Effective teamwork can be a struggle even in more traditional offices where everyone’s working in person.
Achieving collaboration in virtual teams can be even harder, something many people have discovered during the pandemic while working from home.
Not only are remote workers often spread across time zones, but there’s also a lack of direct real-time communication, which can make succeeding as a company – and keeping the entire team aligned on goals, tasks, and workflows – tricky.
But no matter how hard it might be to tackle, improving remote team collaboration comes with several benefits, namely:
✅ Increased productivity:Remote teams have a higher sense of accountability for their work, studies have shown, which can lead to higher productivity. Taking advantage of that increased productivity, however, demands effective collaboration, so that remote employees avoid miscommunication and repeating work.
✅ Better communication: Embracing the possibilities of remote collaboration means embracing asynchronous communication and reducing endless video conferencing, so that people communicate efficiently and work more productively.
✅ Healthier workplace: Boosting employee retention is a common struggle for companies and team leaders but it all starts with a robust company culture and good collaboration. You can’t have a healthy work environment if people feel unseen and isolated.
And a lot of remote workers do feel left out, according to an HBR study, so taking steps to heighten the level of team collaboration is beneficial for employee satisfaction.
5 key challenges remote teams face
In a virtual environment, remote teams face many challenges, all of which tie back to collaboration and communication. Remote working is still a new(ish) thing for the corporate world — it’ll undoubtedly take some time to put the right processes in place to ensure strong teamwork (and not revert to bad practices like too many meetings).
Here are the key challenges that keep remote teams from collaborating effectively.
1. Not enough communication
In remote teams, communication is everything. Each team member has to know what others are working on and what the dependencies are. This is easier when the whole team is in one office since it’s easy to just walk over and ask for clarification.
Remote teams tend to rely heavily on project management tools to keep track of tasks, but this can become too impersonal and make everyone feel like there’s no actual communication going on.
What can really help is a regular casual check-in meeting through a video conference software platform like Vowel. That way, team members communicate face-to-face and quickly share important updates and blockers.
(Not sure what to ask in your next check-in? Find over 60 check-in questions here!)
2. Slack and video call fatigue
It’s a form of burnout and those afflicted start finding excuses to miss meetings, turn their cameras off, and do other things during meetings. At worst, your team members fully disengage from meetings and just wait it out until they’re over.
The main way to combat such fatigue is to be thoughtful about the meetings you schedule and make them worth everyone’s time. Scrap unnecessary discussions that could’ve been emails and stop holding meetings without a clear purpose, agendas, and key takeaways.
Having the workplace as your primary socialization spot is easily taken for granted. Until you’re working from home and suddenly the only people you see all day are your family. And maybe a cat.
No wonder isolation and loneliness are the two main issues affecting remote workers. Not only do such feelings impact employee satisfaction and productivity — they can lead to much more serious problems such as anxiety and depression.
Remote companies have to be proactive, whether it’s through short daily video chats to catch up or through team offsites where some or all teammates can occasionally meet in person.
4. Lack of expectations, goals, and objectives
Since we know that isolation and feeling “out of sight” are important issues for remote workers, let’s imagine what happens if your remote employees are unclear on the expectations, goals, and objectives of their team and company.
Nothing good, obviously. Without the management setting clear expectations, team members will feel adrift and not know what to do.
Even if you’re holding a lot of team meetings, that’s no guarantee that people will know how to proceed. After all, humans have limited memory and often forget things.
Avoid these issues by setting clear expectations (e.g. OKRs) and reminding people often. For assigning tasks and next steps, the best practice is to assign clear action items with an owner and a due date.
In Vowel, you can add action items to the collaborative notes and tag team members in your workspace.
5. Poor documentation
Remote teams rely on a lot of apps to make things happen. Project management tools, shared docs, communication tools, etc.
It’s easy for knowledge to be spread across both teams and different platforms so it can be hard for an individual to locate the data they need to do their work.
Siloed knowledge leads to mistakes, confusion, and endless email and Slack conversations asking for clarification.
Maintaining a good knowledge base can alleviate these concerns. You can use your knowledge base software, or have a document repository on Google Drive or a similar service. The point is to have a single source of knowledge that anyone can access from anywhere.
Vowel can help with documentation since it comes with built-in transcription and cloud recording. Everything discussed in a meeting is time-stamped and searchable so it’s easy to find later.
10 ways to improve remote collaboration
Even though remote work challenges can be daunting (e.g. lack of team building and collaboration), they can also be conquered with the right processes.
