With more teams working remotely at least some of the time and the COVID-19 crisis expected to reshape how the world thinks about working, many teams are looking for ways to work together more effectively while being physically separate.
Here at Kissflow, we’ve discovered that our teams can operate well and be productive even when in-person collaboration is impossible. Your remote team can collaborate successfully as well.
Effective collaboration doesn’t happen by accident, but it doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. Here’s how to do it.
How to improve team collaboration?
1. Put people first
Your team members are your greatest asset, and it’s important to nurture a healthy company culture that values the people who make your business so great.
You already know that it’s important to appreciate and recognize individual contributions, both publicly and privately. Don’t forget to celebrate important events that happen outside of work as well. Things like birthdays, marriages, births, and personal achievements are worth celebrating, and by the same token, it’s important to extend sympathy and support when a team member experiences a personal tragedy. Acknowledging these events helps your team members connect on a personal level.
In addition to recognizing the individual lives of your team members outside of work, it’s important to create ways for coworkers to find common ground in things besides the projects they’re working on. In an office, this can happen fairly naturally as people chat in the breakroom or notice trinkets on one another’s desks.
Since remote teams don’t have the kind of casual interactions that take place in a physical space, they can suffer from affinity distance , which is emotional distance among colleagues who don’t have a personal relationship. One way to combat affinity distance is to create virtual spaces for interpersonal connections to take place.
For example, internally, we have a dedicated channel for artistic creations ranging from doodles to fine art to weekend craft projects. There’s nothing project-related on the channel. It exists purely to allow team members to share beautiful or funny or fun things they’ve created outside work.
2. Go old school
Remember when we used to use our phones to talk to people? Before texting, voicemails, emails, and apps, the telephone first allowed us to collaborate with one another across physical distance. While all those technological advances have their advantages, there’s still much to be said for actually hearing another person’s voice every now and then.
Old-fashioned voice calls are especially helpful when you’re first establishing a working relationship with a new team member or client. Getting to know someone’s speech patterns will help you better interpret what they’re saying via email or chat channel. A phone call is also useful when a written conversation seems to be taking longer than it should or you feel you’re being misunderstood. When written words fail, pick up the phone!
3. Get back to the future
Phone calls are great, but sometimes video calls are even better. While you don’t want to over-use them, video calls are ideal for certain kinds of group and one-to-one conversations.
With that in mind though, no one wants to sit through a Zoom call that could have been a quick message, so make sure your video calls are a good use of your team’s time. Here are some scenarios in which a video call is a good idea:
- To reconnect with the team and check in on a personal level. Remember to have some fun!
- When a chat exchange has become cumbersome. Sometimes video can save time by cutting out the back-and-forth of a complicated email thread.
- When a coworker or client becomes challenging. Seeing your face, as well as their own, may help de-escalate a heated conversation.
- When you need to brainstorm. Utilize your team’s collective creativity!
- To have a hard discussion or mediate a conflict. Seeing people’s faces reminds all parties that we’re all human.
- When you’re starting or ending a project. Motivate and celebrate!
4. Embrace the Digital Workplace
A digital workplace is a unified platform to manage all the daily activities of a typical business.
The fact that your team is physically separated does not mean they need to work in isolation. A good digital workplace provides a centralized, online location for your team to work together. Rather than utilizing a collection of disconnected apps, a digital workplace allows your team to log in to one digital space and access all the information and people they need to do their jobs well.
Here are some things to look for when choosing a digital workspace:
- A unified digital platform. It shouldn’t be hard to find things, and you shouldn’t have to use many tools outside the platform.
- Streamlined processes and projects. Your digital workspace should make work life easier, not more complicated.
- Elegant data management. Your team should be able easily to share, find, download, and update everything they need.
- Insights you can use. Customized reports help you utilize your data to identify areas of success and opportunities for improvement.
Of course, we think Kissflow is a great digital workplace. Our collaboration tools allow your team to store files, track projects, send and receive announcements, chat in context of a project or task with nested comments, and use flows to have ongoing discussions.
Whatever digital workplace you choose, make sure it’s intuitive and functional for your team. A good digital workplace will serve your team, contributing to a positive work environment and increasing employee satisfaction by eliminating frustration caused by clunky technology.
5. Establish communication norms
Choosing good tools is one piece of the puzzle, and you should think carefully about which platforms you use for email, chat, video, and digital workplace. You should simplify your communication streams to the smallest number that will allow your team to remain effective. Once you have the tools, you still need some rules.
As the leader of a remote team, it’s up to you to set the standard and the example for good communication.
First, establish expectations for what tools will be used for differing kinds of communication. Urgent messages may be sent via an instant messaging app, with the understanding that a response is needed quickly. Email might be a slightly lower priority, but still important. Ongoing group conversations such as those in Slack’s channels or Kissflow’s flows will be utilized with varying frequency depending on the topic; discussions about current projects should be checked frequently of course, whereas those based on extracurricular interests can be accessed as each team member chooses.
It’s also important to set expectations for the tone and level of formality in your team communications. Set the example of clear, respectful correspondence within the team and towards clients. Make sure to address any communication issues promptly and to admit your mistakes as well.
6. Iterate and Collaborate
Successful collaboration is a process. You and your team probably won’t get it all right the first time, and that’s ok. Keep an ongoing discussion about what’s working well and what could be better, and your team will collaborate its way to success.