The Digital Age is fundamentally changing the way we work. From multinationals with team members working from different locations around the world, or businesses introducing an organisational shift to enable employees to work from home in a post-Covid era, remote working is on the rise. Remote working, however, doesn’t mean that the need for team working is a thing of the past; indeed, developing strategies for teams to work together effectively has never been more important. 

Remote collaboration is the process that can be used to address challenges of a workforce spread across different geographical locations and, crucially, developing team spirit amongst team members who work remotely. By introducing new policies and procedures, coupled with harnessing the power of digital technologies, remote collaboration can provide teams the chance to communicate and work effectively together without having to be present in the same physical space. 

Remote collaboration has tangible benefits for businesses, teams and individuals. There are obvious advantages for the individual team members, such as avoiding a lengthy (and potentially expensive) commute, reducing stress and improving their work/life balance. It can also help to boost productivity, as well as support businesses in widening their talent pool and retain valued staff. What’s more, it’s better for the planet too, contributing to an organisation’s net zero targets. 

For organisations to maximise the positive impact of remote collaboration, the challenges that are associated with remote working need to be identified and addressed to create a truly collaborative and inclusive environment. 

The Challenges of Remote Collaboration

Fundamentally, remote collaboration is challenged by distance. According to a Harvard Business Review article, there are three types of distances involved in remote collaboration:

  • Physical distance;
  • Affinity distance;
  • Operational distance.

The challenges brought by distance can be broken down into:

  • Communication

Physical distance can lead to communication challenges. When working in the same physical space, it’s easy to chat informally to colleagues, pick up body language, get the lowdown on the latest intel and deal swiftly with minor queries. How can digital tools and organisational protocols help to support both formal and informal communications?

Language barriers can also be an issue – not only in terms of multiple languages, but also for international collaborations, the use of slang, acronyms and colloquialisms can contribute confusion, and potentially offence!

  • Timings

Global working means our team mates aren’t always in the same city, or even country. Increasingly, teams are crossing borders and spread across the world. This can bring the challenge of timing; scheduling team meetings across multiple time zones can be problematic. Moreover, how do you ensure that team members work/life balance is respected?

  • Practicalities and organisation

Operational distance brings practical and logistical challenges, to keep projects and team members’ work on track. This can include addressing ways to effectively project management, through to the day-to-day challenges of sharing schedules and working interdependently, sharing documents and organising content.

  • Developing an organisational culture and sharing common goals

Connecting a team isn’t just a logistical and practical challenge; affinity distance challenges organisations and team members to connect on an emotional level. This raises the question; how can common goals be developed and a clear vision introduced and applied to create a truly inclusive corporate culture? Without addressing this issue, remote collaboration will ultimately fall flat and fail to achieve desired results.

  • Creativity & ideas sharing

The great thing about remote collaboration is that it can encourage a more diverse and inclusive working environment. From a creative view, this is great news, as it naturally promotes a broad range of perspectives and new ideas. But how does this work in practice? This is where the creative challenge lies – how do organisations create environments that actively encourage brainstorming and sharing ideas?

How to Collaborate Effectively When Team is Remote

Introducing the right digital technologies 

During the Covid pandemic, Zoom became synonymous with remote team working. But video conferencing platforms are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital support.

Finding the right digital tools is central to the success of remote collaboration. From simple file sharing tools to project management systems to keep work on time and on budget, through to creative and interactive tools such as virtual whiteboards, via platforms such as Mural, Miro or Stormboard.  

Immersive technologies such as virtual reality can also take remote collaboration to a new level. Platforms such as VISIONxR can create virtual workspaces, where team members can meet and work together on shared projects. This is especially impactful for R&D teams, helping to rapidly prototype and not just address remote challenges, but significantly improve and streamline traditional workflows.  

