Remote collaboration offers flexibility to the workforce in many ways, from cutting down the time lost commuting, to being able to hire the person with the best qualifications — no matter their location or time zone.
It can also increase productivity because it lets workers contribute to projects as ideas come to them throughout the day and without the distractions of the office.
And while remote work spiked due to the pandemic, in many industries, it’s a trend that has stuck around: More than a quarter of paid full work days are work from home, according to WFH Research.
What is remote collaboration?
Remote collaboration is the process of working together with a team from different locations, using technology to communicate and coordinate team efforts. Remote collaboration enables individuals and teams to work together, despite being physically separated from each other.
Remote collaboration comes with a few benefits including more flexibility in working hours and locations, improved productivity that allows individuals to work on their own schedules, and access to a wider talent pool and better ideas.
Despite these benefits, remote collaboration doesn’t always come naturally.
Common challenges of remote collaboration
Misalignment on what remote collaboration means
When it comes to giving a definition of remote collaboration, things can get confusing. How does remote collaboration work at your company? How can remote employees participate effectively in workshops and meetings? How will they communicate?
These questions can help identify what processes are needed for a sustainable remote work environment.
Too many tools
Everywhere you look, there’s a new tool to help you communicate with remote workers and collaborate across geographies.
Adopting too many tools too quickly can only make things more confusing — and costly. Instead, it’s important to take some time to evaluate which tools and services are best suited to your own remote team collaboration needs.
Difficulty scheduling meetings amid busy schedules and diverse time zones
It can be difficult to coordinate meetings across different time zones, and the distance between teams can make it hard to work effectively. However, acknowledging these difficulties and working together to find solutions, such as working asynchronously, can help teams overcome these challenges and come up with new, innovative ways of working together.
5 best practices for effective remote collaboration
Remote collaboration is necessary in today’s workplaces, but it doesn’t always come naturally. With these five best practices, you can promote effective remote collaboration.
1. Use the right tools for remote work
Without the right tools in place, remote communication and collaboration can be much more difficult than they need to be for virtual workers and teams. It’s important to have collaboration software that updates all team members in real time, so everyone has the most up-to-date information for their asynchronous work.
Teams need virtual workspaces, cloud-based storage and file sharing, video conferencing, communication, project management, and meeting tools. Some apps will serve multiple needs, while others may have a singular purpose.
When deciding on tools, choose ones that fit your needs and your goals. Think about whether they can fill more than one need to streamline your workflow. Also, consider whether the tools you’re considering have integration capabilities with the tools you already use.
Related: Learn how to integrate Mural with all your favorite tools including Zoom, Jira, Google Drive, and more!
For Steelcase, finding the right tool came down to a few factors. The company creates architecture, furniture, and technology products for the workplace that require a lot of visual collaboration that was typically done in person prior to the pandemic.
They needed a tool that would provide them with a shared workspace for cross-functional collaboration, where they could do highly visual work no matter where they were located. Mural was able to offer them the flexibility that was required.
2. Centralize information sharing
Centralized information improves efficiency because the information your team accesses on a day-to-day basis becomes self-serve. The more your team knows where to quickly find the information they need, the better.
With a thorough knowledge base available, employees can get the answers they need without having to search extensively to find them or ask someone else. This saves time for employees, reduces confusion, and helps everyone stay aligned. Files, documents, training materials, and more can all be found in a single place.
When Jacobs, an engineering services company, wanted to find a better solution to organize resources that were spread out across multiple platforms, they turned to Mural. Jacobs credits Mural with streamlining their workflows and creating a faster onboarding process.
It’s also important for teams to know how to use the systems you create for centralized knowledge. Walk them through it and set expectations on usage. It helps employees share their information with the team and lowers the potential for important details to get lost in the shuffle of daily work.
Build a knowledge base for your team
Collect and organize important high-level information that employees need when they join the company. That could include org charts, a team directory, your company mission and goals, content calendars, product roadmaps, or other information everyone should know.
Document your processes and workflows. Information shouldn’t live in individuals' heads. As much as possible, create documentation on how work should be completed and have your team members do the same for their roles.
Related: 4 best practices for collaborative project management
Create a shared vision of success
Align your teams and provide a common understanding of what the company is working towards. This common goal helps to align everyone’s efforts and prevents teams from working in silos. When team members understand what they are working towards, they can make better decisions about how to prioritize their work and how to allocate resources.
Make everyone's documents accessible
Organize information in a way that’s simple to understand and follow. As employees add to your existing knowledge base, they’ll know where to store new information, so it stays clean and easy to navigate.
Standardize how individual team members should document their job duties and workflows, so the information can be passed on if they switch roles or leave the company.
3. Establish norms and communication guidelines for remote team collaboration
When your team understands what’s expected of them to support clear communication, it can boost productivity, help avoid misunderstandings, and strengthen teamwork.
Effective remote communication systems will streamline how remote team members talk to each other and help team leaders expertly manage their teams. They also prevent the loss of information because everyone knows how and where to expect communications to occur. When communications are clear and reliable, trust is built, which is key for virtual collaboration.
