What is remote collaboration: 4 ways to improve teamwork

Molly Talbert contributor headshotMolly TalbertJuly 26th, 20226 min read
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Summary

Remote collaboration is essential when it comes to virtual teamwork. Teams need to be able to work together to brainstorm, complete projects, and achieve their goals, no matter where they’re located. Learn how to improve remote teamwork using collaboration software.

When you can’t book a conference room with a whiteboard, tap someone on the shoulder for a quick chat, or brainstorm together over lunch, how can you effectively collaborate with your team? Remote work can be challenging—especially as some folks do it for the first time under already stressful circumstances.

Whether remote work is new to you and your company, or you know how to work from home effectively while collaborating and communicating with your team, there are a few easy adjustments you can make to your processes that can make a big difference.

In this guide, we’ve detailed the most important elements of remote collaboration, plus outlined four ways you can improve collaboration within your team. 

What is remote collaboration?

Remote collaboration is the ability to work as a team from anywhere around the world. Collaboration is important, as it fosters communication among team members and enables them to achieve a common goal. 

Remote collaboration is powered by the use of digital collaboration tools, which started being widely adopted when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With these tools, we’ve created a new way of doing business. 

Now, you no longer need to work in the same physical space as your team members. With remote collaboration, you can be anywhere and still work as a team. Not only does remote collaboration allow team members to work anywhere, but it can also increase productivity when implemented effectively.

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4 ways to improve remote team collaboration

There are a few important steps you can take when it comes to improving remote collaboration. By encouraging teamwork, improving meetings, limiting distractions, and utilizing collaboration software, you can create a productive, streamlined team dynamic. Read our top four collaboration tips so you can start improving remote team communication today.

1. Encourage teamwork

Although digital communication is almost like second nature, losing body language or other aspects of in-person communication can create tricky situations at work. Even small non-verbal cues can have a positive impact or lower morale depending on how they’re interpreted.

That’s why, according to a Harvard Business Review article, when we practice physical or social distancing, it’s important to reduce affinity distancing (distancing around values, trust, and teamwork). In other words—even if your team can’t be physically near, it’s critical that their values align, that trust is maintained and built between people, and that teamwork remains strong.

How do you do that?

  • Create remote communication guidelines: As a team, decide what communication tools you use for certain types of communication. For example, at Asana we use Slack for chit chat, Asana for big projects and collaboration, and email for communicating with outside vendors or partners. Use a communication plan to document what you decide as a team, and post the guidelines in an easy-to-find place.

  • Find the right communication balance: Sometimes, to be efficient, we lean towards short communication or conversations. To communicate effectively while remote, attach or link to important reference projects or information, include screenshots to demonstrate specifics, emojis or GIFs to convey emotion, or a phone call for a quick chat.

  • Set standards for video calls: If your team doesn’t already have a culture of video calls, now is the time to start. Video calls help people interpret emotion (you get a little body language!), build rapport, and show up for the conversation—which all add up to more trust.

  • Create space for celebration and team bonding: Finding dedicated time for team celebrations and bonding is just as important as getting the work done—especially when you're on a remote or hybrid team. When someone hits a milestone, send a note out to the team congratulating them. Throw a half-hour birthday party over a video call for fun. Host a monthly virtual game hour (pro tip: Scattergories works well online!). When people can relax and get to know each other better, it makes working together much easier and more fun.

    Read: Trust, accountability, and communication: The essential ingredients for remote working policies

2. Improve meetings

Now is a great time to get really good at meetings. Video conferencing calls are more popular than ever, but just because they're accessible at the click of a button doesn't necessarily mean they're simpler. From coordinating Zoom meetings across different time zones to instant messengers like Slack, there are so many different ways to communicate that it can get overwhelming at times. If you pulled up your calendar right now, are there meetings that could be better utilized or crossed off entirely?

[inline illustration] How to improve meetings (infographic)

Here’s how to rethink your calendar and meetings to boost remote collaboration in the workplace:

  • Make a meeting agenda and send it out: Start by identifying the purpose and goal of every meeting, then make an agenda outlining discussion topics, action items to go over, and timing. Distribute the agenda before the meeting so attendees know what’s coming and can think about how to contribute—or skip the meeting if it doesn’t pertain to them. Your meetings will be more effective and stay on track.

  • Take notes to distribute after: In the shared agenda doc or task, the meeting leader should take detailed notes about what’s discussed. After the meeting, fill in the notes with reference links to other projects and then distribute the document or task to everyone who attended. By assigning one note taker, everyone else can concentrate on participating rather than creating their own record. Notes are also useful for anyone who couldn’t attend.

