Team Collaboration in a Remote World: 7 Top Tips

Strong team collaboration is the key to any successful business. Organisations effective in this area not only differentiate themselves from the competition, but also have more dedicated employees who are motivated to create their best work, thereby improving the performance of the entire enterprise. According to one study, collaborative teams are 5 times higher performing because they feel motivated towards a common goal.

The trouble is, achieving strong teamwork amid a pandemic is not easy. Workforces are continuing to be forced apart as the Government announces a strict Tier system across the country, and the distance is creating a barrier to effective teamwork. After all, how can you work together on projects and bounce ideas off one another without regular face to face contact?

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To achieve this in the past, reliance has heavily been on our physical surroundings as well as physical tools. From water coolers and board rooms, to post-it notes and white boards. Now that we are separated physically, collaboration is less about where we are, and more about how we connect, both on a human level and in a practical sense.

For the most part, modern technology has led the way in helping workforces maintain effective team collaboration despite at times, being miles or even continents apart. Many experts are forecasting a more cultural shift to this way of working after the pandemic, and therefore, collaborating – making it essential for organisations to perfect. However, technology aside, how else can you overcome the barrier of distance when trying to achieve strong team collaboration in a remote world?

The pandemic has forced us to rethink what it means to work as a team. In our blog, we discuss the keys to success in making remote teamwork work – both in terms of what modern tools you can implement to make the process easier and what strategies you can utilise to make it a success.

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Practice effective communication

Effective communication is one of the most common remote teamwork struggles, and it’s easy to see why – with your whole team scattered across locations, communicating with one another isn’t as simple as being able to walk to a colleague’s desk for an update or to discuss as project. Because of this, remote teams can often go days without speaking to one another. Then, by the time they actually speak again, things may have changed direction or progressed without certain members of the team knowing.

With remote teamwork, it is so important that a conscious effect is made by everyone to stay connected. For instance, individuals should endeavour to communicate not only 1:1 with specific team members but should also ensure they use group/team chats to keep everyone, including themselves in the loop.

These days, we are fortunate that the communication software available has many different avenues for communication to help achieve this. However, not all avenues are created equal – endless email threads with dozens of messages clogging an inbox will no doubt result in chaos. Instead, a communication platform such as Microsoft Teams is a far better option. It is driven by instant messaging and voice/video chat where all messages are saved in a clear format to reduce the possibility of confusion. It also allows users to speak 1 on 1 with anyone from their organisation as well as within a ‘Team’. You can find out more about the platform and how it has kept businesses working throughout the pandemic here.

Prioritise face-to-face communication

Face-to-face communication is an irreplaceable part of company culture. It portrays feelings that simply cannot be conveyed over instant message or voice call and helps to ensure colleague relationships are maintained. It’s no surprise that 92% of remote teams agree video communication and collaboration improves remote teamwork.

In order to ensure remote teamwork is a success, it is essential for face-to-face communication in the form of video calling to be prioritised over other avenues of communication. For example, team meetings should be conducted over video as much as possible and video calls to your fellow co-workers working remotely on a less formal basis are also heavily encouraged.

Even as early on as March in the pandemic, many businesses were already harnessing the power of using a video conferencing tool in their organisation. According to research, apps of this sort saw a record 62M downloads during one week in March. Two main players in this were Zoom and Microsoft Teams, both with equally impressive features that help strengthen remote teamwork. If you’re unsure what one is best for your business, check out our blog where we distil down both options here.

Establish rules and guidelines

When transitioning to a remote workforce, establishing a set of rules and guidelines will help set your team up for success. Without them, people may not know what is expected of them and, in turn, impact the effectiveness of their work.

While largely management like to set the rules, it is also beneficial to discuss these as a team so you know they are attainable. Make sure you base these around the way you communicate and collaborate for the best results, for example some organisations have a rule whereby all staff communication has to be done via video conference rather than telephone to encourage closer communication. Some other things you might want to include are listed below.

