How to Embrace Collaboration in Remote Work

April 20, 2020
Hannah Svendor

As teams shift more business operations from physical to digital, learn how to embrace collaboration in remote work.

Culture & News

Recent world events have forced many businesses to change how they operate, with some of those changes likely to stick around post-social distancing, including remote work. With teams pressured and challenged to creatively stay connected, businesses are undergoing transformational changes and finding new opportunities to embrace remote work that they didn’t before. This shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise, though.

Remote work is something we’ve seen an influx of businesses take advantage of more over the last few years. In fact, according to a 2020 analysis by FlexJobs, flexible scheduling and work policies have increased by 159% between 2005 and 2017. And as teams continue to drive business from their homes, what was once a perk for employees will become a standard or expected from most.

As a company composed of digital talent, remote work has been part of our company culture and normal day to day for quite some time now. Like many other industries, web design and development are a highly collaborative effort, so we understand the challenges remote work introduces. From design reviews and project check-ins to cross-functional feedback and hand-offs, mastering working from home is really all about finding the right tools and best practices to stay productive and connected. As teams reach their first month remote, here’s how our team stays synchronized, creative, and collaborative no matter where we are.

Identify your digital tools and architecture

Before you can foster any collaboration, you need to have the tools to do so. Adopting a more remote infrastructure may mean picking up new tools or finding new ways to effectively extend or maximize current technologies. Recognize what business challenges being remote presents, brainstorm how you can mitigate disruption with tools you already have, and identify what gaps need to be addressed.

Take this opportunity to secure infrastructure, migrate business operations to the cloud, and offload digital tasks or processes where it makes sense. While you assess tool functionality and vendor capabilities, understand how it will make your team’s life easier and enable cross-functional collaboration and operations for the business.

A solid communication tool, like Slack and Microsoft Teams, becomes invaluable for keeping teams connected and offer a suite of integrations for platforms and solutions you already use or will pick up as you transition remote. Consider tools for video chat, sharing and storing files, cloud computing, project management, time management, password sharing and protection, and other business operations.

Once you’ve got your tools in order…

Establish a standard for digital processes and procedures

Two common challenges organizations face as they relate to digital is technical debt and adoption. Having the right technology can only be as useful as it is implemented and regulated. Consider how each team will use tools internally among the organization and, if applicable, externally among partners, prospects, and customers.

Document and communicate the expectations for how tools will and won’t be used. Grant exclusive access, hold trainings, and share how-to videos for any tools, processes, and procedures that are new or have changed. When there is overall consensus on standards and practices for how technology is used in greater service to the business, you better enable your team’s productivity and operational efficiencies. Ensure you have a solid, documented plan how you will roll out new tools or restructure processes and procedures that must be made remote-capable, including who in the company “owns” and governs those tools and processes.

While we’re starting to talk about a plan…

Communicate early and often

Being remote removes the advantage of having your co-worker next to you to chat or the ability to walk across the office for a quick question. Encourage open and over-communication with instant messaging and video chat tools to shorten the physical distance. A quick message or call combats lengthy email threads and allow for easy conversation. Plus, you can create channels based on team members, projects, among any other ways you desire.

While these tools promote it already, reassure and encourage your team to reach out when they feel uncertain or for a quick update. Better yet, reach out early and often to ensure everyone is on the same page. Schedule regular check-ins, and if appropriate, document any meetings, interviews, notes, and research in a well-known place for everyone to have access to. Whether it be 1:1, a small team or the whole company, encourage and practice communicating often as it’s one of the biggest disconnects of being remote.

On the topic of staying connected…

Share, show, tell, and be seen

Chat and video conferencing tools allow you to share files or your real-time screen with others, making it easier to walk through a design, review a document, share ideas, or complete an exercise. Using cloud-based tools to store, share, and work on files in real-time is a great way for projects to take on a new dynamic and enable cross-collaboration.

Video chat removes another barrier to collaboration by encouraging everyone in meetings and check-ins to turn on their video. This also allows everyone to get more context from others on feedback by hearing their tone of voice and being able to see facial reactions. Since Slack and Microsoft Teams have integrations for a lot of different tools like Zoom video conferencing or JIRA project management, you can customize a suite tailored totally to you and your team to enable stronger collaboration and connectedness.

While we’re talking about staying connected…

Let your culture shine through

While there’s nothing like being all together in the same room, you don’t need to be physically together to create a strong sense of community and culture. Back at our office, the kitchen is where all the unofficial, off-topic conversations happen. And while that may not seem important, it becomes an integral part of how team members bond outside of work and create trust between each other.

Leverage the communication tools you have to promote just that! Post quirky questions in channels, reserve time for social purposes, and block the first few minutes of meetings for team building exercises or just to catch up. This can ease some of the isolation we all may be feeling working from home full-time or connecting with teammates we don’t normally work with day-to-day.

What was once a perk will now become an integral part of everyday work ethic. As teams shift more business operations from physical to digital, review and establish a reliable suite of tools for teams to use. Take the time to ensure teams understand and adopt best practices and workflows for different tools and processes. Encourage creativity and communication often, and don't forget to enhance channels with company values and culture. By doing so, teams can manage projects effectively, maintain communication, and embrace collaboration in remote work.