For companies with teams currently working from home, we’ve put together these best practices for making virtual collaboration run smoothly.
The most successful companies we work with leverage technology to enhance the way they work every day. Considering the global coronavirus pandemic, it has never been more important to accelerate our transition into the digital workplace.
A huge range of online collaboration tools are available for remote workers, from email and instant messenger, to audio and video conferencing and collaboration software. From the novice user to early adopter, teams and leaders need to develop new protocols and discuss best practices to help things run smoothly. Tools are only as good as the teams that use them.
Every team has different communication and collaboration needs based on the behaviours, tasks and skills required to perform their role. For some organisations this is a quiet time, while others are more active than ever in response to new challenges. Either way, this enforced distancing period sets up an experimental opportunity. Attitudes and minds are open – and software companies offer an array of free trials.
Think about what kind of teamwork you need to do. Is it a constant conversation or quick touchpoints throughout the day? Start by identifying the best team collaboration tool for each type of work, then design the protocols that will help you keep track of your conversations while being respectful of digital boundaries.
Set the expectation that there will be no instant messaging outside of office hours. It’s important that people have time to rest and recuperate.
Utilise the “delay delivery” feature instead of sending after-hours emails. Research has found that on average one weekend email from leadership results in 20 minutes of after-hours work for the receiver.
If you are looking for different ways of collaborating with your team, think about their learning styles, ranging from those who can listen and understand, to people who draw to think.
The agenda and flow of the workshop needs to be clear from the outset. Including some rough timings for each item is a good way to let people know what’s coming and will help with your pacing.
Use an instant messenger that supports threads for different topics to keep your conversations relevant and interactive. This natural style of collaboration is much easier and more enjoyable to follow.
Now is not the time for micro-management. The most effective leaders set the expected outcomes, not the tasks. Everyone’s routine has been disrupted, and this is a time for empathy, clear and trusting leadership. Be direct with expectations but flexible about delivery.
While we are distant, our work should be visible. Tasks, goals, and progress must be visible to all (not just management), so utilise your project management platform and communication tools of choice.
No time for a new project management tool? Stick with a familiar favourite like Excel, but take it online. Collaborative cloud-based software lets each employee update their own process as they go while improving visibility for everyone.
Manage your manager. Tell them when to expect an update - it might be before lunch, and again before you sign off for the day. If the team comes together to keep them informed, everybody will spend less time reporting.
Our structure is disrupted, work and life barriers have dissolved and working parents are balancing childcare with career. It’s time to let our personal lives slip in.
Finally, remember that there’s a lot to learn from this experience. When we return to our workplaces, we will see changes that reshape future relationships between business and employee. We can take this opportunity to make it work better for everyone.
Frances Gain and Elfreda Chan are members of the Workplace Strategy teams in London and San Francisco.