How To Collaborate Effectively with Remote Teams in 2023
The popularity of remote work continues to grow at a rapid pace. If your company is among the 38% of businesses that plan to work with more remote, independent professionals over the next two years, you may wonder how to navigate this transition. We put together this guide to help you collaborate more effectively with your remote team members. You may already have some of these tools and suggestions in place. If not, now’s the time to start.
Table of contents: collaborating with remote teams
- Schedule regular team meetings
- Try team-building activities
- Make maintaining balance part of company culture
- Know when to schedule a meeting vs. send an email
- Set clear goals and objectives for all meetings
- Identify urgent action items
- Standardize project roles with DACI and RACI
- Use remote collaboration tools
- Move shared resources to the cloud
- Make process documentation
- Foster team transparency
- Encourage team accountability
- Trust your team (and try not to micromanage)
- Communicate clearly
- Listen to your team
By following the steps in this guide, you’re on the path toward improving collaboration, seeing greater output, and unlocking more benefits of remote work.
Schedule regular team meetings
A regular team meeting allows everyone opportunities to provide input on projects and stay aligned on key updates. These meetings are also a great way to foster team camaraderie.
When scheduling a regular team meeting, it’s a good idea to:
- Experiment with the right length and frequency for your team—some groups will need to meet for an hour a week, while others find a biweekly check-in just right
- Be mindful of time zones for all team members
- Keep meetings consistent and try to avoid rescheduling
- Record meetings so that team members are able to catch up afterward if needed
Without regular team meetings, your colleagues may feel disconnected from each other or begin to operate in small silos.
Try team-building activities
Because remote teams aren’t getting to know each other through casual office interactions, creating plans and making time for virtual team-building activities often helps to foster camaraderie. Consider including quick team-building activities in your regular meetings or schedule special social sessions for everyone to interact and get to know each other better. Simple remote team-building activities include:
- Scheduling a social hour for everyone to chat over coffee
- Organizing a team trivia session where everyone shares fun details about themselves
- Running a game-show-style competition
- Playing an online board game together (bonus points if it requires teamwork!)
When video conferencing, try to schedule team-building activities so that everyone is able to participate. If that’s simply impossible due to time zone conflicts, you may want to try engaging in asynchronous team-building activities such as these:
- Ask an icebreaker question in a social Slack channel and have everyone answer
- Put together a quiz sheet with team member trivia and see who knows their colleagues the best
- Have everyone record a short Loom video with fun facts about themselves
Make maintaining balance part of company culture
Roughly 27% of remote workers struggle with unplugging from work when the lines between office and home become blurred, so placing an emphasis on logging off and maintaining balance is an important consideration. Otherwise, remote team members may begin to feel burned out.
When creating a work-life balance culture, consider how your company might support and encourage the following:
- Setting boundaries between work and home life
- Respecting differences in time zones
- Championing team successes
- Exhibiting appreciation for a job well done
- Asking for help when needed
Know when to schedule a meeting vs. send an email
While regular team meetings are typically a great idea, it’s important not to go overboard on Zoom meetings or conference calls. According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, as much as 50% of meeting time is typically spent on non-essential information. Having too many meetings can clog schedules and detract from focused work time.
To ensure that virtual meetings help, not hurt, remote teams’ productivity, developing clear guidelines around when to schedule meetings and when to send a message is often useful. You may want to:
- Set time limits: If a topic will require less than 15 minutes to discuss, make it an email instead of a meeting
- Set a participant threshold: If there are more than a certain number of people who must participate in a discussion, make it a meeting
- Reduce the default meeting length on your calendar: If your company defaults to 60-minute meetings, try making the norm half an hour
- Create a space for quick updates: Rather than scheduling a new meeting for every development, create a Loom or use a dedicated channel in your chat app of choice
This flowchart from Doist nicely illustrates the meeting-vs-email decision process:
Set clear goals and objectives for all meetings
When you do need to schedule a meeting, good preparation will help keep productivity at its peak. Before starting a meeting, you should have a clear:
- Objective: What is the intended purpose of the meeting?
- Subject: What will you discuss during the meeting?
- Goal: What do you want to accomplish by the end of the meeting?
Without these basics in place, you may find that it’s harder to keep the conversation on track.
It may also be helpful to do the following when scheduling remote team meetings:
- Create a written agenda in advance and share it with participants
- Distribute slides and documents in advance, rather than reading them aloud during the meeting
- Create a system for asking questions, such as using reaction buttons, chat boxes, or an interactive service like Slido
Identify urgent action items
When communicating updates to a remote workforce, either in a meeting or via email, stating what is an action item and what is strictly informational will add valuable clarity. Always be sure to:
- Highlight and assign key action items
- Communicate timelines and deadlines
- Indicate which items are higher and lower priority
- Provide necessary background information
Without this clarity, team members may begin to work on non-essential items. Over time, this can create confusion and a rush to finish work by intended deadlines.
Standardize project roles with DACI and RACI
Knowing when to schedule a project-based meeting is only part of the productivity equation. It’s also very important to know who truly needs to attend a meeting. Otherwise, you may have too many people spending time sitting quietly in meetings instead of focusing on their own essential projects.
DACI and RACI are two frameworks that are very helpful for establishing who needs a meeting invite.
DACI stands for:
- Driver: Who will guide the team toward a decision?
- Approver: Who has the final say?
- Contributor: Who is involved in working on this project?
- Informed: Who will receive updates after each meeting?