Introducing and sharing clear employee guidelines

Remote collaboration changes the way that team members interact with each other and how an organisation functions on a day-to-day level. To address this and to pre-empt any issues that may arise, setting and communicating clear and concise policies, procedures and guidelines to teams to work to is essential. This can include removing any ambiguity around when it’s acceptable for team members to be contacted, through to any impact this may have on pay bands, support channels and workplace risk assessments. 

Harnessing emotional connections

Developing a supportive work culture, introducing a programme of virtual team building and other more informal activities such as virtual pub quizzes or virtual work choirs can help to create strong teams who have a strong level of trust and sense of belonging.

Encouraging feedback and new ideas

It’s great when working practices work – but it’s also crucial to gain feedback from employees to ensure that interventions are hitting the spot. From annual staff satisfaction surveys, through to ad hoc anonymous feedback mechanisms and focus groups, gaining employee insights is invaluable for businesses seeking to constantly improve their working environment.

Make meetings focussed – and turn on the camera

Adding Zoom meetings to the diary may tick the boxes on the surface, but are they an effective way to support team collaboration? Keeping meetings laser focussed, with action focussed agendas and strong chairing can help meetings and, by extension, projects and teamwork to stay on track.

Although many of us may resist switching on the webcam, this should be encouraged. By putting faces to names, long term connections with team members can be boosted, as well as enabling you to pick up on non-verbal communication.  

Celebrating success and good news

Who doesn’t like being told they’ve done a good job, or want to celebrate a colleague’s good news? Whether it’s a work or personal achievement, sharing and celebrating success is a great motivational tool, as well as helping to improve team bonding and reinforce a sense of belonging.

New Employee Communication Skills for a Digital Age

The successful implementation of remote collaboration doesn’t simply rely on great organisational strategies, it also requires individual team members to play their part in developing communications skills that are fit for purpose. 

Digital skills

Digital tools have played a fundamental role in making remote collaboration possible. This means that all remote employees must attain a level of digital literacy to ensure they are able to fully participate in all aspects of remote working. This can range from basic functions such as being able to send emails and schedule meetings, through to effectively sharing information via scheduling and document sharing platforms such as GoogleDrive and Slack channels and – where needed, more complex digital tools such as virtual reality headsets. 

Written communication skills

Remote collaboration can mean that we are increasingly reliant on using emails and chat functions to communicate with team mates – and beyond. This can bring challenges; written communication is more likely to be open to interpretation (and mis-interpretation) and may sometimes lack clarity – especially when written in a hurry. 

Developing clear, but concise writing is key to success, as well as ensuring that you’re not over-sharing and bombarding teammates with a flurry of emails. Additionally avoiding knee-jerk responses to annoying emails is a good idea; taking time out to reflect may pay dividends in resolving specific issues and maintaining good working relationships.  

Verbal communication skills

When working remotely, it’s often easy to fire off emails rather than talk directly to colleagues. But by picking up the phone, or scheduling a quick Zoom catch up, you can often resolve issues rapidly, as well as start to build a rapport with team mates. 

Employees working internationally should also be mindful that team mates may not share the same first language, and also that there may be cultural differences that need to be respected to contribute to an inclusive and functioning team environment

Active participation

Rather than limiting team participation, remote collaboration can help encourage contributions from more introverted team members. Actively encouraging engagement and participation is key, whether this is through contributing ideas to documents or during online meetings. Having a rotating chair for team meetings, or giving specific roles and asking for regular updates may be a great way to get team members involved and have their voice heard.

Conclusion

Remote collaboration can have a demonstrably positive impact on an organisation. But to achieve this takes a mix of careful planning and implementation, including selecting the right digital tools, developing an inclusive working environment and active buy-in from employees. It’s also worth noting there’s no one size fits all solution – what works brilliantly for one organisation may be a disaster for another. Successful remote collaboration relies on developing a model that works for your organisation – and it takes ongoing work, assessment and interventions when it’s not working. 

And finally, remember that if you have the right systems and support in place, remote collaboration can pay dividends- from happier and highly motivated teams working at the top of their games, through to a more productive and creative working environment.

