Without face-to-face interactions, collaboration can be a challenge in remote work. In its stead are virtual meetings, which The New Yorker dubs as “a diminished simulacrum of the conference-table gatherings that drive so much of corporate life.” In other words, virtual meetings cannot approximate the richness of in-person interactions. Spontaneous hallway conversations, ‘water cooler’ talk, and simply seeing another coworker are the kinds of interactions that can’t be simply replicated online. However, with the right tools and leadership, remote collaboration is possible. We’ve outlined a few ways to help:
1. Foster teamwork
As discussed in “4 Keys to Successful Teamwork,“ effective collaboration is critical to an organization’s success. Aside from increased productivity and enhanced morale, teamwork ensures all members are in sync with one another, making it easier to work together.
In order to foster teamwork, it’s important to cultivate a culture of open communication where everyone is encouraged to say what they think, share their ideas, ask questions, and chime in their suggestions. You can best do this by institutionalizing a virtual open-door policy in which you give everyone the same platform to air out whatever is on their mind. You can, for instance, have a dedicated group chat for different topics such as suggestions, grievances, and friendly banter. Schedule regular team chats where you give the virtual floor to each team member so they can speak up and add their ideas.
2. Leverage digital communication
To collaborate remotely, communication is vital. Content writer April Thomas recommends using simple and straightforward means of communicating that can keep everyone connected through private messaging, news feeds, and video and audio calls.
You have plenty of options in this regard, including Hangouts, Flock, and Slack. All three offer the aforementioned features and more, with Hangouts and Slack, in particular, being widely used. Tech Republic explains in its review of Slack that the platform helps simplify communication and increases productivity through features such as the Astrobot, which generates notifications and important announcements for everyone in the team. Hangouts, on the other hand, has seamless integration with more than 50 apps, including the entire G Suite (Google Docs, Calendar, etc.), as well as the Smart Reply feature that makes typing messages easier.
3. Take advantage of the cloud
You’ll also need the cloud, an internet-enabled server that your team can use as online storage. Everyone on the team can save files on the cloud, then access the same files when needed. This ensures that everyone on the team uses the same set of applications, and are then able to open (and save) the same set of files, too. Fortunately, there are a lot of tools that can enhance cloud-based collaboration, such as cloud content management tools. Box outlines how cloud content management enables seamless file sharing, storage, and organization, and even allows multiple people to work on a document both simultaneously and remotely. This allows a team to work together on the same files without the need to work in the same physical space. Needless to say, do get your team in on the cloud right away, so they can better collaborate with ease.
4. Establish communication norms
A Harvard Business Review post about effective remote collaboration notes that predictability is highly sought-after at work, especially in virtual collaborations. That’s because consistent behaviors serve as predictors for future actions, which can help team members understand one another better.
To ensure predictability, you’ll need to introduce new norms that will make communication simple, clear, and straightforward. Using a solitary communication app is an example of starting new norms, and you can add more, like coming up with team-specific acronyms for digital communication, such as NNTR (No Need to Respond) and 4HR (4-Hour Response). You can also establish the tone and formality of language to be used in specific instances. For instance, write in formal language for official correspondences and emails, and then require everyone to follow suit. In contrast, allow for a level of informality in group chats, and encourage everyone to do the same. You must clarify as well when you expect everyone to be online, so the team can talk with everyone present.
5. Socialize online
Finally, keep in mind that teams work better when there’s a sense of community and belonging. This is why socialization and casual friendships are vital in traditional offices, as they are a way for the staff to bond, connect with one another, and reinforce their notion of a team. Remote work, however, can cut those moments off, leaving everyone feeling isolated.
You can prevent that from happening by encouraging virtual socialization through communication platforms like Zoom, which allows multiple users to participate in a video conference. Then you can initiate game nights, or facilitate informal group chats to check in on everyone.
Remote work may be the future, but the fundamentals of work will not change. It is therefore up to business leaders to adapt to the new norm in order to foster a productive workforce.