Since the very beginning of our journey back in 2012, we worked with remote teams: digital nomads, remote companies, early-stage startups from Bali, etc.
What we first recognized was just how easy and efficient remote team collaboration can be, regardless of the fact that all team members were scattered across a continent or the whole world.
The second thing we noticed is: it’s incredibly important to empower these virtual teams with the right communication tools.
And, since the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of effective remote communication powered by collaboration tools became evident to everyone.
How to collaborate effectively with remote teams
How do people feel about remote work today?
That’s been the question on everyone’s lips ever since companies massively switched to remote working in early 2020.
There are people who love working from home and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. They like sleeping in, spending more time with their families, and not wasting time commuting.
On the other hand, we have remote workers who are unsatisfied with these new circumstances and who prefer separating their professional and private lives through structure and discipline.
Which of the two currents do you think is more prevalent?
Surprisingly (or not, depending on your view on human nature), up to 77% of remote employees find having the option to work from home appealing—even after the pandemic ends.
Conversely, this report by Slack found that both productivity and team communication can suffer when working from home, especially for the less experienced workers.
Nearly 50% of remote workers report that this new situation has impaired their sense of belonging.
It’s obvious that remote teams are facing new challenges when it comes to collaborating, staying productive, and building connections.
So, what can you do as an employer to make this experience easier for them?
Here are some ideas!
Part 1. Solve communication challenges
Obviously, communication is one of the major obstacles people need to overcome when working from home. Face-to-face meetings are hard to make up for, even with regular video check-ins and virtual coffees.
Here are our suggestions on how you can facilitate teamwork and communication for your remote team.
Set clear goals and objectives
Not being able to communicate directly is bad enough and, without strong leadership and a clear strategy, things can easily get lost.
When you can’t walk by your co-worker’s desk or have a little water cooler chat in the hallway to clear up confusion, it’s not easy to stay on track with all tasks and projects.
That’s why remote work, more than regular office-based work, needs a strict organization and a strong direction.
This means setting clear goals for set periods. What does each team need to achieve and what is their deadline?
This refers not only to long-term quarterly KPIs — it’s important for the whole team to know what are their weekly or even daily objectives.
Since team productivity can take a hit when people are working from home, having clear objectives can be a good way to keep everyone in check.
So, let’s say you have a designer who’s tasked with freshening up your website. Their deadline for this project might be two months but a much more efficient way to organize things would be to split the entire process into weekly or bi-weekly goals: UX research, wireframing, design, testing, approval, etc.
That way, you ensure that your employee is being productive over the entire period and always delivering.
Give constructive feedback regularly
Where there are goals, there should be feedback — it’s as simple as that. Your employees need to know their work is being appreciated and/or critically examined.
When it comes to team collaboration best practices, having regular feedback conversations is at the very top of the list. It’s a great way to keep people engaged and make sure that everyone is seeing things the same way.
When giving feedback, there are some general rules you should follow.
- Do it in person: Sending a feedback form in Google Docs is cold and impersonal. Rather schedule a video call and give your employees the opportunity to participate in an honest conversation. It allows them to see your body language and understand where you’re coming from. Of course, you need to have a way to document everything that’s said on the call but the conversation itself should not be as formal.
- Use positive language: There is a difference between “you need to meet your deadlines” and “I would like to see you manage your time better“. Try to frame your feedback as positive, encouraging statements rather than overly criticizing.
- Give examples: Feedback (especially when critical) can sometimes feel unjust to the employee. To avoid misinterpretation and a bad reaction, support your claims with clear examples.
- Open yourself up for feedback: It goes both ways — as a manager, you probably have some skills to work on. Give your employees a platform to suggest where you can improve and try to take it in.
So, a good feedback meeting would look like this:
- Scheduling an online call when it’s most convenient for the employee.
- Starting the meeting with an overall comment about the employee’s work and focusing on the positives. Use friendly, encouraging language.
- Going into the areas of improvement, focusing on examples. Use positive language and avoid framing things as “mistakes” or “failures”.
- Giving the employee the chance to express their opinion (whether they agree with your estimates) and opening yourself up to feedback.
- Writing everything down in detail and sending the document to the employee for their final approval.
- Sending the document up the chain and/or to HR.
Provide moral and psychological support
The flexibility, freedom, working hours, and comfort that come with remote working are all great but they come at a price of isolation.
While, yes, a lot of people are surrounded by their family and friends while working from home, brainstorming and having lunches with colleagues can contribute to job satisfaction and employee retention.
Social support in the workplace has been found to improve wellbeing and reduce isolation.
In other words, give your employees methods to stay engaged and maintain their mental health. If this means investing in mental wellbeing apps or giving them free counseling sessions — go for it.
Organize team-building activities
Company retreats and drinks after work are certainly some things that a lot of people miss since the coronavirus crisis has started.
They can contribute to the overall team spirit and even reduce employee burnout!
And, while travel and social gatherings are still largely restricted, that doesn’t mean you can’t find new ways to keep everyone connected.
There are a lot of fun activities you can organize remotely: Zoom parties, morning coffees on Skype, online board games, and “pub” quizzes first come to mind.
Just keep everyone’s time zones in mind when creating these events and make sure to notify everyone in time!
Prioritize voice and video
This leads us to our next point: voice and video chat need to have a special place in your organization if you’re serious about being productive.
Video calls are clearly superior to other forms of organization in remote work. They allow you to use screen sharing and are about as close to face-to-face meetings as you can have when working remotely.
Moreover, seeing people’s faces is an important factor in tackling isolation and lack of human contact.
But one thing that’s often underappreciated in these situations is voice messaging. Encourage your employees to stop communicating only over text and become more connected in any way possible.
Online meetings can be notoriously ineffective so making sure you get the most out of them is imperative.
