Everything you need to know about remote work collaboration habits for your teams
Many businesses shifted from office working to remote working overnight. And while making rapid changes has enabled teams to start working from home, the savvy leader knows that remote work collaboration is an often-overlooked consideration which when addressed, is a powerful means of aiding productivity and enhancing performance.
Working from home and collaborating from home is not the same thing. Teams may be able to get their core tasks completed from their home office, but without taking the time to identify and develop a set of essential remote working habits, it’s likely that these teams will struggle in the long term. A lack of collaboration stifles the potential to innovate, to brainstorm, and to create; to achieve the ‘above and beyond needed to grow, develop, and ultimately thrive, rather than simply survive.
Humans are inherently social. ‘Social’, in this context, doesn’t necessarily mean that they enjoy chit-chat, but rather that they need it. Humans have a built-in need to connect; to work together. Connected teams need connected leadership and a humanistic management style. Connected leadership is rooted in new habits that enable and facilitate this connection, regardless of the differing remote work personality types present within the team.
What’s the solution to transplanting in-office collaboration to a remote working environment? Some organisations have chosen to go down the ‘always on’ route; they require teams to be on camera - and on the mic - from 9-5, mimicking the on-site experience. However, while this works for some, it’s not practical nor realistic for others.
Remote working is different to on-site working, and to really get the most from remote work collaboration, the difference is something that should be addressed, not ignored.
For those organisations where an always-on approach isn’t going to work, there are a number of important habits that leaders can encourage across their teams that can help to build a more connected environment, even when the team is dispersed.
Effective line manager strategies to deploy in a remote working environment to facilitate connection and collaboration include:
Collaborating as needed
Team-wide, two-hour meetings in the office are possible. That’s because these extended in-person sessions are typically supplementary to more informal, ad-hoc in-office communications that take place when one person scoots a chair over to another passes in the hallway, or meets in the kitchen. Individuals could easily hold quick-fire 2-minute chats for real-time support, with longer, more formalised, scheduled meetings used as opportunities to elaborate further, perhaps with additional input.
This doesn’t work so well in remote teams. Remote teams don’t have the opportunity for an ad-hoc informal discussion. And so, the concept of the scheduled two-hour meeting is dying out, with shorter, more spontaneous meetings taking preference. Microsoft confirms this, noting that meetings of 1 hour+ dropped by 11% during the remote working revolution, while shorter meetings of 30 minutes or less grew by 22%.
To tap into these efficiencies, managers will need to guide their teams away from the ingrained habit of pre-planned, set-in-stone meetings. Encouraging project-based get-togethers with a greater degree of flexibility and more spontaneity allows individuals to reach out and collaborate as needed, rather than on a schedule.
Collaborating for the sake of collaborating
Collaborating for the sake of it? Isn’t that a bad habit that just wastes everyone’s time and adds to current leadership and management challenges? Absolutely not. Remote working collaboration opportunities such as weekly office hours or a virtual team check-in once a day offer a chance to connect without the topic limitations of a specific project or task. It’s a way to discuss team-wide issues or simply have an informal social chat to maintain a connected environment.
It’s important for both teams and their leaders to remember that remote working collaboration isn’t just about collaborating on projects; it's about working together as a team. Studies have found that ‘maintaining “mutual knowledge” is a central problem of geographically dispersed collaboration’. This is something that leaders are rightly concerned about and will need to address through the nurturing of new habits.
Quick, informal, and rapid collaboration efforts such as this may not be as beneficial as face-to-face water cooler discussion, but they do work to replicate the connectedness that’s experienced in the office environment. They also enable the many small yet powerful relationship-building points to occur, even if they don’t always occur naturally.
Collaborating with an open mind
A critical habit to instil in teams today is to view collaboration with an open mind, to employ empathy and understanding, and to realise that not everyone is in the same boat. While one team member may feel confident using video conferencing tools and have their own dedicated home office free of distractions, others may feel anxious using new technologies or possibly be juggling working from home with childcare.
Leaders working to change the definition of collaboration realise that remote working collaboration won’t look the same as in-office collaboration. It’s time to rethink what collaboration means, and reset expectations. This can be achieved by adopting the habit of checking in; watching for signs that someone is struggling, reporting changes in behaviour, and offering support as and when needed.
Creating moments that matter
There is no right or wrong way to collaborate remotely. What is most important is that leaders promote and nurture habits in their teams that enable the workforce to create moments that matter. And, like the development of all habits, consistency matters.