The Digital Age is fundamentally changing the way we work. From multinationals with team members working from different locations around the world, or businesses introducing an organisational shift to enable employees to work from home in a post-Covid era, remote working is on the rise. Remote working, however, doesn’t mean that the need for team working is a thing of the past; indeed, developing strategies for teams to work together effectively has never been more important. 

Remote collaboration is the process that can be used to address challenges of a workforce spread across different geographical locations and, crucially, developing team spirit amongst team members who work remotely. By introducing new policies and procedures, coupled with harnessing the power of digital technologies, remote collaboration can provide teams the chance to communicate and work effectively together without having to be present in the same physical space. 

Remote collaboration has tangible benefits for businesses, teams and individuals. There are obvious advantages for the individual team members, such as avoiding a lengthy (and potentially expensive) commute, reducing stress and improving their work/life balance. It can also help to boost productivity, as well as support businesses in widening their talent pool and retain valued staff. What’s more, it’s better for the planet too, contributing to an organisation’s net zero targets. 

For organisations to maximise the positive impact of remote collaboration, the challenges that are associated with remote working need to be identified and addressed to create a truly collaborative and inclusive environment. 

The Challenges of Remote Collaboration

Fundamentally, remote collaboration is challenged by distance. According to a Harvard Business Review article, there are three types of distances involved in remote collaboration:

  • Physical distance;
  • Affinity distance;
  • Operational distance.

The challenges brought by distance can be broken down into:

  • Communication

Physical distance can lead to communication challenges. When working in the same physical space, it’s easy to chat informally to colleagues, pick up body language, get the lowdown on the latest intel and deal swiftly with minor queries. How can digital tools and organisational protocols help to support both formal and informal communications?

Language barriers can also be an issue – not only in terms of multiple languages, but also for international collaborations, the use of slang, acronyms and colloquialisms can contribute confusion, and potentially offence!

  • Timings

Global working means our team mates aren’t always in the same city, or even country. Increasingly, teams are crossing borders and spread across the world. This can bring the challenge of timing; scheduling team meetings across multiple time zones can be problematic. Moreover, how do you ensure that team members work/life balance is respected?

  • Practicalities and organisation

Operational distance brings practical and logistical challenges, to keep projects and team members’ work on track. This can include addressing ways to effectively project management, through to the day-to-day challenges of sharing schedules and working interdependently, sharing documents and organising content.

  • Developing an organisational culture and sharing common goals

Connecting a team isn’t just a logistical and practical challenge; affinity distance challenges organisations and team members to connect on an emotional level. This raises the question; how can common goals be developed and a clear vision introduced and applied to create a truly inclusive corporate culture? Without addressing this issue, remote collaboration will ultimately fall flat and fail to achieve desired results.

  • Creativity & ideas sharing

The great thing about remote collaboration is that it can encourage a more diverse and inclusive working environment. From a creative view, this is great news, as it naturally promotes a broad range of perspectives and new ideas. But how does this work in practice? This is where the creative challenge lies – how do organisations create environments that actively encourage brainstorming and sharing ideas?

How to Collaborate Effectively When Team is Remote

Introducing the right digital technologies 

During the Covid pandemic, Zoom became synonymous with remote team working. But video conferencing platforms are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital support.

Finding the right digital tools is central to the success of remote collaboration. From simple file sharing tools to project management systems to keep work on time and on budget, through to creative and interactive tools such as virtual whiteboards, via platforms such as Mural, Miro or Stormboard.  

Immersive technologies such as virtual reality can also take remote collaboration to a new level. Platforms such as VISIONxR can create virtual workspaces, where team members can meet and work together on shared projects. This is especially impactful for R&D teams, helping to rapidly prototype and not just address remote challenges, but significantly improve and streamline traditional workflows.  