One thing that can make a world of difference is having a strict agenda. Create an agenda and anticipate the amount of time each speaker will need to do their presentation.
Send the agenda to everyone the day before the meeting and make sure to assign a moderator in charge of implementing it and giving word to all participants.
It’s also good to give the presenters a two-minute warning so they know when it’s time to start wrapping things up.
Avoid cluttering your email
You may be used to sending quick emails for every little thing but, in a remote work environment, cluttering your email is one of the worst things you can do.
Think about it — when working remotely, communication is among the biggest challenges. It’s easy to miss information, have a wrong interpretation, or simply forget things because people aren’t there to remind you.
While we all love the G suite and use it every day, you’ll often need conference calls and virtual whiteboards to communicate things. Not to mention that file sharing and task tracking is much easier through collaborative software than Google Drive or email.
Rule no.1 here is: use a messenger/chat tool for most of your communication. Unless you need to have something documented as an official email, it’s much better to hit someone up on your company chat tool.
Most of these tools have mentions, push notifications, and searchable chat histories, so the chances of things getting lost are much slimmer than you might think.
If you need to rely on email, get used to filters and labels. They’ll help you find emails you received months ago and navigate your entire inbox more efficiently.
Part 2. Choose the right software
As most big and small businesses have realized, remote team collaboration software is a game-changer when organizing remote employees.
No matter what industry you’re in or where your team is situated, your workers will benefit from tools that can help them manage their workflow.
Below are our top choices of apps we can’t imagine our life without when working from home, and here is how we chose them.
- Price: Collaboration tools could set you back hundreds and even thousands of dollars monthly if you don’t look at their plans and features carefully. Here, we focused on those tools that combine affordability with efficiency.
- UI: Becoming operational with a remote collaboration tool can take some time — and time is precious when organizing a remote team. The tools below all feature a highly intuitive interface that takes a little time to master.
- Necessity: Not all tools are essential for organizing your team. You’ll find a lot of tools that look fun and have a purpose but there don’t bring enough to the table to justify their cost. Here, we’ll focus on the tools that can be invaluable to your team and completely transform the remote working experience.
- Scalability: As your team grows, so do your needs for communication and collaboration. The tools we chose are all easily scalable and can accommodate your team regardless of its size over time.
So, here are our choices!
One thing that can be time-consuming and cumbersome when working from home is managing and collaborating on documents.
Creating contracts and proposals, sending them to clients, and getting their eSignatures — all of these things require a lot of manual work and take up a lot of time.
At PandaDoc, we believe there are smarter and more efficient ways to do all of this.
With our platform, you can create proposals, contracts, and interactive quotes in just a few minutes, with an intuitive drag-and-drop editor.
The whole process can be collaborative as well: the entire team can be included in editing and viewing the document. This way, you can achieve better transparency and organizational visibility.
And, if you want to give your proposals and contracts that creative edge, you can always make use of our templates.
You get a free library of professionally designed templates that you can use to speed up document creation and impress clients.
Check out our favorite remote work plan templates that will make your life easier!
Finally, PandaDoc allows you to generate document analytics — see how many times your client opened the document, if they clicked any links, whether they downloaded your PDF, etc.
PandaDoc takes care of the entire process of creating, sending, signing, and analyzing contracts and proposals. It’s an indispensable asset when it comes to remote working.
Project management tools are a big part of the modern work environment, even for teams working from the office. They give us more efficient ways to manage our time, track project status, collaborate on documents, and even brainstorm.
For remote workers, these tools have become especially important. When dealing with different time zones and work habits, it’s even harder to make sure that all projects are on track and everyone is meeting their deadlines.
One of our favorite project management tools is Monday.com.
The platform isn’t ground-breaking: it’s fairly similar to Asana, a simpler Microsoft Teams, or a more complex Trello. It’s certainly not unlike other task management tools you’ve seen before.
But, what sets Monday.com apart from other similar tools is its fun and user-friendly interface. Everything is filled with vibrant colors and all actions are easy to execute through the intuitive drag-and-drop mechanism.
You can view your data in Kanban, Gantt, and other popular formats that make team management easy and efficient.
Productivity is often a concern for remote workers, so having a transparent interface that makes it easy for everyone to track project progress is crucial.
It’s pretty much impossible to run a remote team without a project management tool, and Monday.com is among the top choices out there.
Another big challenge that often pops up when talking about remote working is the issue of communication.
More specifically, even if you invest in software that makes communication easier, chances are your team will be using different tools for different types of communication.
A messenger like Whatsapp for private chat, Zoom/Skype for video conferences, email for official communication, etc.
Slack is about as close as you can get to unified communication. With its large number of integrations, you can use Slack as a hub for all team conversations.
You can share Google Docs, schedule appointments, create project-specific chats, and conduct video calls — all without leaving the app.
Real-time chatting on Slack is easy and fun. You can pin important messages and reply to specific messages in threads, creating a parallel conversation to the one you’re already having without obstructing the rest of the chat.
The platform is intuitive and you could argue that it revolutionized the work chatting industry.
It’s not a perfect solution for video conferencing but it provides a Zoom integration that takes care of this.
Part 3. Enjoy the journey
Apart from organizational and social challenges, remote work falls under the same rules as office work.
The key challenge is still the same: ensuring that people feel as happy and productive as possible.
People who feel happy at work are also more likely to go the extra mile and do work that’s beyond their job description.
So, the question for remote workers (and their employers) isn’t only “how to increase collaboration between teams”, it’s also: “how do we empower our employees to feel confident, productive, and happy, even outside of our offices?”
While the answer to these questions certainly isn’t obvious, it’s bound to depend on a good company culture based on personal responsibility, transparent communication, and recognition.