Those of us who have been working from home for the last nine months have become experts at remote collaboration. Or have we? If you find yourself constantly scrambling to keep up with a blizzard of digital information or mired in communication mis-steps with colleagues, it might be time to re-calibrate your processes and tools.
Set up communication norms
Perhaps your distributed teams have an ad hoc system for connecting. Everyone just fires off a communique when needed, whether it’s a text, email, phone call, video call, voice message or via one of the myriad workflow platforms. The problem with this method is that it creates multiple fragmented systems that have various states of urgency, a lack of synchronization and poor visibility.
Establishing protocols for communication will make sure everyone has the right information at the right time, and reduce the stress and interruptions of having to constantly communicate. This frees up staff to accomplish productive periods of work, which require deep, sustained and uninterrupted thought. (After all, it’s hard enough with the roommate/spouse/kids/cat/dog bursting in when you’re on the edge of a breakthrough!)
The point to these protocols is that you don’t treat asynchronous communications such as Slack and email as synchronous communication such as a Zoom or phone call, (which requires an immediate response) because it disrupts deep, creative work and productivity.
Top Protocols for Connecting Remotely:
- Communicate as much info as you can upfront, as colleagues may respond at a different time.
- Decide on the best hours to connect for requests that aren’t urgent to prevent interruptions. Get feedback from all employees about what works best for them. You may choose to set a regular, specific time in the morning and afternoon when employees can connect.
- If employees are unable to solve an issue or do have an urgent need, decide on the protocol for asking for help within your team.
- Determine how to indicate whether team members are available or not.
- Agree on the channels you will use for communication.
- Establish a response time for various types of communication.
Top Protocols for Remote Collaboration:
- Set a weekly one-on-one check in with every member of your team. This drives accountability to meet targets.
- Choose tools to document your work.
- Figure out how progress will be shared, especially when it impacts other colleagues.
- Use a platform where feedback can be given.
Choose the right connection and collaboration tools
There are many digital tools (and more being developed all the time) that you can use to keep a team running efficiently and productively. In addition, it’s worth looking out for applications that are designed specifically for your industry.
Collaborative team functions may include ideation, brainstorming, project management, scheduling, and content organization and sharing. Using digital collaboration tools helps keep work and the progress of work visible, so that every person on the team can stay aligned. The downside is that if you implement too many collaboration tools, it can make your team less productive.
Once remote communication and collaboration tools and protocols are in place, you’re all set for individuals to perform productively in asynchronous conditions. In other words, individuals will have the capability to perform to their highest level while working in collaboration with other team members, yet on their own schedules.
How to overcome the effects of physical distance
The paradox of successfully building a team that works together seamlessly and asynchronously while physically apart is that there still needs to be virtual space created for the team to come together synchronously. The space should be inclusive and foster spontaneous ideas, brainstorming, learning, trust, creativity and invention. The following practices and tools are key for allowing a positive, collaborative problem-solving effort to happen.
Bring teams together face-to-face. Holding meetings via video conferencing bridges isolation, and offers a sense of intimacy. Most importantly, video calls offer a means of communication through body language, tone of voice, gestures and facial expressions, all methods of connecting that reveal our humanity and empathy—both of which are key to developing trust. And when we trust our co-workers, we’re more likely to feel confident that our ideas will be valued.
Be inclusive. Some voices are louder and tend to dominate (often, it’s the most senior), whether your team is co-located or not. Allow every team member to have uninterrupted input into brainstorming. This ensures every employee invests in the problem and project at hand.
Meet with intention. While informal “water-cooler” meet-ups and bio-info sharing is useful, your team will be more productive if you come together to collaborate on defining a specific problem, and then brainstorming ideas to solve it.
Use a virtual mind-mapping tool. Without the traditional tools of the whiteboard and sticky notes to spark, gather and organize ideas, be sure to make use of a digital tool to capture them in the virtual space. This method also helps to define the gaps in a problem, so you can fill them with knowledge or solutions. Use a collaborative tool such as IdeaBoardz, Google Docs, Miro, Coggle or Mindmeister.
Have time away from the problem. Not everyone can think on the spot. Give your team time to solo brainstorm and have some distance from the problem to gain new perspectives, and then return for additional problem-solving sessions.
Even when the pandemic recedes in the rearview mirror, remote work and collaboration are here to stay. Ask yourself what adjustments your team can make to improve communication and collaboration—and ultimately, productivity and idea generation within your business.
About the Author
Ashiq Ahamed is the Founder & Managing Partner of SolvedAF Consulting Inc., a boutique consulting firm providing IT consulting, growth advisory, and digital transformation services. As a strategic, delivery-focused leader, he works with organizations to change their thinking when it comes to technology, implementing solutions that achieve organizational efficiencies and improve the end user experience.
Known for his ability to see the big picture, Ashiq draws on his expertise to help organizations align their technology with their business goals.
Learn more about SolvedAF at www.solvedaf.com.
If you are curious to learn more, reach out to us for a chat.