How to spark collaboration when your team is working remotely

Around 40 percent of the Australian workforce were sent home in March and many will never return to the office full time. Charlotte Rush considers the challenges of working from home and offers solutions to spark collaboration within remote teams.

In 2021, my team will become fully remote. Our offices are packed up, our home studies are stocked and we are ready to commit to working remotely permanently.

After lightly prodding people to return to the office once restrictions lifted, many organisations have discovered that most will not go willingly. The world’s largest experiment in remote work is likely to stick for organisations globally and the way that teams collaborate is set to change forever. 

Unfortunately, according to research by Microsoft’s Human Factors Labs, people find remote collaboration more mentally challenging. This research also suggests that returning to in-person collaboration after months of remote work may feel more difficult than it did pre-COVID. As a result, we are likely to see collaboration drop significantly as we commit to remote work.

Here are three strategies you can use to address the challenges you may be facing when it comes to combining ‘remote’ with ‘collaboration’:

The challenge: Everyone is working on their own projects, with little opportunity to connect with others. This is even more obvious now that people aren’t co-located.

 

The solution: Run ‘virtual caves’. 

Inspired by Caveday, we started running virtual caves at Inventium about 6 months ago. Once a month, we book in a three-hour block of time to which the entire team can opt-in to attend. Everyone brings individual tasks to work on and we start the ‘cave’ in Google Hangouts by sharing what we will work on for our first ‘sprint’. At the half-way point, we break for an update and some chit chat, before moving on to our second sprint. 

Not only does this enhance cohesion, helping team members feel a sense of ‘togetherness’, it also drives accountability. And research demonstrates that when accountability is increased at the team level, teams become more interdependent, experience higher success, and are more satisfied with fellow members. 

The challenge: We are overwhelmed with communication technologies – should we be collaborating via Teams, instant messenger or the phone?

 

The solution: Create a team communication guide. 

I read Basecamp’s Guide to Internal Communication Guide a few years ago and it has stuck with me since. Communication plays a critical role in building successful teams – especially remote teams. Unfortunately, people often default to the communication tool that is most familiar to them and give little thought to the intention behind that communication.

Researchers at MIT found the key to effective virtual communication wasn’t the technologies themselves, but how people use these technologies. Specifically, the purpose of the communication should determine the delivery mechanism. 

By creating a team communication guide, you can align your team on how to communicate and which technologies to use for different contexts. And better collaboration will flow from better communication.

Your guide may ask questions such as, “What do we use synchronous/asynchronous communication for?”, “Which communication channels do we use for what types of communication?” orWhat does ‘urgent’ really mean?” Create one for your team, seeking input along the way, and store it somewhere where everyone can easily access it. 

The challenge: We don’t have time to collaborate.

 

The solution: Diversify your collaboration investments. 

There are three types of collaboration resources: informational (one’s knowledge and skills that can be passed on), social (one’s access and position to a network to facilitate collaboration) and personal (one’s own time and energy). 

We often default to investing personal resources, which takes time away from achieving our own goals, thus contributing to the ‘we don’t have time to collaborate’ problem. In contrast, informational and social resources can be shared (often once), without depleting our time. With this in mind, teams need to diversify how they collaborate to include more informational and social resource investments. 

The next time collaboration is requested of you or someone in your team, allocate only half the time requested and utilise informational or social resources to ‘save’ the remaining time, make an introduction to someone else when the request doesn’t draw upon your unique contributions or, when giving personal resources, prioritise collaboration activities that will energise rather than exhaust you.

Try these three strategies out and see how you can spark collaboration in your remote team in 2021. 

Charlotte Rush is the head of learning at Inventium and is an organisational psychologist.

Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash.