Whether you call it telecommuting, remote working, work from home, or something else, employees no longer need to be in the office workspace to be productive. Still, keeping a team together while they are physically apart can be challenging. Careful planning and a willingness to adapt mean the difference between successful remote collaboration and a serious breakdown in team structure. With that in mind, here are a few tips.
Employees working from home often feel socially isolated. Without the casual interactions of the traditional office setting, people can quickly start to feel less like members of a team and more like individual workers. Over the long term, this breaking down of social bonds can start to erode the trust between colleagues. This, in turn, can result in a reluctance to delegate tasks and confusion about shared responsibilities. To avoid these inefficiencies, establish clear lines of communication and encourage everyone to make use of them. Be sure to include time for socializing as well as work-related conversations.
Set Boundaries and Enforce Them
One of the perks of working remotely is the ability to set your own hours. Depending on the nature of the work, it may not be necessary to maintain a 9 to 5 schedule. This flexibility can lead to misunderstandings though. Colleagues may assume an employee is available to collaborate when they’re still having a late breakfast. Likewise, co-workers may feel greater freedom to contact each other “outside hours” to discuss work. To avoid the blurring of the line between work time and personal time, create a predictable work schedule and share it with the team. Everyone then needs to respect those boundaries. Doing so reduces interpersonal conflict and avoids potential issues with labor laws. It can also make team members more willing to go above and beyond when there truly is an urgent need.
Prepare for Mishaps
Conference calls experience technical difficulties. Remote connections slow down or drop out completely from time to time. It’s part of working remotely. Unfortunately, these mishaps don’t give us a heads up; they just happen. Have contingency plans to deal with the occasional glitch and seek expert technical help if the problems persist. Otherwise, technical challenges can begin to impact the team’s productivity. This can lead to frustration, discouragement, and stress among team members. And again, over time it can erode the bonds between co-workers. Above all, try to keep a sense of humor and show support for a colleague who’s having a “bad connection” day.
Make Essential Information Easily Available
Few things are more frustrating than needing a file or document urgently and being unable to contact the person who had it last. After all, it’s not like we can walk over and get it off of their desk. To ensure effective remote collaboration, essential data and resources need to be available to all team members. There are a wide variety of tools available to securely store documents and data online. Be sure that everyone understands how to use the solution(s) you choose and that access permissions are set appropriately. Some applications, such as Google Docs, even allow multiple team members to work with a document at the same time. If that’s not feasible, create a schedule so team members know when they can access data or shared tools without inconveniencing others. That way, co-workers can schedule their tasks for maximum productivity.
Use Remote Collaboration Tools
In addition to file storage and sharing solutions, there are many tools now available to make remote collaboration easier. It’s just a matter of finding the right one for a particular team. Video conferencing platforms like Zoom allow co-workers to meet face-to-face and to share screen content to facilitate collaboration. Project management solutions such as Asana and Trello help team members organize their tasks and enable managers to assess progress. Tools are available for every price range, although free tools may offer fewer options for customization.
Looking for ways to talk with your team about their needs and expectations for remote collaboration? Meaghan Williams shares some thought-provoking questions to get the conversation started in her article, Setting Expectations: How to Have a Collaborative, Empowering and Productive Remote Working Relationship.