How to Collaborate Productively When Your Team is Remote

Working Remotely

Want to boost motivation, productivity, and innovation? Get your virtual team on the same page with the 8 remote team collaboration strategies in this guide.

Is remote team collaboration an oxymoron?

Collaboration typically takes a group of employees brainstorming, working on, and tracking projects together. But it can be challenging to accomplish this when everyone’s working in different states, countries, or even time zones.

However, as more businesses continue to work virtually due to COVID-19, it’s essential for managers to learn how to collaborate effectively if your team is remote. 

According to one Stanford study of over 1,000 companies, collaborative teams are five times as likely to perform at the highest level [*]. Plus, that research also shows team members are more motivated when collaborating than when working solo.

So if you want to better manage a high-performing remote team, consider trying a few of these remote collaboration best practices:

1. Establish a Centralized Hub with Virtual Project Management and Remote Collaboration Tools

Remote collaboration tools are a no-brainer for virtual teams. This centralized hub will provide team members with everything they need to collaborate, accomplish their work, and stay in touch, no matter where they’re clocking in for the day. 

The best remote collaboration tools and project management software includes:

These tools allow your team to share files, ask questions, leave comments, and track progress in this integrated workflow as if everyone’s working in the same room together.

As a remote manager, your job is to update each project with:
  • Team member assignments
  • What’s expected of team members
  • Deadlines for deliverables
  • Resources, such as documents, spreadsheets, client information, etc.

Monitoring projects and comments will help you stay in the loop without micromanaging. 

2. Create Asynchronous Communication Guidelines

Synchronous communication is the norm in the traditional business world, which forces employees to respond to messages as soon as they’re received. However, asynchronous communication allows employees to reply in a timely manner when it’s most convenient or productive for them to do so.

As we discussed in our guide on using asynchronous communication, this model gives your team space to work. They can focus during uninterrupted chunks of time without breaking their productivity or flow to reply to a distracting message. And you can avoid micromanaging. 

Remote managers will need to let their teams know which channels to use for specific types of communication, including:
  • The company’s default modes of communication (email, video call, Slack, etc.)
  • Which channel/tool should be used and when
  • Whether teammates or supervisors need to be copied on messages
  • How often you/they will be expected to check-in on a communication channel
  • How to communicate/respond if something is urgent

Now, virtual team collaboration can’t wait days for a reply. So you’ll want to establish an expected response time for all types of communication tools you use. You may set a five-hour response window for messages in your project management software or an EOD deadline for Slack and email messages, for example.

This ensures your team can respond with thoughtful answers without delaying the project or slowing down others. 

Read next: 3 Communication Examples that Strong Remote Teams Always Implement

3. Find an Overlapping Communication Window

Even though asynchronous communication should be your norm, lots of collaboration magic happens when the whole team pow-wows together.

Bad news: It’s almost impossible to get everyone together in the same place at the same time, especially when your remote teams expand globally. Even if your team is working remotely due to COVID-19, you may all live in the same time zone, but that doesn’t mean you’re all keeping the same work hours.

So it’s crucial to figure out when you can snag these precious moments.

Remote managers must ask their teams about their work hours, and then compile a spreadsheet of this information to find the overlapping time slots. Ask each team member:

  • Which time zone they work in
  • What hours/schedule they plan to work each day/week
  • Which hours are “do not disturb times”

This intel will make it much easier to schedule teams for meetings and touch base with everyone equally.

4. Try to Minimize Video Meetings

Though virtual meetings over Zoom or Skype have their time and place, you shouldn’t make them the norm. Why? Because they’re a giant productivity killer. And Zoom fatigue is real.

You can convey almost everything your team needs to know using project management tools and messaging apps (i.e., utilize asynchronous communication).

On the other hand, video chats provide a connection between teams so everyone can get to know the humans behind the screens. Visual cues like body language and facial expressions reduce the potential for miscommunication so you can have effective, focused discussions and collaboration.

In our guide on the best practices for leading effective virtual team meetings, we discussed why you should:

  • Reserve video calls for only when they’re absolutely necessary. You may want to use video calls for project kick-offs to get everyone on the same page right from the start. You may also use them for post-mortems to give kudos or discuss what went wrong/should have gone better.

