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Virtual teamwork can still make the dream work

By Merhawi Kidane on October, 28 2021

4 tips for better collaboration with your team while everyone is stuck at home.

One of the trickiest parts of working from home is figuring out how to collaborate with your teammates. All of the casual conversations, chats over lunch, and shouts for help that normally take place in an office have recently come to a screeching halt.

Nowadays, if you want to talk to someone, you actually have to call, text, or email them, and then wait for a response. It can be an awkward way of interacting that makes innovation or collaboration more difficult.

But there are ways to make collaboration happen.

When teams make a concerted effort to consciously connect while in isolation, they can build a new cadence of communicating that will keep them engaged and productive. Here’s how to do it:

1. Schedule agenda-less virtual meetings

When everyone is in the office, team meetings can happen organically and sometimes don’t come with a calendar invitation. But when you are working from home, impromptu ‘standing at the desk’ conversations get replaced for scheduled events.

When building your new meeting calendar, think about how often you connect in the office, then mimic that experience online by scheduling standing meetings with teammates. These can help foster unscheduled but deeply important interactions. If you have a daily stand-up meeting, virtually eat lunch together twice a week, or always do a quick catch up at the end of the day. Building in unstructured collaboration time should become part of your virtual routine.

2. Take advantage of collaboration tools

Don’t just plan when to connect. Think about how you want to engage, and what tools will help you make the most of your time together. While a conference call may be useful for team announcements and updates, it’s not a great place to inspire innovation. That kind of interaction requires more natural give and take between individuals and the group.

Fortunately, there are lots of cheap/free virtual tools to help you make that happen. Some of our favorites include:

  • Slack -- This popular virtual messaging hub is an excellent way to tie teams together. It gives teams a way to have ongoing conversations that are dedicated to specific projects and workflows. It’s a way to talk all day long without the formality of a meeting or phone call.
  • Stormboard -- This shared virtual whiteboard let’s remote teams draw ideas and post sticky notes that can each be turned into their own collaboration environment. It’s a great tool for brainstorming and iterating new ideas.
  • Asana -- This popular project management tool lets you create to-do lists, map project tasks, and set reminders and alerts to keep projects on track. The company also offers lots of tips to maximize its value, like using the project progress tab to capture status updates and the API tool to include links to relevant information in custom fields.

3. Be clear about what you need

When you are working in isolation you lose the chance to ask a quick follow-up question, wave for help, or follow visual cues about what your teammates need. So, you have to be more specific with your asks when getting your work done.

If you need an immediate response, or ‘feedback sometime today’, make that part of the message. Similarly, make sure to let people know if an update doesn’t require a response so you don’t trigger an avalanche of “thanks for the update!” emails.

Make sure to put a clear call to action in your messages so teammates know how to respond, and everyone saves time by avoiding duplicate work or confusion. The more concisely you communicate about your needs, the more productive the entire team will be.

4. Schedule time for fun

The loss of face-time often means most of your non-teamwork interactions are also gone. This can have a negative impact on morale. But there are lots of ways to recreate those personal interactions online. Plan a virtual game night, schedule Zoom coffee meetings, or binge-watch a Netflix show together while messaging the group. These casual interactions aren’t just meant to kill time. They improve team cohesion and comradery, which is important to their success. One study found that when teams perceive themselves to be friends rather than just acquaintances, they perform better on decision-making and motor tasks because of a greater degree of group commitment and cooperation.

Start good remote work habits today

Someday this crisis will end and while many will return to an office, working from home won’t go away entirely. Some people will discover they love to work remotely and many companies will likely oblige them. So, learning how to stay connected remotely will make you more agile and productive today, and help you adapt to whatever form your workplace takes in the future.

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