Similarly, RACI stands for:
- Responsible: Which team member is in charge of the project?
- Accountable: Who will you rely on for this project?
- Consulted: Which team members need to give input on the project?
- Informed: Who will receive notifications about project updates?
Whether you prefer to use DACI or RACI labels, results of implementing each framework are similar:
- Drivers and responsible parties organize meetings
- Contributors and consulted team members attend and provide input
- Accountable partners or approvers sign off on decisions
- Informed team members get an update after the meeting concludes
Use remote collaboration tools
Not all team communications happen through email or meetings. Remote collaboration and productivity tools are a great way to keep your team members continuously aligned and in communication. Quick update conversations that may have once happened in an office hallway may now happen in Slack or directly within a document.
While the specific capabilities of each team collaboration platform vary, many tools include features like:
- Version histories
- Comments and tags
- In-app messaging
- User roles
- Team management
Remote collaboration tools that support both real-time and asynchronous communication are ideal. This way, all of your team members feel supported, even if they work in different time zones. Popular options include:
- Chat-based team communication software like Slack and Discord
- Video conferencing software like Zoom or Microsoft Teams
- Collaborative editing services like Google Docs and Dropbox Paper
- Project management apps like Hive and Asana
- Virtual whiteboard and brainstorming tools like FigJam and Miro
Move shared resources to the cloud
All shared resources should live in cloud storage, which allows team members to access the most current version of essential documents at any time. Enterprise-grade cloud and file-sharing services such as Google Workspace prioritize security and stability. When using these services, you will typically:
- Grant or restrict file access
- Require a corporate domain login
- Enable multi-factor authentication
- Create knowledge repositories
- Collaborate with colleagues on shared documents
- Organize documents by department or project
- View statistics about how teams use the cloud and files
Without a cloud system, employees may save or duplicate sensitive company documents to their hard drives for easy retrieval. Unfortunately, this misguided practice often results in compromised information security, lost files, and duplicate or outdated data.
Make process documentation
As you begin to introduce new tools and strategies to your team’s workflow, you’ll want to keep everyone aligned. Process documentation is a big help. By clearly documenting the steps teams should follow—and the tools they should use—when conducting work, you are more likely to keep operations streamlined.
When creating process documentation, be sure to:
- Clearly outline key steps for repeatable processes
- Indicate when to use a process
- Outline who should be involved in specific processes (with DACI or RACI)
- Indicate when there may be exceptions or alterations to processes
- Store documentation in a cloud service
- Create a reference document or folder with links to important files and tools
- Provide a forum or channel for team members to ask questions related to processes
Without this documentation, team members may gradually revert back to older methods of conducting work or develop alternate processes that take longer than necessary.
Foster team transparency
Creating processes is one step on the path to greater transparency throughout your organization. By encouraging team members to be transparent about their work, you are reinforcing a company culture that values being honest and asking questions. Without transparency, you may find that teams remain very siloed and separate. This kind of division often creates confusion, backlogs, duplicate work, and even discontent among teams who feel they are “out of the loop.”
Try to break down silos and encourage transparency by:
- Holding regular all-hands meetings with time to answer questions
- Being up-front and honest with team members about company changes
- Encouraging teams to voice concerns and ask “Why?” rather than simply accept the status quo
- Providing a place for team members to share feedback
- Celebrating company wins as a team effort
Encourage team accountability
Transparency supports accountability. When you encourage honesty and ownership, team members may feel more empowered to experiment, try, fail, and learn on the path to better performance and wins. Practices to encourage accountability include:
- Utilizing tools like time trackers to gain data and insights for process improvement, not to “monitor” individual team members
- Asking team members for ideas and input
- Empowering team members with the tools and resources they need to explore new ways of working
- Providing resources, training, and support to team members who need it
Trust your team (and try not to micromanage)
When you’re encouraging your teams to be more accountable, you’ll want to avoid micromanaging their efforts. Have trust in your team members’ skills and decision-making abilities. Remember to:
- Delegate tasks to team members—you don’t have to handle everything yourself
- Trust your team members to get the job done on time, even if they need flexibility in their daily schedules
- Communicate to your team members so they know that you trust their abilities
- Embrace and celebrate differences in work styles
- Ask your team members where their interests and passions lie
Nearly every aspect of effective remote work involves clear communication. Without it, friction and confusion may develop. Over time, this can reduce productivity and morale. Foster more effective communications by:
- Setting guidelines around when team members should reasonably give or expect to receive a response to asynchronous communications
- Encouraging remote communication through multiple channels such as email, chat, Loom, and video calls
- Maintaining small group or 1:1 meetings with team members to discuss specific questions and concerns they may have
- Regularly reminding employees when and where they can ask questions or access helpful resources
Ensuring that everyone is aligned often leads to improved efficiency and better collaboration.
Listen to your team
Listening is an essential component of clear communication. If team members do not feel that they’re heard, they may not realize they are a valuable part of the workforce. This feeling of being ignored can cause friction over time.
When communicating with your teams, remember to:
- Make time for questions and conversation during team meetings
- Create a channel for team members to ask questions or provide ideas on an ongoing basis
- Acknowledge these ideas, inquiries, or concerns
- Follow up with additional information and answers as needed
- Ask teams for feedback about their experiences working remotely
Working remotely with Upwork
Upwork makes it very easy to collaborate effectively with remote teams. Our platform has the tools—and people—you need to take control of your business and work more strategically. Create an Upwork account today to start building your remote team.
Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.