Collaboration will help businesses survive these uncertain times. Here are some tips for working with others online.
Most of us are used to being able to walk up to someone’s desk, knock on their office door or catch up with them at the teapoint in order to ask questions, get advice or run something by them. Gone are the days of in-person interaction and face-to-face collaboration. In a working world where communication is nearly entirely digital, how do you foster team dynamics, bolster morale and keep productivity alive? Here are some tips for collaborating with your team while working from home.
Setting expectations is an important part of working from home successfully. By now your team have been working remotely for the better part of a year, and you’ve likely got some basic expectations set in place for everything from deadlines to catch-ups. Be sure to monitor your team’s performance and amend those expectations if necessary. The current work environment is a learning process for just about everyone, and it will undoubtedly take some trial and error to find a rhythm that’s right for your team.
The way you speak says a lot – body language is a crucial part of interpreting communication with other people and, due to the remote work precautions for coronavirus, it’s a communication tool we no longer have access to. Adopting a consistent writing style will help your teammates get a sense of what you’re trying to convey – make sure you’re sticking to it in your internal communications.
Even the most productive workspace is full of distractions. Social spaces like teapoints and breakout areas give employees the space they need to get away from their work periodically, and that consistent relief actually supports productivity and collaboration by bringing individuals together in other contexts. Make sure your team has space to talk about things other than work by establishing a dedicated channel for off-task chatter. This should be a safe space for informal opinion sharing or questions where employees feel they can speak their mind.
Thankfully, many of the main communication and collaboration platforms have suspended subscription payments or offer a version of free service to accommodate world-wide remote working. Having the right tools is essential for effective collaboration, particularly when everyone is entirely dependent upon technology in order to communicate. Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Google Docs, Slack, Fuze and Bitrix24 are all great resources for working remotely with other people – and they’re all free.
A lot is changing in the world right now, leaving employees feeling stressed at best and isolated, abandoned or lost at worst. Celebrating birthdays or convening for virtual drinks isn’t going to solve any of the major issues facing the majority of businesses right now, but it will help combat feelings of isolation and resulting depression. If possible, continue upholding your team’s social traditions via the internet. It may seem silly at first, but the small semblance of routine and the social interaction outside of normal work-related tasks will strengthen emotional connectivity.
Affinity distance refers to emotional, cultural and psychological disparities between team members. Reducing affinity distance means aligning your team emotionally and mentally, bringing everyone on the same page regarding a common goal. Professional teams across industries have faced monumental challenges in adapting business operations and strategies to a world in pandemic – emotional and mental proximity will help your team bridge physical and operational distance in order to continue functioning as a productive unit.
Clarity and brevity are not always the same thing. When collaborating remotely, it’s important to get in the habit of saying exactly what you mean and explaining yourself when necessary. If you’re briefing someone on an assignment or updating team members on progress, you’ll ideally set up a video call where you can share your screen and illustrate what you’re talking about. But, more often than not, email might be your only form of communication due to time differences and busy schedules. Don’t be afraid to write long form emails when necessary – explaining yourself effectively the first time will save everyone’s time and effort in the long run.
Everyone works and communicates differently. Be sure to encourage participation during virtual meetings or in shared documents. It’s likely that team members who are shy or soft-spoken in person will be bolder online, but soliciting everyone’s opinion and ideas from the outset will help establish a truly collaborative working process.
Scheduling collaborative work is more difficult with everyone working remotely and some people working from different time zones. There are some great scheduling applications for shared work, but keep everyone’s location in mind. Flexibility is necessary on both sides, meaning many employees will need to adjust their working hours to suit their teams’ operating schedule, but teams will also need to consider just how different some people’s timing may be.
With social isolation and lockdown in full-effect, calling someone is the closest thing to stopping by their desk or office to ask a question. No need to feel guilty about calling someone’s mobile either – they’ll ignore the call if they’re busy. Just be mindful of how you’re contacting other team members. If they don’t answer your call, follow up with a message or email, but don’t overwhelm their inboxes on every platform.
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