Here are ten ways to improve collaboration for your remote team.
1. Make your meetings count
Video calls aren’t new in the business world but ever since the pandemic, companies have had to rely more and more on such virtual communication. What was once rare is now an everyday occurrence.
But in some companies, it occurs too often and too many meetings are leading to fatigue.
To avoid this issue and the reduced productivity and engagement that go with it, always think before using video calls to communicate with your team.
It all starts with having a clear meeting agenda that outlines the items you need to discuss. If you can’t formulate these agenda items clearly, don’t have the meeting.
Instead, rely on asynchronous communication through project management software and chat apps. You’ll reduce the number of meetings while keeping your team informed and productive.
2. Set remote communication guidelines
Instant and real-time communication is easy in a physical office but it must be rethought when you work remotely. Especially when a typical remote company uses several tools for team communication.
How can your employees know when to use your project management software and when to fire off a Slack message? And must their supervisors be copied in on every email?
To avoid miscommunication and misunderstanding, outline your communication guidelines in a document. Share that document early during onboarding so that each new team member communicates effectively from the get-go.
Include these things in your guidelines:
Which tool (communication channel) to use and when
How often to check in with the supervisors and through which channel
How to communicate and respond when it comes to urgent matters
Maximum reply time for each channel you’re using (e.g. five hours for a Slack message, 24 hours for an email)
3. Be clear about team and individual goals and objectives
Keeping everyone on the same page is always important, no matter what kind of office you’re working in. But, for remote workers, setting and tracking goals and objectives can be more difficult.
In an on-site office, it’s easy for a manager to course-correct by just walking over to an employee and telling them things in person.
To reduce any possible misunderstandings or mistakes, you must always make goals and objectives clear – on an individual and team level.
Holding regular check-in meetings is a great way to do this. These meetings are typically short and serve to get status updates from team members, making sure that everyone is working on the tasks assigned to them.
4. Keep clear documentation
Getting meetings right is crucial for remote team collaboration. Too few meetings and people feel isolated or unclear about their tasks and responsibilities. Too many meetings take away time for deep work and cause fatigue.
One of the best ways to optimize your meetings is to document everything and make that documentation clear.
It starts with a good meeting agenda (Vowel has you covered there with many great templates) but doesn’t end there.
Using Vowel, you can turn your meetings into a searchable and shareable knowledge base with real-time transcription and recording, making it easy to produce meeting minutes and notes. Also, after each meeting, you’ll get an automatic meeting recap.
If a team member needs a refresher on the outcome of that brainstorming session or if they just had to skip the meeting, they can use Vowel to easily get up-to-date.
In the end, having clear documentation of everything reduces the need for more follow-up meetings while letting you focus on the productive ones.
5. Encourage personal connections
Whenever possible, encouraging personal connections goes a long way toward fostering a spirit of collaboration.
In remote teams, managers should take an active role in shaping company culture and fostering a sense of belonging and connection.
There are many virtual team-building activities, varying in complexity and time investment. At the simple end of the spectrum, you can make your team meetings more interactive by starting with a round of icebreaker questions.
You can also get more creative with virtual escape rooms, pub-style quizzes, or just a simple virtual coffee-break room.
6. Use the right collaboration tools
Collaborating remotely is possible because of technology, and getting the right tools in your tech stack is crucial. You’ll need a platform for virtual meetings, a project management tool, and a way to easily and securely share files and documents, at least.
We’ll go over some of the best picks for this later, but for now, you should know that enabling a smooth workflow with good collaboration tools is one of the most important steps in unlocking effective remote team collaboration.
Without these tools, your team couldn’t work on collaborative tasks, for instance, which need more than one person to complete them. These kinds of activities foster collaboration and teamwork naturally.
Brainstorming is another great collaborative task that you should always encourage. In a traditional office, it’s usually done in a room with a whiteboard (and some snacks 😋) but you can make brainstorming work virtually, too.
Skip the video meeting and ask your team members to take a walk during the brainstorming session, calling in on their phones if possible. Exercise lifts moods and gives energy, so it’s just what you need for a productive brainstorm.
7. Celebrate milestones
After you’ve set goals and objectives, you have to track your team’s progress. Use your project management tool for that. To increase employee engagement and satisfaction, it’s not enough just to check the task as complete in Asana or Trello.
People like it when their hard work is rewarded with recognition and praise. Celebrate all milestones that your team accomplishes – whether it’s achieving more sales, boosting social media reach, or creating a new product prototype.