  • Send out an agenda beforehand. This will help guide your meeting so it stays on track and productive. It also tells everyone what to expect so they can write questions or research talking points ahead of time.

When used sparingly, remote communication tools like Zoom and Skype can be an effective outlet for everyone to share ideas, think as a collective, and make key decisions as a team.

5. Encourage Active Brainstorming

In a traditional office setting, brainstorming may occur when everyone meets around a giant conference table with a whiteboard and a stack of donuts. Remote teams can also brainstorm like this via virtual conference software (see tip #4). 

However, you may want to take your brainstorming sessions up a notch by adding a bit of movement. 

Skip the video call and send everyone a pair of wireless earbuds. Encourage them to take the call while they’re outside on a walk, lifting light weights, climbing stairs, stretching, etc. 

Now, this isn't’ the time for HIIT exercises or boot camp. No one should be out of breath or distracted. But science shows:

  • Sitting is the new smoking [*]. Your remote team needs to get up and move when they’re glued to their computers for several hours each day. You may even want to set a daily step goal for your team to reach as another way of encouraging team-building and a culture of self-care simultaneously. 

  • Exercise boosts happiness, lowers stress, and lifts moods [*], which is especially helpful for remote workers struggling with loneliness and feelings of isolation. 

  • Light activity increases creativity, mental performance, and both divergent and convergent thinking [*][*]. These are the most essential components of a high-performing, ultra-collaborative remote team.

These active sessions will disrupt the “normal” way of doing things to reinvigorate your team with fresh ideas.

6. Rotate Team Members for Different Projects

One of the best aspects of having a virtual team is connecting employees from different backgrounds and experiences. A diverse team brings multiple perspectives to the table and helps generate true innovation.

So rather than keeping the same team members assigned to similar projects, try to mix up teams to see what occurs as a result. Consider who might work best together or whose skills and experiences would make for an interesting, exciting collaboration.

Send each team an icebreaker before their project begins. Teammates can introduce themselves and get more comfortable or familiar with each other’s work styles, strengths, weaknesses, etc. 

As more teams get paired up down the line, everyone will have a chance to learn more about each other and strengthen overall team cohesiveness. 

7. Create Time for Team Bonding

Your team members may not be near each other, but their closeness can affect how well they collaborate together. So remote managers should use online team building activities to help virtual employees feel more connected and less isolated. This may then boost participation and engagement.

At a minimum, you should create non-work-related Slack channels to mimic the discussions employees used to have around the ol’ office watercooler. 

But you may also want to try scheduling and hosting:
  • Monthly virtual lunches
  • Virtual home/office tours
  • Furbaby Friday (all pets welcome!)
  • Happy Hours or Coffee Hours
  • [Trending TV show or movie] discussions 
  • Virtual movie nights
  • Celebrations for birthdays and promotions
  • Online multiplayer gaming/live competitions 

Try asking your team for their ideas and suggestions too. These will all help your team better connect, keep communication strong, and build team bonding. As your team gets closer and knows each other better, collaborating will seem easier and more natural.

8. Always Track and Celebrate Project Milestones

Once you set objectives for your team, it’s essential to use your project management software to track all the milestones they achieve. This reduces the need to micromanage and recognizes team members for the work they accomplished together.

This can be as simple as praising and tagging a team member in your general Slack channel. But if you want to take your kudos to the next level, take a cue from GitHub. They created a separate channel in Slack called the #toasts-forum

via giphy

Here, team members are encouraged to share accomplishments and significant milestones while the rest of the crew gets to toast them. Employees can take a selfie toast or reply with a toast-worthy gif.

This type of recognition from the top goes a long way to further motivation, collaboration, and momentum. And praise from peers helps build strong bonds between teammates. It’s a real win/win.

Time To Put Your Remote Team Collaboration Tips Into Action

It’s not easy to balance managing yourself while supporting your remote team. But these remote team collaboration tips will help encourage teamwork and foster a more cohesive, connected remote work environment. 

Still looking to build your remote team? Post a job on We Work Remotely, the largest remote work community in the world. With over 2.5M monthly visitors, talented employees know WWR is the #1 destination to find incredible remote jobs like yours. 

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