You can’t move from an office to remote and expect team collaboration to function and thrive the same way it always has. You have to take steps to optimize and re-think the way your team collaborates in a remote work environment.
At the same time, you shouldn’t let the tools your team uses get in the way of how your team works. You can unleash great collaboration among your team by using the right tools and technology in the right situations.
In this guide, we’re here to help you think strategically about how your remote team collaborates.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
- How to optimize remote team collaboration
The difference between “meh” and “amazing” collaborations that produce results
- Comparing remote collaboration tools and technology
From asynchronous to synchronous tooling and striking the right balance.
- 4 types of remote collaborations that must be optimized
- Un-blocking collaboration
Actionable next steps.
How do you collaborate effectively if your team is remote?
We’ve all been there.
You’re collaborating with a colleague and it feels like you're just going through the motions and ultimately producing a final product that’s just, “meh”.
Other times, collaborations seem to click perfectly, move swiftly toward a goal and produce results that are amazing.
What’s the difference between a “meh” vs. “amazing” team collaboration? And how can we ensure our team collaborations work well consistently—particularly in a remote work environment?
There are 4 key components of a successful collaboration:
Let’s unpack them:
Collaboration component #1:
Everyone must be a true stakeholder, not just a participant.
It’s not enough to just show up as a participant in a collaboration. Every participant must contribute meaningful input and value.
That’s not possible unless every participant is truly a stakeholder in this effort. They must be personally vested in seeing this collaboration produce a positive outcome.
If that’s not the case, then it’s simply a one-way transaction, not a true collaboration.
For example, in a customer service collaboration, the customer wants to derive meaningful value from the company providing the service. The company delivering the service wants to exceed this customer’s expectations so that they win their business in the future. Both participants here are stakeholders.
Collaboration component #2:
A fruitful collaboration is made up of quality, effective communication of ideas and feedback.
Clear, concise, messages with enough detail and nuance to get the point across are what make the difference between someone just hearing other person vs. really understanding their underlying idea or concept. That, in turn, produces a higher quality response, and moves the ball further down the field, per say, and you get there faster.
The medium truly matters here—especially when the team is collaborating remotely. Sometimes a text-based communication works best, while other times a video message can help get the nuance and body language across more effectively. For example, video is helpful for a customer to show the technical issue they’re running into, or give feedback on a design deliverable.
If your company has made the switch to partially or fully remote, the ability for your team to collaborate is often the first thing to break. Why is that? It’s often a mismatch in tools, technology, and communication methods.
On one end of the spectrum, companies abandon all face-to-face or video-based communication once they’ve gone remote, sticking to just text-based communication. This removes a lot of fidelity from your messaging.
On the other end of the spectrum, companies try and re-create the atmosphere of live in-person meetings by holding Zoom calls all day long, resulting in serious “Zoom-fatigue”. That’s another culprit when it comes to the quality of your collaborations. Your team is burned out on all the Zoom calls!
Collaboration component #3:
Maintaining momentum in a successful collaboration
The best team collaborations see their momentum accelerate as they go along.
Every contribution adds value and moves the ball forward in a productive way. Even if, at times, the collaboration goes in a direction that you ultimately back-track from, as long as it produced a learning or insight that helped you reach a better outcome, then it was a worthwhile exploration.
Keep the momentum going, and every participant will feel that energy building toward, and stay engaged as you get to a successful outcome.
What might cause a collaboration to lose momentum?
Lack of fidelity in communication can cause someone’s ideas to fall flat, simply because other participants didn’t fully understand their full meaning. With a full-fidelity message (easily achieved with video), a great idea can spark more great ideas from other participants, since the full nuance was received and understood.
Another common momentum-killer is poor timing and cadence. If live meetings drag on too long, or stretch into times of day that aren’t optimal for all parties (especially when there are time zone differences), this can cause a drop in creative energy and input.
When momentum declines, everyone on the team can feel it, and it snowballs into a collaboration that ultimately falls flat.
Collaboration component #4:
Defining a successful outcome
It’s helpful to be clear on what success looks like from the outset of any collaboration.
This can vary, depending on the type of collaboration it is. We’ll unpack several specific types of collaborations below, and define what success looks like for each of them.
In general, the goal of any team collaboration include:
- All open questions have been resolved and clarified for all participants.
- New ideas were born that wouldn’t have been possible before the collaboration.
- New assets were creating, adding overall value (the collaboration was worth it).
- Everyone feels a sense of excitement and desire to collaborate again.
Comparing remote collaboration tools & technology
When you’re collaborating as a remote team, there are all sorts of tools and technology that come into the mix. It can be difficult to compare them all and figure out which is right in every situation.
One simple way to break it down is to understand the distinction between asynchronous and synchronous communication methods, and the tools that support each one.
These terms might be new to you, which is why we created our complete guide to asynchronous communication. It’s not complicated really, in fact most of the communication you do happens asynchronously. Email, Slack, text messaging, are all forms of asynchronous communication. It simply means that the participants don’t need to be present and communicating live at the same time.
Synchronous communication would be the opposite of that. Live phone calls or face-to-face conversations of Zoom or Google Meet are examples of synchronous communication.
When it comes to collaborating as a team, it’s important to understand the benefits and drawbacks of each communication style, and the tools and tech involved in communicating well when collaborating remotely.