Create a special Slack channel just for kudos and shout-outs. Doing it publicly lets other team members join in celebrating someone’s achievement and lets remote employees know their hard work is noticed and appreciated.
8. Schedule recurring meetings when it makes sense
Recurring meetings are a tricky thing to get right. You’ll want to establish a decent routine so that you can share important information and updates but reduce the number of meetings that go nowhere.
As always, you can use the meeting agenda to express your meeting’s purpose. If there’s no clear purpose, it’s best to skip the meeting.
Recurring meetings make the most sense for team meetings such as daily stand-ups and check-ins and one-on-ones with direct reports.
A lot of managers are wary of having too many recurring meetings, but when done right they add structure and predictability to your work environment. There’s a team-cohesion benefit, too, as people will feel closer to each other when they see each other often and regularly.
Vowel makes it easy to organize and evaluate recurring meetings. All recurring meetings are automatically grouped together so your week-to-week conversations are streamlined and previous notes are easy to reference.
If you notice that a series of recurring meetings keeps running in circles (same discussions, no action items) think about cutting them.
9. Adapt to your team’s needs
There are no one-size-fits-all solutions for remote team collaboration. Even within the same company, what works for one team might not work for another. For instance, the software development team might work well with Jira and daily scrum stand-ups, but the marketing team will probably find that Jira and daily meetings are overkill.
Managers should be mindful of this and be ready to adapt to their teams’ needs. Sometimes, that can mean making the daily check-in a weekly check-in or switching to a productivity tool that has the features the team members think would benefit their workflows.
It’s hard to have effective collaboration if team members spend too much time wrangling with tools that simply don’t work well for the tasks at hand.
10. Keep team members in the loop
Flexible schedules and different time zones mean that not everyone can attend every meeting.
With Vowel, having to miss a meeting is not the end of the world. If a team member is unavailable or doesn’t need to be in the meeting live, Vowel has a host of features that make it easy to keep them in the loop.
First, there’s meeting recording and live transcription — and it’s built in so you don’t have to worry about any add-ons. The transcription is time-stamped so it’s always easy to get the full context. Meeting organizers can also send clips of the meeting to anyone, so your team members can get just the bits of information that apply to them.
Secondly, you can assign action items with Vowel in the meeting agenda or in the collaborative notes. Every user can see their pending action items from their Vowel dashboard.
4 great collaboration tools for remote teams
There are so many collaboration tools that make remote working not only possible, but many people’s preferred way of working. Here are our top picks.
Tool #1: Vowel
Video meetings are indispensable for remote team collaboration. But not all platforms are the same, and teams usually find that out when they want to do more with their virtual meetings.
Want to record and transcribe your meeting? Instead of trying a Zoom add-on, use Vowel: it comes with pre-meeting and post-meeting functions bundled in. From meeting agenda templates, emoji reactions, and agenda timers to instant meeting recaps and recordings and transcriptions, Vowel unlocks productivity in every part of the meeting.
Tool #2: Asana
Asana is a project management tool where you can divide projects into tasks and tasks into subtasks. Every task and subtask can have a deadline and an owner so everyone can track who’s doing what.
Tasks are arranged as Kanban cards in Asana, but managers and collaborators can also see them in a list or calendar view.
Image Source: Asana
Tool #3: Google Workspace
Google Workspace is Google’s set of business, productivity, collaboration, and education software. The best-known tools in G-suite are the ones you’re probably already using: Gmail, Drive, Sheets, Docs, Calendar…
Millions of individuals and many businesses use Google’s productivity suite every day. The main strengths of G-suite are that it’s fully cloud-based and all the individual software integrates seamlessly with each other.
Image Source: Google Workspace
Tool #4: Slack
Slack is a team communication tool that features instant messaging as well as audio and video chat. Slack is organized around channels that can be dedicated to anything – a project, a team, a department, or sharing funny memes.
Asynchronous communication through Slack channels has become very popular with teams of varying sizes because it lets users read messages and reply in their own time while maintaining productivity.
Image Source: Slack
[Check out our more comprehensive list of remote collaboration tools]
Help your remote team members do their best work
Remote teams inarguably face challenges when it comes to communication and collaboration. But if you take the time to implement best practices, build a good remote company culture, and use the right tools – all these challenges can be overcome.
Unlock remote productivity with Vowel and its many built-in features that make video meetings more engaging, focused, and useful after the fact. Sign up now for free!