Foster Collaboration and Engagement in Your Remote Team to Boost Productivity
There are many benefits and advantages to managing a remote team, but how do you keep people engaged when they’re not in the same location? At Miro, we employ many talented folks from across the globe – from San Francisco, LA, and Austin to Amsterdam and Perm. Because our teams come from different countries, cultures, and are distributed across several time zones, our managers have had to be proactive—and get creative – to keep people connected. Now, with the Covid-19 pandemic forcing most companies to shift to remote work, these lessons are more valuable than ever. Here are our valuable tips for keeping remote teams connected.
What is remote collaboration?
Remote collaboration is the process of fostering teamwork, communication, and engagement between remote workers with the aim of increasing overall team productivity and efficiency. This isn’t just a challenge for management, but an individual challenge for each worker to stay involved and find their role in achieving team goals.
Why remote collaboration & engagement is challenging
Remote engagement is challenging for one very big reason: psychological distance. Put another way, this refers to the emotional connections teams make when they are working in the same place, establishing processes and team dynamics IRL. Remote workers are more likely to feel isolated due to the lack of team-building activities, collaboration opportunities, and conversations their office counterparts experience.
How to collaborate remotely
There are many remote collaboration tools to boost communication and productivity, from collaboration software like online whiteboards to project management apps like Asana and Trello to file sharing apps like Google Docs and Dropbox. However, remote team collaboration is about more than just the tools. It’s important to engage your team through rituals and activities that help foster the connections they miss from being in-person. This will make their collaboration more creative, more productive, and more engaging for them.
"We have an all-or-nothing rule. Either everyone is together in one room, or everyone is in separate rooms logging in on their computers.”
— Greg Caplan, CEO and founder of Remote Year
Top 5 tips for boosting remote team collaboration & engagement
What about the time when you’re not in meetings and you’re actually jamming through your projects and to-do list? Those precious moments when you’re getting stuff done can be incredibly rewarding, but it’s important to have processes and tools that support this type of work, too, especially when dealing with a remote team.
1. Establish weekly rituals
Weekly rituals where you interact with your team face-to-face – and they interact with each other – will be important for keeping everyone connected. From hang out sessions to weekly team meetings, there are many rituals you can establish. Here are a few we use at Miro that we love:
Weekly kickoff meetings: In the beginning of the week, meet on a video call and have everyone list their priorities for the week. If there’s a new employee, introduce them and have everyone else give them “1 tip for success” as they ramp up.
Weekly close-out meetings: Use this meeting to check-in and allow team members to demo something they did that week. It doesn’t need to be a big, shiny presentation – they can even demo something they just started working on. But it helps keep everyone engaged with what others are doing and incentivized productivity through social proof.
Project alignment sessions: Make sure you’re meeting regularly with your team to ensure everyone is aligned on project goals. This will also help you keep track of progress and catch blockers early.
Friday wins: Ask your team to post three (or more) wins they had that week in a team Slack channel. The wins can be anything, from completed tasks to great meetings with cross-functional partners.
Coffee talk: Consider scheduling a 30-minute morning “coffee talk” early in the week where your team can drink coffee and give personal updates from their lives.
Feedback sessions: This is so important. Don't miss out on the chance to collect and reflect upon feedback from your remote employees.
2. Host virtual team lunches
This suggestion is as simple as it sounds. Schedule some time once per week to have lunch over video conference with your team using an app like Zoom. Share what each of you is eating, talk about personal updates, and kick back for 30 minutes together. If you all work different schedules, you can schedule a virtual meetup for another reason – it doesn’t have to be lunch. The point is for you to ensure you have regularly scheduled time to just hang out.
“We threw a Skype virtual baby shower for a coworker. You just need to be creative and think outside of the box to build relationships with remote team members.”
—Amy Forbes Winebright, Global Project Manager of Talent Attraction and Employer Brand at Dell
3. Promote live, virtual co-working sessions
Sometimes you just need to get things done, but it’s fun when remote working to have another person there to bounce ideas off of in real-time or to be your accountability partner. Encourage your team to host regular “co-working” sessions where you hop on a video chat and just work independently, together.
4. Make time for fun activities & icebreakers
Helping your team stay engaged will involve more than just meetings about work, projects, and performance. You’ll have to go the extra mile to foster connections and friendships that won’t come as naturally due to the distance. Here are some activities and ice breakers Miro uses regularly that we highly recommend:
Home office tour: Channel MTV's Cribs and have each team member walk you through their home or office space on a video call.
Personal updates: Put some time on the calendar every week to ask about personal updates and what people did over the weekend.
Trivia or other games: Spend some time every month playing games virtually with your team. It takes the pressure off of always having to focus on work.
Flat lay your desk: Have each team member take a “flat lay” photo of their desk and post it in a group chat. This helps everyone share little personal details about themselves, like how they like to decorate.
Posting pics in group chat: If employees have pets, kids, or do activities they love in their city, ask them to take pics and share them regularly. This will spark conversations, and connect people over common interests. And who doesn’t love a good dog or cat pic?
5. Use the buddy system
This is a great one for helping new employees get up to speed. Pair them up with a “buddy” on your team. Have the buddies meet regularly, and ask the more seasoned team member to train up and help the new person.
FAQ on remote collaboration
How do you collaborate remotely?
Collaborating remotely is about setting synchronized team and individual goals, communicating openly (both formally on work matters and informally for water cooler chat), and providing employees with opportunities to work together.
What could enhance your collaboration while working from home?
Collaboration software and tools like Slack, Asana, Monday, and Trello are critical for enhancing remote team collaboration. They allow you to maintain clear team goals and channels for communication that keep workers engaged.
How do you communicate with a remote team?
Remote teams typically have several different communication channels. Emails are for longer, more formal communications, while Slack and other similar messaging apps are for quick one-on-one chats.