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Kids calling their parents’ bosses, naked loved ones walking by, and a pre-K class getting shut down for copyright infringement because someone was watching WrestleMania in the background — these are just a few of the work video call disasters we’ve experienced so far this year. And it’s no wonder — more than 60% of us are now figuring out how to live and work from home. If your job includes remote collaboration with coworkers, you may be worried about sustaining teamwork in this environment.
The good news is it’s not impossible. By being more mindful of creating unified experiences and encouraging engagement to maintain bonds, you and your coworkers can ace remote collaboration, even with a video call fail now and again.
If you’re having trouble figuring out where to start with virtual collaboration, management consulting firm McKinsey recommends starting with what worked in the office, then modifying as necessary for remote scenarios.
Here are AdRoll’s five best tips for ensuring your team gets the most out of remote collaboration.
This is a hard time for everyone. We’re all under enormous stress, and the future is uncertain. We’re also trying to work from home while balancing the needs of loved ones and pets. Day by day, our emotions rise and fall like a proverbial roller coaster.
That’s why remote workers need to have empathy for their colleagues — and that’s especially true for managers. If you oversee staff, now is not the time to be a taskmaster. Instead, acknowledge and accommodate your employees’ mental and emotional state the best you can. If you feel comfortable, be transparent about your own, too.
Now more than ever, it’s okay if you and your colleagues aren’t consummate professionals at all times. If a child or a pet interrupts a video call, for example, save the disapproving looks. Embrace the serendipity of the moment, similar to the BBC dad who went viral in 2017 when his kids interrupted a newscast.
In fact, McKinsey suggests using an opportunity like this to introduce family or pets to coworkers or highlight another aspect of home life, which creates a collective bonding experience for everyone. Teams who understand one another and prop each other up when someone is down will be the most successful while working from home.
Though nonverbal communication, such as email and instant messages, are on the rise, try not to misinterpret tone when digitally chatting. It’s crucial to stress open communication throughout your organization to ensure collaboration continues.
For more on how to keep your work culture alive while WFH:
By now, you likely have a dedicated area in your home to work. Take it one step further by optimizing this space to fuel efficiency, which will directly impact collaboration.
If you’re lucky enough to have a home office, this won’t necessarily pertain to you. If you don’t, a spare bedroom or other under-utilized indoor space (even an outdoor patio) can serve as a dedicated work area. Your goal should be to find a comfortable spot with minimal distractions.
Professional services network PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) suggests you bring an extra monitor home or use a tablet, smartphone, or another laptop to minimize distractions during virtual meetings and ensure you can see everyone on the call and the presentation, if applicable. When you set yourself up for success, you can effectively collaborate with others, even from afar.
The principles that guide virtual meetings, which are among the primary sources of interaction among colleagues, are the same as in-person meetings. If you’re running the meeting, you need to communicate the point and distribute an agenda ahead of time. You don’t want the session — virtual or in-person — to run too long. And you don’t want any single person to monopolize the conversation.
Because interaction can be limited in a virtual format, you may want to encourage engagement among your colleagues more than usual, such as an icebreaker or mid-meeting break. PwC recommends a check-in activity to hear everyone’s voice early on, followed by exercises that seek quick input from participants.
This will require the use of cameras, but not always microphones. When you join a meeting, modern etiquette dictates you’re on video, but not audio. Seeing one another helps facilitate collaboration. So, too, will starting the feed early or leaving it on after the meeting concludes, which gives participants time to catch up outside of the meeting’s context.
Communication is key here, particularly in a remote setting. Without opportunities to clarify goals and progress in the office, McKinsey suggests teams focus on purposeful and structured connections. That could mean scheduling additional meetings while a team is remote or tapping into one of the tools below.
For more on how to stay productive while WFH:
We couldn’t work from home if it weren't for modern technology, which offers tools that make remote collaboration potentially more successful. For literal collaboration on documents, PwC and marketing software firm HubSpot recommends Google Suite (although there are several other options). Google, however, is affordable and easy to use.
Another useful collaboration tool is a real-time whiteboard, which is essentially the digital version of that empty whiteboard hanging in your office right now. Options include Miro, Mural, and Google. However, McKinsey cautions teams to make sure they capture whatever is on those virtual whiteboards so they don’t lose any collaborative work.
As for a complement to email, remote workforces may find a chat solution helpful. Many offices already use Slack, but there are other options, such as WhatsApp and Flowdock.
Because we’re in this together, companies should tap into these collaborative tools to further a shared sense of purpose outside office hours. The right fit will vary depending on company culture but could include virtual happy hours or trivia nights, helping to boost morale and bonding.
For more on self-care tips to stay mentally healthy:
Just like anything else in life, remote collaboration and WFH offers pros and cons. It’s commute-free, which means you’ll have more time for yourself. But it also can breed isolation, making it easy to forget you’re actually part of a team.
Luckily, there are tools that make it easier to communicate with colleagues. Whatever you do, make a concerted effort to engage, cut each other some slack, and focus on being the best versions of yourself. That's all remote teams need to collaborate successfully, no matter where they are based.
Originally published on August 6th, 2020, last updated on June 16th, 2022.