How to better collaborate with remote teams

How to better collaborate with remote teams

Author : Ievgeniia Zinchenko (Agility Consultant at Astrakhan) - Published date : June 30, 2021

Since the health crisis, remote working has become the norm and companies that have been able to implement it have (re)discovered its pros and cons. While teleworking saves employees time and employers money on office space, it can be a barrier to collaboration. It is therefore essential to encourage teams to socialize through various online group activities once a suitable digital work environment has been successfully built. In this article, you will find valuable tips that will help you achieve this goal.

2020 changed the way we work and made remote work a normal practice. More and more companies have shifted to remote work on a regular basis. In a recent Gartner poll, 90% of HR leaders said employees would be allowed to work remotely even once COVID-19 vaccines are widely available.

For the employee, remote work gives the freedom and flexibility to organise their working day at their discretion, saves time on long commutes and traffic jams and helps to improve the quality of work-life balance. For the employer, it saves on office spending, opens new partnership opportunities and makes the company look more appealing for potential employees. However, are there any pitfalls of remote work? What do we have to pay attention to? How can we better organise work with remote teams? Here are some tips on how to organise your collaboration better when you work with remote teams.

One of the biggest challenges in working with remote teams is to create an engaging, collaborative, trusted and transparent working environment. Overall, online meetings are the only mean with which we can achieve this goal. It is extremely important to learn how to conduct effective and productive meetings online.

Proximity can help people come up with new ideas, but they do not necessarily need to be in an office to do so.

(2017 Study by Matthew Claudel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), The Economist, September 2020)

Find suitable digital tools

Search for digital tools that will fit best to the format of your meeting. Depending the type of the meeting you are organising, they can be used solely or in combination. There are many collaboration tools that imitate your Kanban board or Sprint Backlog, and that can help during planning meetings, brainstorming or process diagramming such as Zoom, Miro, Slack, Skype, Teams, Klaxoon and Hangouts.

Take advantage of visual management

When we are behind the screen, it becomes much easier to be distracted and lose focus compared to in-person meetings. In order to make your online interaction more efficient and clearly explain and convey information, use the power of visual management. If you have to present the information or share progress with your team, it’s always better to use visuals, images, drawings, charts or graphs instead of plain text. It will facilitate mutual understanding and will be easier for the audience to comprehend.

Make meetings shorter and solution focused

If you ask me how I would describe a good meeting in one word, I would say – short. With remote teams it’s hard to keep their attention for a long time, so try to make meetings short.

During your meeting try not to spend too much time on a problem itself, instead focus on a solution for this problem, your next steps and an action plan. A general rule of thumb is that in order to make your meetings more productive, they should end up with an action plan.

Introduce online coffee-breaks

It is very important to maintain social connections within your remote team. In order to create an environment of trust, collaboration and transparency, your team need to feel connected. Social interactions that we can have in the office like coffee breaks and shared lunches contribute to the sense of team spirit and build the foundation for future collaboration. With remote teams we need to have the same coffee breaks, only now they will be online. Construct an experience of a real coffee break by asking your team members to grab a cup of coffee or tea and have a quick pause together.

Use ice-breakers

Practicing online ice breakers will also help to maintain social connections with your remote team. At the beginning of your meeting, have a small-talk with your audience to “break the ice”. Depending on your participants and type of the meeting, questions can vary, from personal questions (not too personal!) to more work-related questions, for example, about previous experiences or future aspirations. These practices will help find out more about each other and establish connections between long-distance colleagues.

Examples of such introductory ice-breakers might be:

  • If you could take 3 items with you on a desert island what would it be?
  • Which country you would like to visit next?
  • If you would win a 1 million euros what would you do?
  • Your favourite book, film, band, TV show etc.
  • A celebrity you would invite for a dinner party
  • Memories from your first day at work etc.

Introduce virtual team activities

You can use games that can help your remote team to socialise. For example, the Guess Who Game, where everyone simply needs to write down one unique or fun fact about themselves and send it to you. You will reveal the facts one by one to the team and everyone will try to guess who this person is. This game can be a great way to get to know your teammates better.

Additionally, you can change the way you hold your meetings and build in some fun activities directly in the working process. If you hold a Retrospective, you can use the Pictionary Game, where you show selected pictures to your team and ask to choose one that reflects the best their feelings about the previous Sprint. Then give them a stage to elaborate on why they made such choices.

Another technique that can be used during your online meetings is the One Word Game. If we take a Retrospective again, ask your team to share only one word to describe a previous Sprint. Or if you give training, participants at the beginning can express what they already know about the subject in one word. Additionally, on the training you can build-in a quick Quiz in the end of the meeting to check acquired knowledge and understanding.

Another practice that can help to bring together your team, resolve conflicts or eliminate misunderstandings is Lean Coffee. Lean Coffee is a structured, but agendaless meeting. Your participants will build an agenda and the discussion together around Kanban principles: To Discuss, Discussing, Discussed.

With remote teams it is very important to maintain social connections. These practices don’t have to take long, but make sure they are quite regular, so team members don’t feel disconnected or isolated. Additionally, it is important to always take into the account personalities and cultural differences while applying these activities. If they perfectly fit one team, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will fit another team. Every meeting has to be personalised and we should understand if the activity will be pertinent and not awkward. This means also we should encourage the person to express, but not force to speak if she doesn’t wish so.

Reiterate goals and an action plan

Working with remote teams might be challenging as we don’t sit in the same office and we don’t have this opportunity to re-discuss meetings outcomes, so we have to make sure everyone understands well what the outcomes and the action plan is. When the goals are not clearly defined, this might lead to misunderstandings, poor engagement and lack of motivation.

In the end of your meeting take 5 minutes to reiterate your action plan and goals. Each participant can recall their actions, which will also create a sense of responsibility: if you state your action steps in front of your colleagues, then you are more likely to follow them. After the meeting send out a follow-up with your action plan, to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Without any doubt, remote work is the future of work. It is crucial to learn how to build a trusted environment and how to conduct your online meetings in the most efficient and productive way. These tips will help your remote team can feel connected, engaged and aligned.