6 Collaboration Tips for Remote Teams

Remote Teams Collaboration

Some of the remote work naysayers point out that remote working can make collaboration more difficult. This argument seems to have its roots back in 2013 with the design of Google’s new headquarters. The search engine made news with the layout of their HQ because they focused heavily on ‘casual collisions’. The idea was that having staff bumping into each other over the course of their workday would lead to increased collaboration and creativity. And increased collaboration gives a boost of 15% to productivity.

That was the thinking that led to Marissa Meyer calling in her remote team at Yahoo! in the same year. It was still being touted as a justification when BNY Mellon tried to bring their digital nomads into the office earlier this year – that didn’t work out so well for them.

The fact is that a lot changes in the world of remote work in a year, let alone 6. Software developers work best from home, and they want to work from home (along with upwards of 80% of the population) so they’re motivated to create great tools to help make working from home successful.

Here we are in 2019, and it’s more than possible to work collaboratively with people no matter where they are in the world. It’s not just development teams who manage this, it’s design teams, it’s creative teams, it’s sales teams. If you’re still struggling to get your remote team to work effectively together, here are 6 things to consider.

1. The Virtual Water Cooler

Yes, this old chestnut. Google was right, you see. Casual collisions, aka interacting with members of staff who don’t sit at the next desk, does help with collaboration. It helps to forge relationships, and that allows for greater trust and better communication. Yay!

The usual remote solution is to have a water cooler channel in your chat program of choice. This is a channel that is dedicated to shooting the breeze, sharing jokes, and just getting to know each other. Here are some recommendations for chat solutions, if you don’t already have one. Some teams find it helps if you don’t give managers access to that channel, or provide another ‘proles only’ channel that lets your team bond without the upper echelons watching.

2. Team Building

With remote teams, it’s harder to get everyone in one place and ask them to do trust falls. And thank the gods for that. Team building is one of those phrases that immediately makes people uncomfortable, and brings scenes from The Office to mind – we’ve all got horror stories of team building fails.

So, being remote already gives you an advantage because you’re going to have to think again when it comes to helping your team bond. You can do this by having regular ‘getting to know you’ slots during a meeting, where a staff member talks about themselves, gives a tour of their office or shares photographs of their hometown or country. You might also try having Google hangouts set up and everyone keeping their webcam on for a day every now and then.

Online games are another way to get people working together. Whether it’s your own Quake server, forming a guild on Neverwinter, or playing together via the Uno app there are options for every taste. The important thing is to spend time together doing something other than working.

3. Tool up!

We love discovering new tools that help with remote working. There are so many options now, there are solutions that suit all sizes of team and project and any style of working. Here are a few tools that you should consider adding to your remote work toolkit.

  • Annotation
    If you need to share screengrabs or a GUI design and need feedback on it, then using a tool that lets colleagues add their comments, like GoVisually or Skitch will be helpful. With both of these, you can discuss ‘live’ using pointers or leave your comments for others to see asynchronously.
  • Brainstorming
    Our favorite for asynchronous brainstorming is Mindmeister, but if you want to brainstorm on the fly then Ideaflip is probably more useful.
  • Whiteboards
    Who doesn’t get giddy with power when they’re at the front of the room with a marker in their hand? Just me? Okay, moving on. AWW app is our favorite for asynchronous communication, RealTimeBoard is the solution of choice for synchronous meetings.
  • Video conferencing
    The closest thing to face to face chats you can have with remote working is to get a good video conference solution. Skype or Zoom dominate, but they’re not the only options that are great for remote teams.

Of course, this isn’t a full list of tools you’ll need for a remote team. You’ll also want to look at file sharing, task management, and version control!

4. Create a Collaborative Culture

One of the reasons that we love the Agile development methodology for remote teams is the daily stand up. For the uninitiated, that’s a meeting where each member shares their progress, successes and sticking points. Every team member gets to see what the others are capable of, to celebrate progress and to help out when there are issues; and that helps a team to bond.

It’s also important that you support a culture where your team feels happy to speak out if they can see a better way of doing things. Helping your team to feel confident to speak up, and not to feel threatened if someone challenges their ideas, will all give you an advantage when it comes to collaboration. We advocate using Hanlon’s Razor; it’s a variant of Occam’s razor that says, ‘Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity’ or in other words, assume someone isn’t understanding rather than being paranoid.

5. Pay Attention to Differences

Once you open yourself up to the global talent pool, you not only get the very best in terms of development talent, you also get added diversity and that has huge bonuses attached to it. It can also mean working with people who have a different first language and they may need a little extra support.

Have some rules, when it comes to meetings, that you won’t use slang terms or colloquialisms as these can be confusing to non-native speakers. It can also be helpful to compile a glossary of some of the more unusual terms your team uses that can act as a guide. If there are any supporting materials going out with a meeting, send them out well in advance so your non-native speakers have more time to digest the content before the meeting.

6. Hire Remote-Ready Staff

As we’ve said, most people want to work from home but not everyone is cut out to do so. A good remote worker isn’t just someone who is technically proficient, they also need to be capable of staying on task and working out problems by themselves; especially if they are in a different time zone to the rest of the team.

If you let us find your next developer, we’ll pre-vet every CV that we send to you to make sure that your potential candidates have top skills and a proven track record with remote work. We take all the hassle out of hiring a remote techie, and we can do it in under two weeks. Sound good? Well, get in touch today to find out more.

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Sarah Dixon

Sarah Dixon

Sarah Dixon is a children’s author, prolific writer of short stories and is studying for an MA inCreative Writing. She’s also does all sorts of things with words for businesses, like creating engaging and original blog content, copy, bids and more.