How to Collaborate Remotely

Working from home workspace with a computer for Ukhuni

Employees the world over are turning their spare rooms into home offices and employers keep asking how to collaborate with their teams effectively while working remotely. Collaborating remotely doesn’t come naturally when we are used to simply walking over to our teammate’s desk and asking them a quick question. When you’re not in the same building, each little question, check-in, or greeting has to be an email, an instant message, video call or a phone call. So how do we collaborate remotely?

Clear Communication

Yep, that one simple task which is incredibly difficult to achieve at the best of times, quickly becomes a mammoth task when your team is collaborating remotely. In text, our tone and nuances are easily lost and what may be intended as humour or a concise brief can quickly turn into a misunderstanding.

Email Etiquette

Some employees prefer to include pleasantries in their emails and personalise them as a show of respect to the person reading them, others prefer to keep them short for the sake of time. The trouble is that communication too far on either side of the spectrum may lose the essence of the message.

  • There are some ways around this, the first is getting to know our colleagues and the way they prefer to communicate. Each person is different, some are more friendly, others more concise. A bit of leeway and understanding go a long way.
  • The second is the use of simple shorthand and emojis when necessary to communicate something clearly. Something as simple as stating NNTR (no need to reply) can keep things short and save time. An emoji now and then helps convey the mood and tone of the email because the reader has no facial expression or body language to rely on.
  • The third way to communicate effectively over email is to take the time to think through and double-check our emails before sending them off. It is better to over-explain a brief than to leave it to chance and encounter problems down the line.
  • The last way to ensure your emails are polite, professional, and clear is to use a tone detector. There are a few such websites and software which offer a tone detector. Grammarly has a free version which works automatically in your browser. This nifty tool will detect whether your email is friendly or not, to help you avoid any awkwardness.

Use All the Technology

For the more traditional team members, getting the hang of new software and setting up an ergonomic home office with a spare screen, keyboard and laptop riser may be somewhat challenging. It is important however to make sure no one gets left behind. Once everyone is on the same page, defining protocols, and installing the right software is essential as aspect of your remote collaboration tools.

Video Calls

Your team should settle on video conferencing software, whether it is Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Team, or Google Meet, everyone needs to get on board and use the same software. Video calls are easily the most transparent way for team members to communicate and collaborate remotely. When we see each other’s faces and body language, it’s easier to empathise, build rapport and clarify misunderstandings.

Team collaboration through video calls

Project Management Software

Effective project management need not be a nightmare when collaborating remotely. Next, you need to select project management software. This way each team member can see exactly who is busy with what, how far they are, what needs to be done still, and put it all into the context of the project timeline. Introducing such new protocols requires a regimented approach because, for it to be successful, everyone needs to use the software. This software helps cut down on unnecessary emails, ensure transparent management of projects, keep everything organised, and ensure clear goals and objectives.

Next comes instant messaging and group discussion platforms. Software such as Slack can be used for less formal communications where group and one-on-one threads can be easily managed and used to catch up or get hold of someone at a moments notice.

Other software which is helpful for managers and team leaders is performance monitoring software. This software helps keep tabs on when and your team members productivity. This way, you can see where team members are struggling and where they might need some assistance. Remember, when we work remotely, no one is locking up the office and kicking you out in the evenings and many employees may overwork themselves. Such software provides much-needed leadership support which is helpful when teams are working remotely.

With all these channels for communication, it can be easy to bombard your team members with calls, messages, and emails. But if you abuse these access points, your team may become anxious and uncomfortable, which will negatively affect their productivity. In between admin, work still needs to be done and with clear communication through the appropriate channels, such as the project management software, there is no need for constant, distracting, and fruitless communication.

Virtual Team Building

Connecting with teammates is incredibly difficult when there’s no coffee machine, or water cooler. When we are collaborating remotely, we are absorbed in our work. We may have temporary distractions, but those distractions rarely come in the form of chit chat with our team. It turns out, that chit chat goes a long way to building morale, getting to know each other, and working cohesively. This can be remedied by introducing some virtual team-building exercises such as quizzes and online games which can be played together.

Virtual team building

A Personal Touch

Connecting on a personal level through team building helps ease the stress of the project at hand and give employees some reprieve. It is essential however to ensure that blocking off this time does not interfere with workloads and deadlines. If there is never time for such activities, or if your team has to work overtime to accommodate them, they are most likely overworked and overcapacity. This never bodes well for morale and staff retention especially when they are collaborating remotely.

Collaborating remotely is essential these days. When you get it right though, your team will thrive, and you won’t look back. Once everyone has their home office set up, their software installed, and a good team leader, you’re golden!