How to Work Remotely: 4 Ways to Improve Collaboration

How to Work Remotely: 4 Ways to Improve Collaboration

Creating a workplace that promotes happy, productive employees is tough. But what's harder is trying to build the same atmosphere for remote teams.

Now, that's not to say that it's impossible. In fact, there are plenty of remote workers who are satisfied and engaged in their projects. In fact, studies even suggest that remote workers are more engaged than your typical in-house employee—they can be up to two times more likely to work more than 40 hours a week, and 20 percent more productive. This kind of productivity doesn't happen overnight, but it also doesn’t require magic. What it does take is the right know-how as the team leader.

In this article, we're going to share four effective methods we use at Poptin to manage our remote team of writers and designers. Let’s take a look.

1. Create spaces for online collaboration

How to work remotely

Creating a team-oriented environment is essential—89 percent of those surveyed by Globoforce state that work relationships are crucial to their overall quality of life. When you’re working remotely, it’s important to actively create spaces for that team bonding. Below are a few ideas of how to do so.

Create a virtual water cooler

In the physical workplace, you can't help but bump into your colleagues around the office. This is a good thing, helping to build natural relationships among team members. There's even scientific evidence that suggests small talk improves productivity levels of team members.

When you work remotely, you don't have this same level of casual interaction, and you can miss out on opportunities to build those relationships. So it's essential to try and recreate this environment using digital collaboration tools.

One way to encourage this is to have a chat room that stays open 24-7. This way, everyone can chit chat during their breaks, no matter what hours they choose to work. It's an excellent way to get your team members feeling more like a team. Skype or Slack (our personal favorite) are good platforms to use for this kind of communication.

Of course, you don't want casual chats to become a distraction, so set some ground rules. No gossiping, negative talk, or other potentially harmful discussions should be allowed. The idea is to create a professional communication tool your team can use to ask questions, get help, and blow off steam.

To make the chat system more relaxed, you could even go as far as to ban managers. A no-manager rule will allow team members to speak freely without worry of scrutiny. Remember that having management in your chat room would be the virtual equivalent to having a manager peering over your shoulder as you work. No one wants that.

Now, that's not to say managers can't or shouldn't get in on the instant messenger action. You can set up a separate dedicated channel for the team and managers where everyone can chat. If you can throw in video chat sessions, even better. You can even create a policy where one day out of the week, everyone leaves their webcams on during work hours to help create a close-knit community.

You might also like: Tips and Tricks for Managing Remote Employees.

Make project management easier

Since we're on the topic of online tools, it makes sense to cover some of the products you can use to make project management simpler.

If you're not already using a system, then you'll find integrating one to be a huge relief. For instance, project management tools allow you to assign team members to tasks, which improves accountability. No more playing the blame game—which is easy to do when you're working remotely. Also, when everyone knows what projects and tasks are on the table for the week or month, they can tackle them better. This, in turn, boosts productivity. Finally, we know that the remote life can cut into your work-life balance. With project management tools, you can clearly see what's on your to-do list so you can plan projects around your life.

There are plenty of options for software to help project management, depending on your needs. For example, more laid-back, lightweight platforms like Trello are perfect for creating to-do lists and assigning people to tasks. You can also set up due dates for each assignment. When an assignment is finished, just drag and drop the task to the "Completed" section.

You can also choose to use more robust platforms such as Asana and Basecamp. Many businesses use these platforms for managing projects and tasks. You're able to create multiple projects, set up weekly tasks, and assign them. You also receive notifications as assignments are completed.

Many of these tools also come with the ability to leave comments and chat. For example, on Basecamp, a feature called Campfire allows everyone assigned to a project to chat about the tasks at hand. Conversations are saved so you can easily refer back to important details that were discussed.

Make document sharing a breeze

To help further facilitate your project management and collaboration, document sharing tools help keep the flow of information between collaborators open.

Of these, Google Docs tends to be the most popular, because you're able to write and edit documents online in real-time. Two or more people can go through a single document together. Changes are saved immediately to maintain version control. There's a comment feature for editors and project managers to make suggestions and request edits, and the track changes feature is another plus for remote collaborative teams.

Additional document sharing tools you can use include Dropbox, Box, Zoho Docs, Confluence, and Quip.

You might also like: 12 Free Tools for Remote Developers and Designers.

2. Set up communication systems

How to work remotely

Communication is critical, whether you're running a business or a household. Without it, you can't create a foundation to build upon. So ultimately, bad communication will lead to the collapse of any initiative you set out to accomplish. It's the same with remote team collaboration.

The key to driving a fruitful collaboration with telecommute workers is to set up the right communication systems. As you'll quickly learn, email isn't always the best—especially when it leads to a pileup in your inbox. Not only does this overwhelm workers, but it can also be a time-sucking distraction.

In this case, chat programs are better for quick back and forth conversations because they're faster.

Here's a simple break down of how you can use each platform to benefit your remote team and ease communication:

  • Email: Use this for after-hours and more in-depth conversations your team can refer back to
  • Real-time chat: Best to use for quick interactions and asking urgent questions
  • Video chat: Ideal for interviews (for visual cues) and live training for a better understanding of a topic
  • VoIP: Perfect for when you need to explain something that would take too long via email or instant messenger
  • Project management tools: Effective for segmenting conversations based on the assignment so there's no overlap or confusion
  • Short pre-recorded video: Excellent for training using screen captures and slideshows

3. Keep meetings to a minimal and predictable

How to work remotely

When most people think of businesses, what likely comes to mind are office team meetings. And while this has been the norm for decades, it's quickly changing.

Modern companies are doing away with pointless meetings, because they’re shown to kill productivity and waste money. An infographic put together by the Muse shows businesses waste over $37 billion annually on unproductive meetings. It's gotten so bad that upper management spends 50 percent of their time in these meetings, and most execs admit that 67 percent of meetings are a failure.

So why do we still use them? None of this is to say that meetings have no purpose—but there is a specific time and place for them.

So say goodbye to Monday morning meetings. Instead, focus on scheduling meetings as the need arises. This way, your team can hone in on their projects without unnecessary interruptions.

It's also critical to schedule meetings in advance, so they're predictable. You want your team to be able to set aside time without hurting their productivity.

You might also like: How to Build Strong Relationships with Clients in Another Time Zone.

4. Conduct quarterly performance reviews

How to work remotely

The most successful remote teams operate with full transparency. Everyone should onboard with the knowledge they need to hit the ground running. But it doesn't stop here. You need to ensure that your team is producing at the rate and quality you need. This is what makes quarterly performance reviews vital.

Performance reviews not only help you to see how your team is improving or struggling, but it allows them to see it as well. Make this an opportunity for your team to grow, so that it's not a nerve-wracking ordeal.

Remember that firing team members instead of helping them is a quick way to hurt the morale of your team. If your team needs better support and training, offer it so they can continue to improve. And whenever your team does well, reward them for their efficiency.

It's all about boosting team morale, so they're motivated to become their best.

Put these tips to work

Now that you know how to work remotely, it’s time to put what you’ve learned to the test. Remote teams are what you make of them—if you focus on building a family that supports one another, then you'll develop a team that excels.

With the above tips, you can put your remote team on the path to a successful collaboration. Give them a try and let us know in the comments how well it works for your team!

About the Author

Gal Dubinski is the co-founder of Poptin, Prospero, and Premio. He has nine years of experience in the digital marketing field and internet project management.

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