Have a regular check-in process
Create a cadence for your team to stay in touch. Perhaps you share daily updates in a thread on Slack and weekly updates in an email. You may want to add weekly face-to-face individual or team meetings to work through client issues or roadblocks and plan out future work assignments. Perhaps instant messages are useful for quick one-off questions that aren’t urgent.
Choose the right channels for remote communication
Designate how your team uses various communication methods to help prevent information from getting lost. Start by deciding what information should be communicated synchronously versus asynchronously.
Individual vs. group feedback
When you gather feedback on documents, consider if you want each team member to email you separately or if you want to use a tool that allows everyone to provide their feedback in one place. The latter can reduce duplicate comments and help spark collaborative ideas.
Urgent vs. sensitive information
Establish a process for sharing urgent or sensitive information. You could send urgent team-wide updates to a group in Microsoft Teams, in an email, or through a conference call. Make sure employees know sensitive information will be shared with them in specific channels that allow for privacy when the situation calls for it, such as a one-on-one video call.
4. Make the most out of all your meetings
No one likes a meeting that isn’t necessary or wastes time. Insert your favorite “this meeting could have been an email” meme here. When meetings drag on unnecessarily or the information could have been better communicated in another way, it can negatively impact employee morale and lead to lower levels of engagement.
Note: before sending off that meeting invite, make sure you really need a meeting.
Consistently encourage meeting participants to contribute in meetings, so it becomes a habit. When employees are fully engaged in meetings, it can prevent them from tuning out and becoming disengaged in the workplace.
Emerson, a technology, software, and engineering firm, found that Mural helps them keep employees engaged. “Remote collaboration is engaging for everyone,” said Christina Koffskey, senior success architect. “In person, the introverts in a group can easily get lost in the shuffle. With Mural, the barrier to engagement is lower and everyone has the opportunity to participate.”
Meetings should also have a clear objective, goal, or action item to avoid unfocused discussions. Decide which meetings are for updates and which meetings are for engaging in collaborative work.
Always have an agenda
Without an agenda, meetings can quickly meander and drag on unnecessarily. Have a meeting agenda and stick to it to help keep you on track and make the most of your time, so your team can get back to their individual workloads.
Include the following:
- What you’ll address
- Who will speak
- What information will be presented
- Time for questions, feedback, or brainstorming
Share documents and pre-work ahead of time when possible and ask your team to review them beforehand.
Take excellent notes
Establish a protocol for taking meeting notes. Good meeting notes can help teams remember important information that was addressed at the meeting. They can refer back to it to ensure their work is accurate, and those who missed the meeting can easily catch up.
Record important meetings
If a meeting is really important, record it. Regular check-in meetings or stand-ups probably don’t need to be recorded, but some discussions warrant it. Hit record when:
- You’re discussing major changes to your team or to the company.
- Many people are missing who would normally be there.
- The information discussed must be recalled with 100% accuracy.
- You’re ideating as a team and want to remember what was said for potential future use.
- The meeting includes a lot of visual instructions that team members need to be able to follow.
5. Maintain a strong company culture
Both face-to-face and remote employees need team-building — it helps build trust and respect and instill your company’s work culture. When you have strong company culture based on a sense of community and inclusiveness, it helps retain employees and promote teamwork. It also helps attract top talent.
Team building isn’t just doing escape rooms together or hosting a (virtual or in-person) happy hour. It’s putting thoughtful effort into creating your company’s community. Create a way for employees to praise each other publicly, let employees share their knowledge with the team as a way to highlight their work, and provide opportunities for everyone to get to know each other to build psychological safety.
Incorporate company values
- Reinforce your company’s values within everyday work to help build your company culture around them. If your values are respect, accountability, and teamwork, make it apparent that those values are important and not hollow platitudes.
- Keep it professional. Don’t allow employees to raise their voices at each other, engage in workplace gossip, or be demeaning. Encourage employees to step up and be accountable for their mistakes and help them to learn how to avoid them in the future. Praise teamwork when you see it and actively encourage team members to collaborate.
- Show, don’t tell. Make sure leadership, managers, and team leaders are setting a positive example of your company values. If a team leader doesn’t follow these values, it will be hard for the members of their team to believe the company’s values matter.
Related: How to improve company culture: A step-by-step guide
Don’t forget trust and well-being
- Start from a place of trust with your employees. When team members feel they are trusted, they are more likely to take ownership of their work and be invested in the company. Being trusted helps people feel more empowered to make decisions and motivates them, leading to increased success. It also helps build leadership skills.
- Humanize your company by being aware of how well-being impacts the workplace. It would be great to be able to easily compartmentalize our lives so we could leave our personal lives at home during the workday, but it’s not realistic. Things like grief and illness can spill into work, and providing employees with the space to heal is important. When people feel their company cares about them, it increases retention and lowers burnout.
Enable your team to succeed with remote collaboration
Remote collaboration isn’t always easy, but using the right tools and frameworks will set you on the right path. For templates and recommendations, check out our resource on getting started with remote collaboration.
Mural is a remote collaboration tool that makes solving complex problems easy, helping teams conduct effective brainstorming sessions, improve processes, and speed up decision making. Whether you’re looking for a way to brainstorm or plan a project, you can start from scratch on an online whiteboard, or get started quickly with Mural’s templates.