If you’ve spent time in a traditional workplace, you can agree that constant noise, conversations, and frequent interruptions can create an environment that reduces the amount of work that gets done. The alternative that many organizations are utilizing is a remote workplace where employees can work from a quiet space and communicate with one another as needed.
You may be thinking to yourself, “That sounds amazing! How do I get started?” If so, you’re one of 47% of Americans who spent time working remotely in 2017. Needless to say, working virtually is becoming popular, one reason being the potential of increased productivity.
We think remote workplaces are going to become even more normal. That being said, the risk of any organization that shifts toward a more virtual model is decreased collaboration and, in turn, decreased organizational success.
Here’s what we mean. Moving from brick-and-mortar to a virtual workplace removes natural, face-to-face interactions that inherently improve collaboration between co-workers. Organizations have to be intentional about promoting collaboration if they begin utilizing remote teams.
Here are three ways to promote collaboration on a virtual team.
Make first encounters face-to-face
This may be common sense, but it’s much easier to build a relationship with someone if you’re sitting down across from them. And it’s even easier to work together with someone with whom you have a relationship. Think about it. When you have coffee with another person, you can read their body language, see what they’re passionate about, and determine whether or not you can trust them. You can share ideas and ask pointed questions differently than if you were talking on the phone, emailing or texting.
The same principle is true in your workplace. People are typically more willing to work together on a project with co-workers they know and feel comfortable around. They are open to the sharing of ideas and taking feedback when they have spent time building a relationship with them. Obviously, in a virtual workplace, this can be extremely challenging even with video conferences.
Because of this challenge, it is smart to make sure, if at all possible, that you have a face-to-face interaction with every member of your team before they work on projects in your organization. An even better idea, according to Forbes, is to get team members together, in the same room, before they begin their work.
Face-to-face communication improves everyone’s ability to share knowledge and motivate co-workers. Any amount of relational transparency you can demonstrate as a leader, and any level of trust you can develop with team members, will pay off down the road. Why? Because if your relationships are only built on managing stress-points, you’ll find yourself with a team that doesn’t know how to communicate like normal people.
Be extra clear in your communication
Collaboration is communication about achieving goals. That means if you are going to collaborate together on a virtual team, you and your team members are going to have to pay attention to your words. Unlike face-to-face contact, your interactions with your virtual team do not always include body language or facial expressions and, as a result, are more dependent on language.
As the leader, you can model clarity in communication by following these simple rules:
- Take time to write your messages. If you are flippant with your language, your team members will have to spend extra time trying to figure out what you’re trying to say.
- Write out what you want to say before you meet with your team. Similar to written messages, you should put thought into what you’re going to verbally communicate with your team by writing out key thoughts. A perfect example of this is the White House Press Secretary who responds to questions with prepared responses.
- Use video communication as much as possible. Without annoying your team members, you should try to talk about important issues via video chat instead of written messages. For reasons already mentioned, face-to-face interactions are always best.
- Only communicate when necessary. Part of being clear is setting expectations for availability with your team members and meeting those expectations. What we mean is that you should only communicate with your team members when you already expect them to be available. They will be more likely to hear your message and focus on your direction.
If this is all too complicated, just remember to keep your audience in mind. Do they live in a different time zone? Do they have context for what you’re saying to them? Do they typically require a one-on-one conversation? If you can think through these kinds of questions before communicating, you’ll be setting the tone for great collaboration down the road.
Decide together on a collaboration tool
Because more and more people are shifting toward remote work environments, there are tools available to help teams collaborate. One very popular option is Slack, an app that functions as an online workplace where employees can chat, work on projects, and watch each other’s progress. (FYI, Slack offers steep discounts for 501(c)(3) organizations). It might not fill your project management needs, but it will definitely assist your team with communication.
The important action to take, as the leader of a remote team or the champion of virtual workplaces in your organization, is to decide on a communication tool with your team. Why? Because it will give employees, new to the remote work environment, the opportunity to get their bearings. More importantly, choosing an app together can help build a culture of collaboration. Like we’ve written about elsewhere, there is no better way to build trust and team camaraderie than to do it right when the team is forming.
You have the ability as a leader to instill processes and systems that enhance collaboration and, as a result, improve productivity on your remote team. This can be done through in-person on-boarding of new employees, intentionally communicating information to your team, and taking the time to choose a communication app as a team. These are just a few ways to promote collaboration on a remote team.
Do you have experience with any other methods? We’d love to hear about them!