Introducing and sharing clear employee guidelines

Remote collaboration changes the way that team members interact with each other and how an organisation functions on a day-to-day level. To address this and to pre-empt any issues that may arise, setting and communicating clear and concise policies, procedures and guidelines to teams to work to is essential. This can include removing any ambiguity around when it’s acceptable for team members to be contacted, through to any impact this may have on pay bands, support channels and workplace risk assessments. 

Harnessing emotional connections

Developing a supportive work culture, introducing a programme of virtual team building and other more informal activities such as virtual pub quizzes or virtual work choirs can help to create strong teams who have a strong level of trust and sense of belonging.

Encouraging feedback and new ideas

It’s great when working practices work – but it’s also crucial to gain feedback from employees to ensure that interventions are hitting the spot. From annual staff satisfaction surveys, through to ad hoc anonymous feedback mechanisms and focus groups, gaining employee insights is invaluable for businesses seeking to constantly improve their working environment.

Make meetings focussed – and turn on the camera

Adding Zoom meetings to the diary may tick the boxes on the surface, but are they an effective way to support team collaboration? Keeping meetings laser focussed, with action focussed agendas and strong chairing can help meetings and, by extension, projects and teamwork to stay on track.

Although many of us may resist switching on the webcam, this should be encouraged. By putting faces to names, long term connections with team members can be boosted, as well as enabling you to pick up on non-verbal communication.  

Celebrating success and good news

Who doesn’t like being told they’ve done a good job, or want to celebrate a colleague’s good news? Whether it’s a work or personal achievement, sharing and celebrating success is a great motivational tool, as well as helping to improve team bonding and reinforce a sense of belonging.

New Employee Communication Skills for a Digital Age

The successful implementation of remote collaboration doesn’t simply rely on great organisational strategies, it also requires individual team members to play their part in developing communications skills that are fit for purpose. 

Digital skills

Digital tools have played a fundamental role in making remote collaboration possible. This means that all remote employees must attain a level of digital literacy to ensure they are able to fully participate in all aspects of remote working. This can range from basic functions such as being able to send emails and schedule meetings, through to effectively sharing information via scheduling and document sharing platforms such as GoogleDrive and Slack channels and – where needed, more complex digital tools such as virtual reality headsets. 

Written communication skills

Remote collaboration can mean that we are increasingly reliant on using emails and chat functions to communicate with team mates – and beyond. This can bring challenges; written communication is more likely to be open to interpretation (and mis-interpretation) and may sometimes lack clarity – especially when written in a hurry. 

Developing clear, but concise writing is key to success, as well as ensuring that you’re not over-sharing and bombarding teammates with a flurry of emails. Additionally avoiding knee-jerk responses to annoying emails is a good idea; taking time out to reflect may pay dividends in resolving specific issues and maintaining good working relationships.  

Verbal communication skills

When working remotely, it’s often easy to fire off emails rather than talk directly to colleagues. But by picking up the phone, or scheduling a quick Zoom catch up, you can often resolve issues rapidly, as well as start to build a rapport with team mates. 

Employees working internationally should also be mindful that team mates may not share the same first language, and also that there may be cultural differences that need to be respected to contribute to an inclusive and functioning team environment

Active participation

Rather than limiting team participation, remote collaboration can help encourage contributions from more introverted team members. Actively encouraging engagement and participation is key, whether this is through contributing ideas to documents or during online meetings. Having a rotating chair for team meetings, or giving specific roles and asking for regular updates may be a great way to get team members involved and have their voice heard.

Conclusion

Remote collaboration can have a demonstrably positive impact on an organisation. But to achieve this takes a mix of careful planning and implementation, including selecting the right digital tools, developing an inclusive working environment and active buy-in from employees. It’s also worth noting there’s no one size fits all solution – what works brilliantly for one organisation may be a disaster for another. Successful remote collaboration relies on developing a model that works for your organisation – and it takes ongoing work, assessment and interventions when it’s not working. 

And finally, remember that if you have the right systems and support in place, remote collaboration can pay dividends- from happier and highly motivated teams working at the top of their games, through to a more productive and creative working environment.

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