Async tools and collaboration
Most remote teams end up relying heavily, sometimes too heavily, on asynchronous tools such as email, Slack, or posting comments in a project or task management software.
This type of communication is excellent for quick updates and short bursts of feedback or project and task approvals. But when it comes to true collaboration, it can leave a lot to be desired.
Again, text-based communication can lack the fidelity that a video or in-person meeting can bring. That can have a real impact on how effectively your team collaborates in a remote setting.
Live Zoom calls and collaboration
In an effort to recreate the magic of in-person collaboration, many remote teams use tools like Zoom and Google Meet to have live face-to-face meetings.
These can work well, to an extent. But once again, “Zoom-fatigue” can creep in very quickly, which can damper enthusiasm and ultimately the outcomes of your collaborations.
There’s also a question of quality of input when everyone is expected to contribute ideas live, on the spot. Live meetings don’t allow the space for ideas to breathe.
Consider the common live call: Someone is asked to contribute their ideas on new marketing channels to tap into. In an effort to avoid awkward silence, they blurt out the first, most obvious idea that comes to their mind. Was it their best? Probably not.
Had they had some time to go back and research and shape their ideas, they could have contributed something that would move the collaboration to a more fruitful outcome.
Striking a balance with remote collaboration tools
How can you strike a balance between maintaining high fidelity in your communication, while still being able to communicate asynchronously, without excessive meetings and Zoom-fatigue?
We created ZipMessage to fill that gap and provide a low-friction way for anyone to record their message on camera or screen share, and continue the conversation asynchronously. It’s designed for collaborative back-and-forth conversations, rather than “one and done” recordings that are sent but difficult to reply back to.
4 types of remote collaborations to optimize
We’ve covered the what, why and how when it comes to remote team collaboration. Now let’s explore a few specific examples of common collaborations that happen in remote companies (or any company, for that matter).
Taken together, how successful or unsuccessful these collaborations go can mean the difference between thriving in YEAR or falling behind and losing momentum.
Remember, we’ll evaluate each based on the key components of a successful collaboration:
You might not think of interviews during the hiring and recruiting process to be collaborative, but I believe they are.
The applicant and hiring manager are equal stakeholders. Both want to see this collaboration come together successfully. Note: Success can be defined differently for each party here: Learning that there’s not a fit can be just as positive an outcome for both sides as finding a perfect match.
The hiring process often progresses through multiple forms. A text-based application, followed by email communication, perhaps an asynchronous video messaging component, leading to a live face-to-face interview, should the applicant pass all screenings to that point.
A successful hiring process gains momentum as it goes along. Otherwise the position remains unfilled for too long, causing major setbacks and bottlenecks in the operation. The key to keeping the momentum going in a collaborative hiring process is to have ways to pre-screen many candidates.
Using pre-recorded video messages with a tool like ZipMessage, can help to pre-screen candidates before committing to time-consuming live interviews.
Creative planning of new products, new initiatives, growth strategies, and the like are what most of us think of when we think about collaboration.
Every stakeholder, from the owner to the manager to the individual contributors must understand what’s at stake, and what their role in reaching the outcomes will be. This is where contributing ideas that have a high likelihood of success is essential.
As a remote company, the fidelity of these creative planning collaborations goes a long way to bringing out breakthrough ideas from everyone.
But the planning phase is only one piece of the equation. How your team delivers on those plans is what matters. And that’s where our next type of collaboration comes into play.
Standups & check-ins
Daily standup meetings or weekly check-ins can often be momentum killers for a remote team, especially if they’re monotonous and lack substance.
Again, this is an area where many companies try to recreate the atmosphere of the in-person office by holding live Zoom calls daily, which can be a major disruption for team members, especially when they’re in different time zones.
Moving these stand-ups and check-in collaborations to an asynchronous format can help keep the momentum going. Quick text updates through a platform like Slack can work throughout the day, but embracing a video-based messaging tool can really add substance and clarity to these status update communications.
Client deliverables & feedback
Last, but certainly not least, are the collaborations that happen between your team and your clients. These take several forms, depending on the phase of your client engagement.
You want to strike a balance between gathering the most valuable information and insights from your clients, and not letting client communication dominate the team’s flow and ability to create amazing work.
The key is to reduce friction wherever possible. Rather than clinging to live Zoom meetings anytime you need to get a client’s feedback or input on something, it’s helpful to shift much of this communication to asynchronous methods like email or video-based messaging.
However, as we covered in our guide to customer communication, it’s important not to cause your customer to have to work too hard to give you their input and feedback.
Using a tool like ZipMessage can enable your clients to provide feedback via video or screen share, without having to download, install or sign up for any new tools. It could even help to prevent scope creep since it keeps projects and feedback moving smoothly to a final deliverable.
The shift to remote-first companies means it’s time to reevaluate how your team collaborates both internally and with your clients and customers.
If there’s one thing I want to leave you with it’s this:
Don’t let the tools for collaboration stand in the way of how your team works. Focus on reducing friction for you, your team, and your customers, so you can focus on what matters most: Fruitful collaborations that drive results for your remote company.
I hope you found this guide to remote team collaboration helpful! And if you’re looking for a zero-friction tool for video-based collaboration with your team and customers, we made ZipMessage for you.
- Un-blocking collaboration