While some might argue that remote team collaboration is impossible, the truth is that people don't have to be in the same place to work together.
Take, for example, the ambitious Human Genome Project, which involved a remote team of scientists from six countries. This virtual team of scientists successfully mapped out the human DNA sequence two years ahead of schedule and at a lesser cost than estimated.
If a remote team of scientists can collaborate virtually and achieve such a feat with limited technology, imagine what your team can do with all the remote work tools we have today!
Not sure how to get started? Here are 5 tips from virtual teams to help your team collaborate across borders.
5 tips to help your team collaborate remotely
The key to overcoming remote collaboration challenges is regularly checking in with your team, encouraging them to communicate with each other (even if it's not about work), and rewarding them as they reach milestones.
1. Centralize your communications
The first port of call for building successful remote collaboration is to centralize your communications.
“Communication can be hard for any team, but asynchronous communication adds another layer of complexity, says Anna Yang Burgess, former director of customer success at a fintech company. “Some people would use email, some would send chat messages, while others would post in our project management tool. Or, in some cases, a few employees would hop on a call and make a decision, but then it wasn't documented anywhere for the rest of the team. Digging back through multiple tools to find communication was cumbersome. ”
To avoid sorting through different tools to stay up to date with what's happening and how things are progressing, she suggests setting “parameters around communication.” In her position as manager, Burgess laid out what type of communication belonged in different tools.
Don’t expect everyone to remember to send messages to the right channels all the time. It might take time to centralize communications. “I would gently remind employees of our parameters and redirect them to the appropriate tool,” she explains. “For example, if I got a DM and thought that the discussion needed more visibility, I'd say, ‘Hey, can you repost this in our project management tool, and I'll respond there so everyone can see it?’"
The key to centralizing your communications is to make technology work for your team, not against it. You should avoid using the latest tool or trend just for the sake of it, and stick to a tech stack that reflects how your team works best.
2. Reward team members for a job well done
Once the day-to-day challenges of a project set in, it can be a constant battle to keep a remote team on the same page. To ensure everyone stays inspired and motivated to hit their targets, team leaders should make a point of not only recognizing, but of rewarding, collaborative efforts and achievements.
While it’s great to single out and recognize a team member for their achievements, it's important to invite their colleagues to recognize their achievements as well as peer recognition helps to build and cement strong bonds between team members.
Remote collaboration tools can help achieve this without taking up a ton of time. For example, using Float, project owners can create milestones within a project to call out accomplishments.
However, there's a difference between setting milestones and rewarding them.
Software development company Atlassian uniquely rewards their remote team collaboration efforts using its Employee Kudos program.
For remote workers located around the world, this type of quirky activity provides a connection to colleagues and ingrains the company's culture.
3. Create teamwork opportunities
It's hard to collaborate when the opportunities for teamwork simply don't exist.
Creating situations where your team has the opportunity to collaborate—like proactively scheduling meetings and discussions—can make all the difference.
Communication like this doesn't have to be strictly related to work either. Isolation can become a problem for anyone working remotely, so creating a way for teams to communicate outside of milestones and agendas is super important. Encouraging your team to chat in an off-topic channel is a way for them to build relationships with each other—virtually!
The crew over at MetaLab makes the most out of their 100% remote team by communicating through feedback loops and standing meetings to collaborate effectively. They take their virtual collaboration so seriously, that they even have their Christmas party over Zoom!
At Float, there’s a #general Slack channel for team-wide communication and announcements, that may or may not be work-related. It's a quick way to share what everyone is reading, a Friday "lol", or banter about your favorite coffee maker!
Sharing coffee makers in Float's #general Slack channel
4. Keep asking questions
The best way to keep your finger on the pulse is to always keep the lines of communication open with your team.
If you're worried that your remote team isn't engaged and collaborating as they should be, try using questions to open up a conversation like:
- What do you need help with today, this week, or this month?
- Is there anything in your work affecting or frustrating you?
- Are you clear on what you should be working on right now? If not, what do you want to discuss so it's crystal clear?
- Looking back on the day/week, can you find any part of it that could have gone better?
- Is there anyone you want to get to know better on the team? How about setting up a time to chat with them virtually?
Apart from asking questions, 1:1 check-ins are crucial for team leaders to figure out where their staff are at mentally. 1:1 meetings can help you break down the barrier between you and team members, and allow you to:
- Build a trusting relationship
- Stay informed about their mindset and well-being
- Give (and receive) feedback to help you both grow
- Uncover and address topics that might've been lurking under the surface
Don’t be afraid to get a little personal. Temitayo Ogunnoiki, operations manager at Zedi Africa, connects with his team members regularly and “talks about topics other than work.”These conversations help him build trust and show that he cares about their well-being outside work.
5. Don't forget about time zones (and that your employees have a life outside of work!)
A remote team gives you access to talent across the globe, but you also need to consider the different time zones in which team members live.
Not considering your team's time zones can make the timelines of even minor or straightforward projects go off the rails. If your team is spread out across the globe, it's unavoidable that some members will be waking up way too early or staying up way too late, just to participate in discussions.
This can leave team members feeling like they're being treated unfairly or that they're less valuable as a whole. Not ideal!
Vartika Kashyap, chief marketing officer at Proofhub, suggests managers should consider time zones when assigning tasks to avoid such situations. Team members with complementing skill sets in the same time zones can be assigned to the same project so they can collaborate in real-time.
Using a collaboration tool can help put a lid on this problem. With the Figure It Out (FIO) app, you can choose which time zones you want to add, and at a glance see what time it is where your team lives. Using Float, you can also automatically import public holidays to your team’s calendars. This stops you from accidentally scheduling a project on what seems like a random Thursday in July in Australia, but is actually Independence Day in the U.S.
Finally, remember that while technology potentially gives you 24/7 access to your team, it doesn't mean they're available 24/7. Don't expect your team members to be online and replying to every message all the time. "Team members are also never pressured to attend meetings outside their working hours," says Kashyap.
They might find it challenging to relax and recharge if they are working around the clock.
Manage your team's availability on autopilot
Float is a resource management software with powerful capacity planning features that helps to automate managing team availability. Set custom work days and hours, add time off, import public holidays, schedule future point-in-time availability, and sync with Google or Outlook calendar.Try for free
Distance is no problem with the right tools
Successful remote collaboration requires us to assess and change how our team works together. It might mean setting new rules for communication, being mindful of time zones when setting meetings, or encouraging team members to solve a problem together instead of going solo. While these might not seem easy, they are necessary to help your remote team work together.
And don't forget, the right communication and collaboration tools can make all the difference in the world when it comes to remote work. After all, they are this decade’s boardroom, water cooler, and whiteboard planner—except they're on your screen.