February 14, 2021

Making Collaboration Work: A Guide for Remote and Hybrid Teams

Why isn't remote collaboration second nature by now? It's hard to get right.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought virtually the entire world to a screeching halt. Teams that were used to operating in person and traveling for work were faced with budget cuts, travel restrictions, and safety concerns. Remote work became “the new normal,” a phrase we’ve all heard far too many times over the past year.

Now, one year after that sudden pivot, we’ve mostly settled into a new routine. Some companies, like Slack and Twitter, have committed to a permanent work-from-anywhere model, while others, like Siemens and Salesforce, will transition to a hybrid model of work.

In theory, that’s great. But in practice, many teams are still struggling to make working from home work for them. If that sounds like you — if innovation has slowed down, or communication is hard, or teamwork is suffering — then read on. This one’s for you.


At MURAL, we’re determined to help people continue making meaningful connections when they cannot meet in person. We’ve been at it since 2011, and we’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. That’s why we've assembled this step-by-step guide to building a durable remote work culture.

In this guide, we’ll detail how your team can improve remote collaboration in three key areas.

1. Remote collaboration tools
2. Team structure
3. Meetings

Editor’s note: A version of this article was first published in April 2020. We’ve updated the content to reflect the lessons we’ve learned in the past year.


 

Step 1: Identify the remote collaboration tools you need

There are three key capabilities that any team needs to communicate and collaborate remotely. Make sure you have the right remote collaboration tools to get the job done.

1. Real-time communication

⭐ Why it matters

For most of us, video conferencing is the closest we can get to face-to-face meetings these days. Seeing your teammates’ and clients’ facial expressions and body language and hearing their voices is invaluable. It drives engagement, efficiency, and human connection.

💡 How we do it at MURAL

We use Zoom (camera on!) because it’s a high-quality video stream with breakout rooms and the ability to record and upload to the cloud. If you’re a MURAL member, keep an eye out for our integrations with Zoom and Webex, coming soon. 

2. Asynchronous communication

⭐‍ Why it matters

Asynchronous communication keeps work rolling effectively between meetings, even when your team is working across different time zones. When you work asynchronously, you have access to one person or your entire team no matter their time zone, helping to build a virtual team community when you’re not in the office together.

💡 How we do it at MURAL

We communicate asynchronously using Slack as our internal messaging platform. It keeps our email inboxes from overflowing while maintaining threaded conversations in topic- and project-specific channels. We also use Loom to record video messages while screen-sharing murals to walk teammates through complex ideas or pre-work for workshops without needing to add a new meeting to calendars. You often see “feel free to watch at 1.5 speed” when Looms are shared, to save everyone more time.

3. Visual collaboration

⭐‍ Why it matters

Visual collaboration is an engaging, interactive way to create understanding and a shared sense of purpose among your team. It empowers teams to plan, brainstorm, design, and share artifacts — both in real time and asynchronously. Teams used to rely on flipcharts and whiteboards and sticky notes, but digital collaboration with MURAL can actually be much more inclusive and effective. Think about this way: video calls allow you to see each other, and visual collaboration allows you to see what others mean.


see you

 

💡 How we do it at MURAL

We use our own product for visual collaboration, of course. MURAL’s digital workspace allows us to sketch, diagram, brainstorm, design, vote — even collaborate in ways that would be impossible with a physical whiteboard. We use MURAL for everything from collaborative note-taking to facilitating design thinking workshops to all-hands warmups with hundreds of MURAListas.

 

Step 2: Build trust and empower your team to do their best work

Uncertainty is one of the biggest barriers to successful collaboration with a remote or hybrid team. Most people have never been trained on how to collaborate at all, let alone with a remote team. Instead, they were thrown into the deep end, left to figure it out as they go along. Ultimately, this leads to communication mishaps, ineffective meetings, and things falling through the cracks.

It helps to start by building trust among your team and empowering them to succeed. We can break this down into three key areas.

1. Build empathy and understanding

Everyone’s work-from-home situation is different. Some people may be in close quarters with a partner or roommate, while others may have kids doing remote learning.

Understanding everyone’s unique situations can help you answer questions like, how often will you meet as a team? What are everyone’s working hours? What are the expectations around email and chat response times?

📙 Work-Life Impact Template

Use this template, created by our friends at Atlassian, to build empathy within your team and identify the right support for everyone through changing and challenging work experiences.

Work-Life Impact Template

 

2. Create a shared vision of success

Build a shared understanding of how your team works together. Make sure everyone has a clear vision of the team’s shared values and goals, as well as how each individual will contribute.

📙 Team Charter Template

With a team charter, you'll outline the essential elements of your team's communication and define a set of concepts and skills that focus and guide your team. Set aside time to complete this template together. 

Team Charter Template in MURAL

 

3. Build a positive meeting cycle

There are a lot of ways a meeting can go wrong — it lacks a clear purpose, or one person monopolizes the conversation, or the attendees are unengaged. When you’re working with a remote or hybrid team, it’s more important than ever for meetings that create balance and energize the group. More on this in a minute.

📙 Your Next Meeting Template

Every meeting can benefit from a clear agenda and fun icebreaker to kick everything off. Use this template to lead a team warmup, collaboratively take notes, and keep your meeting on track.

Your Next Meeting Template


Step 3: Facilitate successful meetings

Meetings don’t have to feel boring. Change the way distributed teams connect and collaborate with this simple, six-step framework

1. Set outcomes

Know the goal of the meeting

Don't overburden the agenda by trying to do too much. You may accomplish more than one outcome, but make sure you know which one is the most important.

2. Assign pre-work

Assign any work that needs to be done before you meet

Consider using pre-work as a way to give your team access to information they'll need to participate in the meeting. They can asynchronously view information or provide pre-meeting input on their own schedule, saving precious meeting time.

3. Warm up

Use a warmup to kick off the meeting

You need engaged participants. Taking a moment to do a warmup exercise that gives everyone a chance to leave previous meetings behind, loosen up, and get focused.

4. Facilitate conversations, collaboration, and activities

This is where the magic happens

Collaboration doesn't just happen on its own. It takes good facilitation to ignite creativity and tease out your team’s best ideas, consistently and methodically.
To get it right, structure your meeting around the key topics and activities that serve as stepping stones to your desired outcomes. For example, if your goal for the meeting is to identify and prioritize your team's quarterly objectives, you might start with solo brainstorming, followed by small group brainstorming, followed by a prioritization exercise.

Resource:
MURAL’s template library has 150+ editable templates that cover everything from brainstorming to planning. Each template is broken down into steps that will help you work through a process or solve a problem.

5. Define key takeaways and next steps

Get clarity before you part ways

Avoid loose ends by properly closing this session. What final questions need to be answered? Does everyone know what their next steps are?

6. Follow up

What to do after you meet‍

Give some thought to what should follow the session. Is it another run of this meeting format? Is it a presentation to another group? Think beyond the purpose of this meeting to its purpose in the bigger picture. 



Remote collaboration brings new challenges that we never faced with in-person work. Fortunately, one year after the sudden pivot to remote work, teams are getting their bearings and finding what works best for them in terms of technology, team structure, and meetings.

Want more resources and templates that will help you run better meetings? Check out the Ultimate Meeting Facilitation Toolkit.

Sean Lauer

Head of Product Marketing @ MURAL. Previously @ Twitter. A true left-brain, right-brain thinker with diverse marketing experience that he uses to drive MURAL product adoption. Lives in California with his wife, two cats, and a dog. Follow him on Twitter @seandlauer.