Remote work statistics clearly indicate that working from home can improve both employee satisfaction and efficiency while lowering overall business costs for the organization. In fact, 85 percent of businesses have reported a rise in productivity due to the increased flexibility offered by remote work and 83 percent of employees reported lower stress.

But embracing the work from home trend hasn’t been easy on everyone, at least at the start. Managers are struggling to overcome the operational challenges that remote work brings with it, and team collaboration is one of the biggest challenges of all.

Getting team members together and making sure they are able to collaborate effectively is difficult as it gets. Add physical distance into the equation, and collaboration gets exponentially harder.

The best way to get through this challenge is by understanding your remote team’s requirements and implementing strategies that can help the team achieve seamless collaboration.

What makes collaboration in remote work different?

According to a report, the top three challenges faced by remote employees include collaboration, loneliness, and struggling to unplug after work.

When you are working remotely with your team members located in different cities or countries, it can be challenging to collaborate the same way you did in the office. You can’t just walk to your colleague’s desk for a ‘quick question’ or realize that one of your team members isn’t feeling that well.

There is also no way of knowing what team members are up to unless they inform you themselves. Moreover, 57 percent of remote employees claim they miss out on important information and 55 percent get excluded from important meetings just because they work remotely. As a result, there is a need to implement the right collaboration strategies to ensure remote team members are able to work together and no one feels isolated.

Best practices to foster collaboration and build a resilient remote team

1. Centralize your communications

The first thing you should do for successful remote team collaboration is centralizing all the communication within the team. There should be a shared communication space where team members can voice their opinions, share updates, ask questions, and effectively collaborate.

While it’s good to have one on one communication between the team manager and other colleagues to build close bonds, members should be encouraged to share all their project-related problems, issues, or ideas on the common team communication channel so that everyone is in the loop all the time.

2. Create team schedules

The biggest concern for most managers handling a remote team is availability. While flexibility in schedule is a common benefit that is offered to remote employees working from home, it may not always be feasible for team members to work separately. In order to ensure smooth and efficient remote team collaboration, you need to define team schedules.

Creating a schedule doesn’t mean insisting that employees work a fixed number of hours every day. It’s about trying to find a schedule that works for all team members and gives them the flexibility they need.

You can start by analyzing the normal work timings of all team members and find out the following details:

  • The different time zones of all the employees
  • The time zone overlaps for the whole team in terms of working hours
  • Available hours of each employee every day
  • Average response time for team members

Based on the above information, you can create weekly or daily team schedules where all the team members are available for hands-on team meetings or one on one discussions.

Clearly specifying team schedules and the expected response time will also reduce scheduling volleys with the team members and allow them to work distraction-free without getting bombarded by too many messages.

3. Establish team norms

Team norms define how team members should ideally communicate with each other. Communication norms develop and transform on their own over time as employees work closely with each other in an office.

But setting up norms for remote teams becomes important to improve communication and set clear expectations for everyone.

Based on the nature of your team and company culture, create a list of team communication norms that include details like:

  • What communication tools should team members use for instant messaging, emails, video chat, and calls?
  • When to nudge a team member for a response if you don’t hear back from them?
  • Whether it is compulsory for all team members to attend routine team meetings?
  • What should team members say when they want to do deep work without getting disturbed?
  • When, if at all, the remote employees need to come to the office?

4. Create and reward project milestones

Whenever a new project gets started, it’s a fresh opportunity for employees to build something from the ground up and show their skills. But as the day to day challenges of a project start coming in, it can be a constant uphill battle for remote teams to stay on the same page.

To ensure everyone stays informed and motivated to perform their best work, team leaders should always make it a point to not only share important project milestones and deadlines with everyone but also reward the efforts and achievements of the team members.

At the same time, managers should encourage peer recognition and ask employees to appreciate the efforts of their colleagues in order to build strong bonds and trust within the team.

5. Encourage collaboration between teams and departments

Cross-team collaborations give employees the opportunity to showcase their diverse skills and venture into interesting projects within the company which directly improves employee retention and satisfaction. Moreover, it also helps improve efficiency and communication between different teams and departments.

Successful cross-team collaboration should be a part of the company culture. Employees should also know what is going on in the rest of the departments. The best way to do that is by creating organization-wide communication channels where teams can share updates about the different projects they are working on and their upcoming projects as well.

6. Put emphasis on video calls for team meetings

No amount of phone calls, texts, or emails can substitute face to face interactions for teams. In fact, over 92 percent of remote teams agree that video meetings and discussions help improve collaboration and teamwork. Video allows you to pick up nonverbal cues and communication that you might have missed over text. It reminds employees that their colleagues are humans with feelings and not just another picture on the screen. It also helps in maintaining relationships and human interaction for remote employees who might be feeling isolated from the whole team.

7. Prioritize your company culture

Foster a culture of collaboration by making it a part of your core company values. You can reinforce those values by adding them to your company website or conducting routine webinars by company leadership about the importance of collaboration. You can also write and share collaboration guidelines with all the employees about best practices for chatting, video calls, and emails.

8. Introduce the right collaboration tools

Technology is the only way remote employees connect with each other, that’s why using the right collaboration tools can make all the difference. Ideally, remote teams need collaboration tools for:

  • Instant messaging to quickly connect with coworkers
  • Updating project status to keep the team involved in the loop
  • Sharing important company data and files
  • Creating dedicated communication channels for different teams, departments, and the whole organization
  • Video calling team members for regular team meetings and one on one discussions

Using half a dozen applications just to cover all aspects of remote work collaboration can end up overwhelming employees. Team members might end up wasting a big chunk of their time toggling between these applications instead of collaborating and working with their coworkers.

Instead, use a digital workplace that can serve as a central platform to give employees access to all the collaboration tools and applications that they need. With a digital workplace, you can share project updates, access all company-related data, chat with your colleagues in real-time, and create communication channels for seamless collaboration.

Establish collaboration strategies that work for your team

Remote work can be challenging, especially when you are just starting out. Focus on the main challenges faced by the team and implement strategies that can help overcome them. Separating your asynchronous and synchronous communication is a challenge, and knowing the difference between the two is challenging. Too much synchronous communication leads to burnout and no time to work. Too much asynchronous communication leads to delayed projects and misunderstandings. Take constant feedback from team members to understand what is working for them and what isn’t. More importantly, use the right digital tools to support your employees.

Companies also need to think about the durability of their communication. A lot of communication doesn’t need to survive the day. It can be flushed out of the system. But other communication needs to be saved in an accessible format for later on. Determining the difference between the two is essential to having a good remote team.