Remote collaboration the new normal
The term we hear most these days is “these are unprecedented times” and indeed they are. In many ways. While the world is being rushed into quarantine and self-isolation on a mass scale, medical care is being ramped up tremendously and the biggest ever economic stimulus packages are being constructed.
At the same time, we try to continue our lives as best as we can. It’s only human nature to do so. However some aspects of our lives have drastically changed due to Covid-19, one of them truly against our human nature; social interaction. We are group animals by nature and we are now forced into self isolation. Both in our personal and our professional lives.
In a lot of professional environments working remotely has become increasingly accepted. Moreover, there are quite some companies around the globe that have been founded as, and work completely as remote companies. This crisis has forcefully moved everybody somewhat capable of remote working into adapting this “new” way of working and it will not just turn back to normal once Covid-19 has passed. Remote collaboration in some form or another is the new normal.
This is both true for large companies as much as it is for small companies or even sole traders. There are few business or trades that can operate completely solely. Especially in the impact sector, you will be connected to a broad stakeholder field. So the techniques of remote collaboration within a company are also applicable to some extent to remote collaboration with your partners, clients, suppliers etc.
I’ll leave it up to you to judge whether that is a good thing or not. I personally feel it brings a lot of benefit to both employees and companies but only if it is done right. There’s been a lot of research into this field and as mentioned, many companies have experience in this. So we can skip the pitfalls and move straight into the best practices of remote collaboration. Here’s how 😉
Communication is everything
The single most defining difference with remote working is, by far, communication. Whereas in the office you can easily ask your colleagues questions, jump into a stand-up or call for a meeting, pick up the conversation between other colleagues, visit customers or suppliers. With remote working this is completely different. You rely on technology and written communication.
Obviously technology offers video conferencing. This is a great way to keep in touch and very useful for multiple purposes like team meetings, stand-ups, 1-on-1’s. However, you just can’t be in a video conference all day, every day. And even you would, it wouldn’t come close to the amount of communication you’d have in the office.
Writing is considered to be the default communication type with remote working. And a lot of it, through a lot of channels. Somehow, you will want to try to capture everything that is usually discussed in the office, in writing. At least the essential parts of it. Keeping everybody informed on what is happening, what is expected, what the focus is, how to approach certain things. Everything will now be discussed, mostly, in writing.
Luckily, there is an abundance of tools to help you do this. At the end of this article I will list a whole bunch of them. You’ll probably need a division between:
- Chat room: where people discuss work and what needs to be done (the informal chat between colleagues).
- Message board: where important messages or work are shared and stick (unlike the fast paced chat rooms)(Weekly stand-up or all hands).
- Collaboration platform: where actual projects or work is listed, tasks being set up and distributed (work meeting).
- Video conference tool: for those meetings you actually want to have live with each other.
- Shared drive and docs: one place where you share your documents and work from collectively.
Finally, this is true for everybody, but especially for leadership and management, default to over-communication. In physical communication, 70% is non-verbal communication. So both in what you are trying to communicate and in terms of how the other is receiving the information. Without the perception of non-verbal communication your go-to alternative is over-communicating.
Like in every team, trust is essential. However, in remote collaboration it is truly key to cultivate and build trust due to the lack of physical proximity and social interaction.
Firstly transparency in everything, but especially in communication, is key. In a remote work environment it is incredibly easy to accidentally not share information or not provide enough context. If you want to build trust, you’d want to avoid surprises and that can only be done with transparency. So make sure that most of the digital communication is on public channels so people don’t get left behind.
Another important topic is clarity on expectations. If everybody knows what each other’s goals and responsibilities and have expectations clear on when what will be delivered by whom, you avoid a lot of disturbance and second-guessing. Once expectations are set, stick to them, be transparent on progress and update frequently.
Finally, with remote working the focus on output becomes increasingly important. While working from home the distinction between private and work time becomes vague. Doing the dishes in between calls will happen;). So expectations or rules about time-in-seat are of the past. You need to trust your colleagues to deliver the output agreed upon and you will earn their trust by showing your own output.
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By Paul Kerssens, Impact Support & Innovation Lead, Impact Hub Waikato