  • When to expect a response from co-workers working remotely
  • Use of messenger status to show when available to talk
  • Which communication channels team members should be available via and when
  • Establish team forums for communication strategies that include everyone
  • When team meetings are held
  • Use of mute button on mics when not speaking

Build TRUST

Trust is a big factor when it comes down whether remote teamwork is a success or not – this is both in terms of ensuring it between managers and employees, as well as between colleagues. Primarily, management need to ensure they show their teams they trust them. Then, from there, management will be able to support them in building trust amongst the one another.

So, how can teams and management build trust when they aren’t together physically?

The answer is transparency. Indeed, transparency comes hand in hand with building trust in remote teams. To promote this, we suggest using virtual boards and views to help with monitoring team progress. This way, managers don’t feel like they are constantly checking in and breathing down the necks of their staff. Instead, they can rest assured knowing that their team knows what they should be working on and when they should have those tasks done by.

Project Management tools such as Microsoft Planner, Asana and Trello are all great for this. They all provide comprehensive views and have features which help share the progression of tasks within a team / project. At the entrust IT Group we particularly favour Microsoft Planner due to its deep integration with Microsoft Teams and the rest of the Microsoft 365 suite. You can find out more about it here.

Employ collaborative tools

Collaboration is an integral component of any well-functioning workplace, and application of it is even more difficult without the right tools for remote workers. Fortunately, there are a number of resources available today that can be used by your remote workers to ensure effective collaboration in their daily operations.

Across the entrust IT Group, our staff use Microsoft 365. We have also implemented it for a number of our customers who have seen great results in their teams who have been working from home. The suite is full of useful productivity applications and it allows users to work together on documents in real-time. That means everyone who needs to contribute or edit a particular document, spreadsheet or presentation for a project, can do so on the same version one user has created – all that user needs to do is share the link with appropriate individuals. 

With collaborative tools like this, collaboration among your teams working remotely is now easier and more accessible than ever.

A clear common purpose

When workers are separated physically, ensuring team alignment around company mission, values and goals is vital for good team collaboration. This is because it helps your staff know where to direct their collective focus, and how they should prioritise what they work on as a team. Consider running monthly face-to-face meetings to discuss the company strategy with you team and how you are all contributing to it.

“Aligned workers, we found, are those who feel connected to their company’s vision and strategy. Equipped with this insight into the bigger picture, they approach their work with optimistic purpose and feel empowered to take action.” comments a report by Slack on the state of work today. “When people understand how their work fits into the larger whole, organizations can tackle even the most difficult challenges.”

Include everyone!

Last but not least, managers need to make sure they reach out and speak to all of the team members. Strong collaboration depends of the inclusion of every team member and their strengths, so touching base with every team member is crucial for success. No one should be forgotten about, but instead, a solid support network should be there for everyone.

Furthermore, this is a challenging time for us all, and the change and uncertainty of the pandemic has most definitely created a strain on the mental health of many of us, as has the virus on the physical health of many as well. Some may be impacted more than others so by reaching out, managers are also showing they understand this is a life-changing time in people’s lives.

Scheduling weekly 1:1’s is a great way of connecting with everyone on your team in a way that doesn’t feel too formal. They not only stop larger issues festering, but allow for regular feedback and encourages open communication.

Conclusion

In life, people rely on regular face-to-face interaction, but the fatal flaw of many remote teams is that they ignore this fact. Without continuous communication in the form of video calling, teams will become unfocused, isolated and productivity will drop. The key to sustained success with team collaboration in a remote world is to have a clear common purpose, set rules and guidelines, include everyone through regular effective communication and prioritise face-to-face communication. Furthermore, organisations will need to employ the right communication software and collaborative tools as per their specific needs to ensure remote teamwork remains both practical and productive.

If your team utilises these tactics and tools, they can maintain productivity and stay engaged while in a remote environment throughout the pandemic and in the future.

At the entrust IT Group, we have been able to assist a number of our customers so far with the tools necessary for strong team collaboration, even while staff are dispersed across the country. Many of them had never worked in this way before the pandemic. However, after it being such a success through the implementation of Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams, some are contemplating this as a more permanent work arrangement for their staff in a post-pandemic world. Please get in touch if you think you too could benefit from our help – one of our experienced consultants would be happy to chat things through.

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