So you’re working with remote employees? Most probably, you’ve already noticed that they take a special approach in terms of management. Remote teams are different from ones located in one central office in a few key ways.
Teams that work across separate locations demand a particular approach when it comes to collaboration. Unfortunately, many businesses ignore these particularities and approach remote teams like any other.
This is likely ringing a bell with you. Maybe you just formed your team and are wondering where to begin? Or perhaps you’ve been working with your team for some time and are looking to boost their collaboration?
Well, you’re in luck. In this article, we’ll uncover some simple steps that any manager can follow in order to boost collaboration in a remote team. Some are one-offs, while others are ongoing team traditions.
Onboarding New Team Members
The first step of collaboration starts as soon as a new colleague joins a team. Alternatively, this step also applies to remote teams that are just forming.
Onboarding new team members is a process that has huge implications for collaboration. Many people, unfortunately, view onboarding as a simple process of reviewing policies and outlining responsibilities. In reality, this is a perfect moment to begin building the team spirit which is fundamental for collaboration.
Colleagues who know each other well work better together. In fact, having friends at work can boost productivity in employees. During the onboarding process, you should make sure you include opportunities for colleagues to get to know each other on a personal level.
Onboarding is also a great opportunity to set clear expectations from the very beginning.
There are several approaches you can take to onboarding. Here are a few ideas and steps you can take:
- Onboarding actually begins before an employee joins the remote team. The recruitment process is the time to set clear expectations (see below for more). Use this as an opportunity to lay out how they will work and what outputs and outcomes will be expected of them. This is also a great opportunity to introduce the new employee(s) to your brand and organizational culture.
- Once the employee is recruited, if possible, bring your employees together in person for the first days of onboarding. Obviously this isn’t feasible for every case. However, face to face connections is a strong way to plant the collaboration seeds.
- Onboarding sessions are a good way to cover the different aspects of your new remote employee’s work. Likely these will need to take place virtually. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be interactive though. Try to take a participatory approach, and save any lecture-type material for your employee to simply read on their own.
- Try to involve the employees he/she will work with in these sessions as well. They can either lead or simply participate in them. This is a good way of giving the team time together through shared experiences, an important step in developing collaboration.
Team building activities are also a crucial element of onboarding. Not all team building is created equal, however. Make sure you choose activities that are best aligned to your team and take into account their preferences.
During the onboarding process, it's also important to outline exactly how colleagues will work together. This leads us to the next point, creating a series of collaboration practices and policies.
Creating Collaboration Practices and Policies
Collaboration is not an end state, but rather an ongoing progress. That’s why it’s crucial to set concrete collaborative practices and policies. These should be simple to follow. In this way, they will continue without a large amount of oversight.
Create standardized communication norms. Some of the most common challenges in remote teams lie in communication. Aligning communication styles and practices is key to avoiding misunderstandings. It’s easy for colleagues to misinterpret a delayed response, or to read the wrong intentions in a short and declarative message.
Creating a unified communication policy is, therefore, an essential step in the collaboration process. The most effective policies cover things like:
- The acceptable response time for email communication
- Email subject line abbreviations, i.e. NRN (no response necessary), FYI (for your information), EOM (end of message), etc. These are great time savers and will help to avoid any miscommunication
- The use of instant messaging and chatting, i.e. when people should be available online, what type of communication should be saved for IM, etc.
- Guidelines for how to write requests from colleagues
When creating your communication norms be sure to balance comprehensiveness with brevity. The goal is for these norms to be actionable, but not overwhelming.
Set aside time for collaboration - the collaboration process takes time and consistent effort. This is especially true for remote teams given their physical separation. Set aside time on a weekly or bi-weekly basis where colleagues can gather together to work on joint projects and exchange ideas.
When planning these collaboration meetings, keep in mind that collaboration happens at a couple of levels in an organization- within a team and across teams. Create separate meetings to emphasize both types of collaboration. Within the meetings, it’s important to have a set agenda. Here’s an example:
- 10 minute introduction time where each colleague shares something exciting from their personal lives;
- 20 minutes where team members can share updates on current projects;
- 20 minutes where team members can ask for advice on the challenges they face;
- 10 minute wrap up planning next steps.
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Reward collaboration - one of the best ways to boost collaboration is to incentivize it. In an ideal world, colleagues collaborate because they see the intrinsic value in the process. However, in the real world sometimes people need a push in the right direction.
Providing individuals and teams with rewards for working together is an effective way to ‘gamify’ the collaboration process. The rewards themselves don’t necessarily need to be costly. It’s enough for them to be significant to your employees.
You can start off with something small like an extra vacation day for the team that holds the most collaboration meetings in a given quarter. The goals and rewards will depend on the specifics of your organization, so take the time to reflect on what’s most meaningful for your remote team.
Providing The Right Tools
Due to the nature of their work, remote employees need the right tools to collaborate. It’s crucial that they know how and where to reach each other, and have a virtual space for collaboration. There are a growing number of options, so take some time to do some research.
One of the most effective tools for remote teams is an instant messenger for business. This type of tool provides your team with a suite of collaboration tools and can streamline their communication. There are options with high-security standards as well. This can help keep your sensitive data safe during the collaboration process.
Finding the right tool can be a challenge, with different colleagues preferring specific tools. Take the time to consult with your team. Whatever tool you choose it’s important to get your team’s buy-in.
Remote teams are not doomed to more inefficient collaboration. While there are some specific challenges they face, they are not insurmountable. With the right strategies and tools, you can help your remote team collaborate as efficiently as any other team.
Onboarding your new team members, creating a clear collaboration plan and providing them the right tool will help to kick start your team’s collaboration. Keep the process itself collaborative, and make sure to have fun for the best results!
Nikola Baldikov is a Digital Marketing Manager at Brosix, a secure instant messaging software for business communication. Besides his passion for digital marketing, Nikola is an avid fan of football and he loves to dance. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.