The tools and processes you need for productive remote work
Remote work can be challenging due to the trifecta of the distances that can negatively affect remote work collaboration. There’s the obvious physical distance of time and place, operational distance like bandwidth, team size, and varying skill levels, and affinity distance that includes mutual dependence, trust, and values.
Our team at Voltage Control has always been entirely remote, so we know first-hand the difficulties that can arise with virtual collaboration. It’s crucial to establish strategies to increase teamwork for remote work so that all team members can perform at their highest level. Here’s how.
Provide the proper tools
Be sure to equip your team with the tools they need to succeed. Communication is most effective when team members can work in sync with one another. It is important that everyone on the team is using the same tools for congruency and maximum efficiency. With everything now virtual, there is a multitude of options to choose from. Here are ten tools that we use daily with our team at Voltage Control:
- Zoom – Virtual meeting platform for video conferencing. There is also a feature for built-in rooms that you can use to assign participants to breakout rooms.
- Mural – Digital whiteboard with collaborative templates for visual collaboration including planning, brainstorming and designing.
- Loom – Screen recorder that creates video screen capture messages instead of long emails to effectively get your message across.
- Figma – Collaborative design platform to design, prototype and gather feedback in real-time in one place.
- Google Docs – Smart editing and styling tools support joint teamwork to flow smoothly and easily and keep ideas in one place. Teams can work on different pages or in different docs accordingly.
- Google Sheets – Collaborative spreadsheets to organize and update tasks and information.
- Google Drive or other cloud storage – Drop all work content into a shared space for easy access for all team members. Use different folders to organize information.
- Slack – Team messaging platform that is a smart alternative to email. It allows the team to have a shared view of work progress and purpose.
- Doodle – Calendar scheduling system for time management and to easily coordinate one-on-one and team meetings.
- Trello – A place for assigning work and tracking work progress using a Kanban-style list-making application. Assign individuals to cards to create clear to-do lists and organize priorities.
Establish communication processes
In order to ensure clear and consistent communication, teams need to create communication norms. For example, at Voltage Control we keep all work-related conversations in Slack. We even have different thread channels within the app to organize conversation such as ‘marketing’, ‘product inspiration’, and ‘virtual’. This helps us keep communication organized and easily accessible. We use email to stay connected on client projects and information and we collaborate in working Google Docs and Google Sheets.
Find whatever tools and resources work best for your team and establish their purpose and process.
Determining personal communication norms can also be helpful so that the team knows what everyone needs and responds best to. This may include people’s preferred response time, certain times or days that individuals are out of pocket or favored writing style and tone (such as short and to the point messages vs lengthy, more detailed ones). Get to know how team members communicate best and enforce teamwide processes for all to follow.
With that being said, it is important to note that a general rule of thumb is to avoid brevity. At times we may use fewer words to communicate in an effort to be efficient, but this can actually lead to confusion and miscommunication among remote teams. Briefness in communication can lead to wasted time as team members try to decipher, and often misinterpret, the meaning of your message. Instead of assuming that everyone knows your shorthand, spend time to communicate with clear intention and detail across mediums so that everyone is on the same page. You can never be too clear. And it’s better to effectively communicate from the get-go than to spend time backtracking in order to provide context and instruction.
Uphold a reliable schedule
Just like in-person work, it is imperative to support productivity by maintaining a steady schedule. Use the above tools to create weekly and monthly agendas so that the team clearly knows the upcoming landscape and what is expected of them on a daily basis. Increased collaboration requires consideration of busy schedules and different time zones. It’s difficult for people if you change plans at the last minute or repeatedly alter from the schedule. Organization is key.
When you’re in a virtual meeting, make sure to be fully prepared and present. Follow a structured meeting agenda and keep yourself from outside distractions just like you would for an in-person meeting. Krisp is a noise-cancelling app that allows you to mute background noise in any communication application. You won’t be tempted to take a glance at that new email notification or LinkedIn message. Be on time, dial-in and set the tone for everyone. Doing so will show the team that you value them and they will be more productive as a result.
Create intentional connection space
Remote teams don’t have the benefit of watercooler or side talk conversations with colleagues. This is a factor that should not be overlooked. We innately crave connection and contact with other people. Without it, work can feel very lonely. That’s why outside communication among team members is crucial for team building and individual employee wellbeing, especially with remote work. It builds trust, connection, and community and lays a foundation for future collaboration.
“Strong social connections make people happier and physically healthier, which can translate into work performance.” –Forbes
Create virtual spaces for the team to gather and socialize. We host a weekly Zoom happy hour on Fridays for the team to virtually spend light-hearted time together. Whether we chat over drinks of choice or engage in improv games, setting a time for fun can have a huge impact on company morale and future teamwork.
This is also an important practice for times of celebration like birthdays or team acknowledgments. Since you don’t have a physical place to gather to share a cake or celebrate employee achievements, create virtual rituals. Find ways to reduce affinity distance to maintain company culture.
Whether your team has always been remote like us at Voltage Control, or you are just now making the forced shift to the virtual landscape, integrating the best tools and processes for your team will set you up for optimal success. You need only to apply the new tools and rules of engagement to experience effective remote work collaboration.
Looking for a Virtual Meeting Facilitator? We Can Help.
Voltage Control facilitates remote design thinking workshops, innovation sessions, and Design Sprints. Please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org for a consultation.