When you work with team members that are located in different corners of the world, collaboration might feel intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be difficult (our team is proof of that).
Not convinced? Here are a few things you can do to collaborate more effectively with your remote team—and be an awesome team player.
Know What Tools to Use—And How to Use Them
Some teams prefer Google Hangouts; others prefer Skype. Some teams prefer to work with Asana; others prefer Trello. Some teams prefer Hipchat; others prefer Slack. Whatever team you join will likely have a system of communication and collaboration set up. It’s your job to get to know these tools, and then determine how you can best use them to your advantage. It doesn’t take a genius to know how to use Skype, but there are other programs that are a bit more complicated and take some getting used to. If, after a little experimentation, you still aren’t sure how to use a certain program, why not ask a team member to spend five minutes walking you through it?
And if you find that something isn’t working well, don’t be afraid to speak up and share your opinion with your team. Chances are, if you feel one way, there is someone else on your team who also feels the same way.
Set Aside a Time for Collaboration
Whether you are freelancing or working directly for an agency, you should be setting aside a time each day (or several times a week) for collaboration. Let your clients and colleagues know that you are available during certain hours of the day—and then spend the rest of the day distraction-free, working on your own projects.
At SUCCESS agency, we all try to collaborate between the hours of 9:15AM to 1:00PM four days a week, since this is a time of day when most everyone is “in the office.” Wednesday is “Deep Work Wednesday;” in other words, it’s the one day of the week where we all try to eliminate collaboration entirely and get completely “in the zone.”
Get in Regular Face Time
At SUCCESS agency, we’re big fans of video. Every single call or meeting that we have with one another will be on video if we can help it. Why? Because it’s an easy way to feel connected to one another. Plus, we can read facial expressions, which helps to facilitate communication.
Take Advantage of Screencasting
When you work remotely, your colleague can’t just come over to your desk and show you how to do something. Luckily, screencasting (or screen recording) exists. When I first joined SUCCESS agency, I found this to be incredibly helpful.
If you aren’t sure how to do something, ask your colleague to record a quick tutorial showing you how. That way, you won’t have to find the time to collaborate in real time and you’ll be able to refer back to the video at any point in the future, should you forget how to do it.
I once worked with a woman who would send extremely vague and hard-to-understand emails, which meant that I often had to ask her to interpret the emails in person for me, resulting in lost time for both of us.
In my current position, I have realized even more the importance of communicating clearly. Because when you’re working remotely, you don’t have the luxury of just walking up to a colleague’s desk and asking them to clarify something. Everyone generally works on their own schedules and you can expect to have more delays in response time due to time zone differences.
For instance, there have been times when I have asked our designer (who is based in India, about 11 hours ahead of me) to complete a project for me. But unfortunately, I haven’t been very clear in my delivery. He responds with questions when I am out of the office and has to wait until I’m in the office to get started on the project…but when I get in and am able to respond, he is finishing up for the day. So we end up delaying the project several days just due to ineffective communication. Or worse, there have been times when I have asked our designer to complete something, and since I was not as clear as possible in my delivery, the end result was not what I had expected—and he has had to do the entire project all over again.
Lesson learned? Clarify things as much as possible upfront and be as clear as possible in your delivery to eliminate any unnecessary back and forth. Answer any questions that you think your colleague might have.
When labeling files, make sure that they are clear and easy to understand, so that anyone on your team will know immediately what it is without even having to open the file.
And if you are referencing something in your email, provide a link to whatever you are referencing. It might only save 30 seconds, but it makes things easier for the recipient, so that they don’t have to go hunting for anything.
Also, let your team members know when you are “in the office” and when you plan on stepping out. At SUCCESS agency, we all use Slack to stay in touch and collaborate on day-to-day things.
If you are taking a day off, mark it in the team calendar for everyone to see. And if you are running late on a project, don’t wait for someone to come to you and ask about it—give them an update as soon as you know it’s going to be delayed. Keep your team members informed.
Our team uses the task management platform, Teamwork, to post all of the tasks we are working on and the steps that it will take to complete each task. If we have a task, or a subtask, that we are assigning ourselves or another team member, that’s where we post it. We go by the expression: “If it’s not in Teamwork, it doesn’t exist.”
Then at the end of each day, each of us goes over all of the tasks that we are assigned to and actively working on, and we post a brief description of what we accomplished that day in regards to that task, along with what more needs to be done. This helps to ensure accountability and that our entire team remains in the loop about what’s happening.
Listen & Remain Aware
Effective collaboration isn’t just about sharing ideas and posting updates. It’s also about listening and staying in tune with your team members. What are they struggling with that you could help out with? How can you make their lives just a little bit easier? If you’re not sure, then just ask!
If you know that your team member is working in a time zone that’s 12 hours ahead of you, then don’t ask for a meeting at 3PM your time (and 3AM their time). Be considerate of where your team members are, and think ahead. If your team member is finishing the day as you are starting it, then you can’t send them a task that requires completion that same day (or if you do, then it’s not very considerate).
Act as a Servant-Leader
On that note, try and aim to be a servant-leader, or someone who will jump in and help out another team member, even if the responsibilities don’t fall under their job description.
For instance, just because you are Lead Developer doesn’t mean that you can’t help your colleague out with a QA check from time to time. Even if you are the Technical Support Specialist, you can still send your colleague a quick screencast on how to use a design program that you have some basic knowledge of.
And at the end of the day…have some fun too! You may not work in the same place as your colleagues, but you can still get to know them on a more personal level. Ask everyone how their weekends were. Share a funny and relevant GIFH. Find out what their hobbies and interests are. Chances are, the better you get to know your team members, the more effective your communication and collaboration will be.
Collaborating is definitely not as easy when you telecommute. But it is possible. It just requires a bit more intentionality. You’re not going to run into your team members in the hallway or break room—so you have to make sure you seek them out. Finally, take the different time zones into consideration, communicate clearly and keep everyone in the loop. Those are the keys to collaboration success.
For all of you aspiring remote workers, we hope that this helps. And for those of you who are already working remotely, do you have anything to add? Share with us in the comments below.