The work-from-home (WFH) set-up has become the “new normal” under the age of stay-at-home policies and the Novel Coronavirus crisis. Although the shake-up has brought on some inconveniences–say, awkward tech difficulties over virtual meetings, the change has allowed businesses to explore a potentially promising work environment. For employees, working without the fuss of putting on a good outfit or braving the traffic is a welcome transition.
All the same, WFH is never without challenges. Some, like the aforementioned tech booboos, can be resolved. Others, on the other hand, may take a while. One such obstacle is in the aspect of project planning, specifically collaboration.
When you’re miles away from the rest of your team, seeing colleagues only once a week online, it’s harder to work together, let alone experience a deep sense of being part of a team. It’s crucial to put a spotlight on this challenge, especially because collaboration drives performance, according to a number of studies. Without it, productivity plummets. This is the very reason why collaboration matters.
Although a bit tough, you can certainly make teamwork come alive, even though you’re all working apart. Below are some team collaboration tips which you can easily remember by keeping in mind the 4 T’s: tech, talk, training, and time-off.
It’s pretty obvious that project collaboration tools are essential when you’re managing a remote team. More importantly, what tools should you use to support your employees and take them to the collaboration zone? Of course, every business will have unique needs. In general, though, you need technologies for these three aspects:
Needless to say, e-mail accounts are a must-have. For brief chats and informal messages, use a business communication platform such as Slack, Chanty, or Flock. For meetings, try Zoom, Cisco Webex, or Google Hangouts.
• Task Management.
Make assigning and following up on tasks easier for team members by using task trackers such as Monday, Trello, or Asana.
• File Storage and Sharing.
Your team will be using and sending a lot of documents. Take the hassle out in the process by using Google Drive and Google Docs.
With these technologies, the WFH process will be a lot less overwhelming for employees; so much so that successful collaboration in the workplace will not just be a goal, but an everyday reality. The effect is an increase in productivity.
Communication is at the heart of collaboration. How you work as a team is only as good as how you talk to one another. Unfortunately, communication breakdown is common in virtual settings because of many factors: tech difficulties, unseen nonverbal cues, and many more.
It’s all the more important to create a healthy communication culture when using a variety of technologies. Focus on the following aspects:
• Use the Right Platform.
Yes, you got these different communication platforms set up, but remember that each of them has a specific purpose. Decide which channel will be most effective in relaying what you’re about to say.
You don’t want to initiate a meeting that could have been an e-mail. You don’t want to overcrowd your Slack channel either with lengthy discussions of company updates. Always be mindful of the right platform.
• Respect Personal Time and Space.
Don’t be that project leader who constantly nags when this or that task will be completed, messaging in e-mail, chat, and SMS. Avoid communicating beyond work hours, say, on weekends. Yes, communication is important, but over-communication can backfire.
• Encourage Everyone to Speak Their Mind.
During virtual meetings, solicit opinions from each of your staff members. Call them by name. Make them feel like their voice matters in your conversations. Most importantly, promote asking questions when something needs clarification.
• Listen Actively.
When you do ask your employees to speak up, listen intently. Otherwise, they’ll see through this insincere act, losing the motivation to be active in working with the team. A good way to know that you’re listening well is when you’re able to repeat what they say with accuracy.
This kind of virtual communication culture not only improves everyday exchanges of information but also establishes respect and trust among the team. Those are two important ingredients to facilitating better teamwork. At the end of the day, these will enable your employees to sharpen effective collaboration skills.
One of the biggest barriers to collaboration is the lack of knowledge, not necessarily in the personal tasks at hand, but in other people’s tasks. Some employees only have a basic understanding of what their colleagues in other departments do, that they can’t relay important information effectively, undermining productivity. In other instances, leaders hoard knowledge for the sake of monopolizing decision-making.
The solution for this is actually simple: make learning sessions a habit. Below are some suggestions that you can try:
• Spend Time Sharing.
Sharing what exactly? What each of your members do and how they work. You could do this quickly before you get on with your agenda every meeting.
• Learn One Another’s Personal Language.
The marketing team has its own lingo, as the product development group uses its own. Make sure that everyone is familiar with these terms. This is especially important for the overseers of the plans. You can only make collaborative project management work if you speak the same language.
• Initiate Peer-to-peer Learning.
As teams become familiar with the lingo through trainings, help them learn the actual practices straight from each other. The group of project managers should also practise this, not only for the purpose of bridging knowledge deficits, but also for improving their project management collaboration skills.
• Promote Mentoring.
To encourage the more senior team members to share what they know, give them the honor and authority of being mentors to individuals or to a group.
These learning sessions will help sharpen one another’s skills, improve productivity–and, most importantly, build rapport within the team. The tight bond you’ll create will translate to better team collaboration. Use the tech platforms mentioned above to organize your sessions.
While you dedicate time for learning, it’s also important to be intentional in taking time off. Do something fun and non-work-related with your teammates. Similar to training, leisure will strengthen the group as a whole, making successful collaboration in the workplace happen.
More than professional strengths and weaknesses, you’ll learn one another’s interests, pet peeves, hobbies, quirks, and hidden talents which you yourselves can identify with. Below are some creative ways you can take time off together:
• Work Out.
Hit play on YouTube videos and share your Zoom screen. Or, if you have employees who are fitness buffs, ask them to be your instructor for the day. Get started on HIIT workouts.
• Greet the Weekend with a Toast.
Bring your own beer to the video conference. Setting aside work conversations, throw in some “would you rather” questions to make the happy hour extra fun.
• Hold Trivia Night.
With the employees divided into teams, let them answer trivia questions, based on different categories such as music, food, or world history.
• Celebrate Birthdays and Other Milestones.
Make these events extra special, even though you can’t be physically together. Compile greetings into one video or ask a celebrity to greet your colleague. Send them a personalized greeting card.
The WFH set-up has been quite a challenge in many ways, especially in the aspect of collaborating on projects. Yet, it’s possible to have a real, meaningful sense of teamwork even though you’re working remotely. Remember the 4 T’s: tech, talk, training, and time-off.