless) and including contextual information with your messages.
HipChat is another option to consider, which has a tonne of integrations as well.
6. Evaluate Collaboration Tools Together
Onboarding team members into core collaboration tools is a hefty task. Everybody has different tastes when it comes to tools, so it’s important to discuss which ones your team will be using. Don’t be biased towards tools that you already know how to use, but speak up if you feel a suggestion isn’t the right one.
If you’re forced to use tools that you simply can’t make heads or tails of, you’ll find yourself shying away from being included in team collaborations or falling back to the core messaging app, which will ruin the productivity of you and your team.
7. Assign Everyone a Project Management Role
Whether you’re a design team using InVision, a development team using JIRA, or a content creation team using Trello, every collaboration tool requires some upkeep. In an effort to keep team members involved, have everybody assigned to an ongoing task — this will help newcomers become familiar with the tools as well.
Here are some suggestions:
- Somebody to keep screens and files organised
- Somebody to maintain user/contact data
- Somebody to close and/or combine tasks
- Somebody to make sure that deadlines for tasks are being met
- Somebody to send out daily tips on how to use the tools
8. Make Sure Your Wi-Fi is Reliable
Excellent Wi-Fi is, of course, a necessity, but it’s often overlooked. Having a bad connection not only results in a lot of wasted time for yourself, but a delay in information for your teammates.
Wi-Fi needs to be reliable because:
- You might need to upload large files
- Your might need to do video calls
- You might need to be available all day
9. Use Meetings to Do, Not Talk About Doing
Perhaps the first topic of discussion when going remote is “how will we do meetings?”. Maybe you were hoping to avoid them altogether, but that’s rarely the case. A meeting can actually be incredibly energetic, but not if all you’re doing is talking about what you’re going to do, and what others are going to do.
You should leave each meeting with an actionable takeaway, something that can advance the team’s efforts towards the finish line. Plenty of conference call apps (like Skype) also offer screensharing; have one teammate note down the ideas in a drawing/annotation app such as Evernote Skitch and share it at the end.
10. Praise Everybody Individually
Saying “nice work team” is like saying “I love you” — after a while it becomes routine and loses its value. People’s confidence (and ultimately their level of collaboration) is higher when they’re assured that they’re doing the right thing; so, instead of applauding the entire team at once, make individual comments about your team members and explain what you liked about something they did, and how it helped you. Morale for the win!
Preparing, discussing and managing work can be as time consuming as actually doing work. Since time is money, it’s only natural that we should be constantly reevaluating our workflows, listening to our colleagues and communicating effectively.
If you have any tips of your own to add, feel free to share them in the comments below. Communication is key, right?