  • Try a virtual stand-up: If you have a recurring status meeting, instead of booking 30 to 60 minutes in everyone’s calendar, consider changing it to a 15-minute stand-up. What’s a stand-up? In the tech world, a stand-up is a quick daily status meeting where everyone on the team says, in a sentence or two, what they’ve done, what they’re doing next, and what problems they see ahead. It’s an effective way of getting a bird’s-eye view, identifying opportunities for hybrid collaboration, and checking in with one another.

Read: Team charter template: A roadmap for team success (with examples)

3. Limit distractions

As important as working together and collaborating are, equally important is finding your own focus time—and ensuring your team does as well. Finding that deep focus, reducing digital distractions, and fighting the constant deluge of app toggling and notification checking should be top priorities for everyone. With a little forethought and good frameworks for how to work, it’ll be easier for you and your team to find focus time.

Here are a few ways to do just that:

  • Say no to meetings: Yup, you read that right. Are you feeling overwhelmed by your calendar? Take a look at your priorities, find out what the purpose of each meeting is and who else is invited, and think twice about whether you should be there or not. If the answer is ‘no,’ decline and ask for notes if you think they’ll be helpful.

  • Timebox distractions: Taking small breaks throughout the day is important for helping you focus when it’s time. The trick is making sure a quick break doesn’t turn into an afternoon-long nap or Instagram scroll. Set aside specific times to do non-work related activities—a walk around the block, snack time, reading the news—and hold yourself accountable to that allotted amount of time. The break will be good for you and you’ll return to work with a clearer brain and more energy to accomplish your work.

  • Turn off notifications and use Do Not Disturb: It’s OK to block out real-time distractions during certain times of the day so you can maintain flow and keep your head down. Take control of your messaging notifications by disabling all but the most critical ones. If you’re worried you’ll miss something, set up reminders every few hours to check your inbox or chat quickly and then get back to work. In the same vein, if you work in tools that have a Do Not Disturb mode, turn it on when you need to concentrate. Protect your focus time—and make sure your teammates do as well—so that, when you have the time, you can do your best work without distractions.

Read: 6 tips to harness the power of flow state at work

4. Utilize remote collaboration tools

[inline illustration] Utilize remote collaboration tools (abstract)

From real-time communication to file sharing, team meetings, and face-to-face video calls, time spent on “work about work” can disrupt productivity. Work about work is any task that isn’t skilled or strategic work—things like searching for documents or scheduling meetings. Asynchronous communication can help connect team members by protecting flow state and encouraging clear communication. But, switching between apps is a leading cause of time spent on work about work. Instead of using different tools for messaging, calendars, videos, and audio, use an all-in-one digital collaboration tool

Here are a few ways to utilize a collaboration tool:

  • Share files between team members: With digital collaboration software, sharing files is simple. Whether you utilize integrations like Google Drive, PDFs, Dropbox, or Trello, you can create one “source of truth” where remote team members can find the information they need. Additionally, you can communicate about shared files to keep details in one workspace that anyone can access at any given time.  

  • Schedule projects and tasks: You can easily assign tasks to help individuals understand their priorities. Calendar software features allow teams to collaborate around schedules, no matter what time zone they’re located in. This is ideal for remote teams that use conference calls as a key point of contact. With a shared calendar, it’s easy to stay up to date on project progress and changes. 

  • Coordinate work seamlessly: To stay ahead of project tasks, milestones, and deadlines, it’s essential for virtual teams to be able to coordinate work seamlessly. With a digital project management tool, your team can see a visual breakdown of upcoming dependencies and get notified about upcoming tasks. This creates transparency around individual workloads and ensures due dates are met. 

Why is remote collaboration important?

Collaboration is the most important element of great teamwork and fosters communication to brainstorm ideas and achieve goals. When it comes to remote and hybrid teams, streamlining the communication process has never been more important.  

Effective collaboration allows remote teams to communicate effortlessly and, ultimately, increase productivity through streamlined outcomes. Without taking steps to improve remote collaboration, your virtual team could be at risk of a lack of visibility, unclear objectives, and poor planning. 

Collaborate remotely with your team

If you work on a remote or hybrid team, remember—you’re not alone. Everyone on your team is trying to be effective, together—even if we’re all practicing social distancing to varying degrees. Follow the four tips above to learn how to collaborate effectively if your team is remote so you can connect more frequently (even if it's different than you would in an office). With your colleagues, share what’s been working with you and ask if they have any new tips.

Also, acknowledge what’s hard and work with your team to gracefully get through it. Change can be disorienting. Simply acknowledging that fact and redefining what your days look like—and how you interact with your team and colleagues—can be empowering.

Manage remote work with Asana

Related resources

Ebook

Connecting the dots: How to manage remote teams