Remote work is becoming the norm, rather than the exception. That’s thanks in large part to the novel coronavirus currently affecting the planet. However, it’s also the logical conclusion to ongoing trends before the rise of COVID-19. With that being said, it’s a new world today, and more people are finding that they’re required to work as a team in a remote environment.
That requires collaboration and communication. Just how much collaboration is really necessary, though? The answer is “it depends”.
What’s Collaboration All About?
To drill down to an accurate answer, we need to first give some thought to what collaboration is truly all about. Merriam-Webster tells us that to collaborate is “to work jointly with others or together, especially in an intellectual endeavor”. Therefore, collaboration is the act of working jointly with others. From there, we can extrapolate further.
Collaboration is the ability to communicate with, work alongside, share thoughts with, provide feedback to, and generally support the productivity of, other people. In the business world, this could be a project team or an entire department. It could be an informal group of people who need to share information about a common topic, too.
It need not be limited to formal teams or people who work within the same project. For instance, sales and marketing might be different departments, but they often must collaborate. HR and accounting must communicate regularly.
Why Is Collaboration Necessary?
Collaboration is necessary for every single situation. No one is an island unto themselves. That’s true in our personal lives and it certainly true in our professional lives. No single person can complete a project – even the most basic of projects require the input of a myriad of other people. Given that, it becomes clear that collaboration is vital at every level within an organization.
What Is Remote Collaboration?
Collaboration within a face-to-face environment is easy enough to understand. It’s an explanation in a staff meeting, a discussion between team members, or the report that you borrowed from your team leader. However, collaboration within a remote environment looks a little different.
So, what does collaboration in a remote environment look like? It involves a wide range of tools, services, and platforms. Here are some prime examples that you’ll no doubt find familiar from the worldwide move to working from home:
- Group phone calls
- Online chat programs
- File sharing programs
- Shared word processing platforms with group-editing capabilities
- Project management interfaces
However, the tools and platforms are just part of the answer. Technology in and of itself cannot provide you with collaborative capabilities. For that, we need to add the human element.
What Is Necessary for Collaboration to Happen?
To communicate, we must have tools. These range from the ability to ask a sentence structured to ensure that the other party understands you to platforms like email or communication tools like Trello or Slack. However, it is our skills that take center stage when it comes to remote collaboration.
As Harvard Business Review notes, “Why do remote teams demand new collaboration skills? What’s missing from our texts, emails, conference calls, and other digital communications? Body language”. Without the context clues provided by body language, human communication is inaccurate and it becomes easy to misunderstand. Clear, accurate language, whether by voice or text, is imperative.
Collaborative tools and platforms, plus the realization that body language is missing should inform your collaborative efforts. However, there’s much more to it than that. Other things you will need to consider include the time, the channel, clear-cut expectations and responsibilities, and more.
When you collaborate is as important as how you collaborate. The more geographically dispersed your team is, the more challenging it will be to collaborate. In some cases, you may be faced with having more collaboration to meet the needs of a very wide-spread team than would otherwise be necessary.
For instance, regardless of whether you’re working from home, a meeting at midnight is probably a bad idea. So, what do you do if you have team members in different parts of the world? You have two meetings, not one. You hold multiple sessions, not just a handful.
Physical distance is not the only factor affecting collaboration. The size of your team also plays a role. No matter the message or communication tools, things will get confusing very quickly if you’re trying to collaborate between 100 people in a single virtual chat.
One thing that many businesses have found is that it’s better to split larger teams into smaller scrum-like groups and assign them specific tasks and goals. Smaller groups make collaboration and communication simpler, and then the results can be communicated to other groups, or the larger team as necessary.
Your team members have varying roles, responsibilities, and focuses. Trying to satisfy all of these within a single session or even through a single collaboration tool is not going to end well. You will need to tailor your collaborative efforts to each individual’s role or responsibility and the impact of that on the wider team.
Every team sends messages of varying value. Two coworkers might share a funny meme, while another needs to ask a clarifying question. Project updates, notifications of problems, and large team updates must also occur. This requires that you have some sort of message hierarchy devised and a channel to suit each one. For instance, meme sharing shouldn’t occur in the same channel as team updates, but they are important for morale and preventing social isolation from setting in within a remote team environment.
Ultimately, the amount of collaboration required will vary from project to project, team to team, and even company to company. There are many different factors at play and the only approach that can ensure success is a customized one. Create a collaborative remote environment that works for your needs and don’t assume that what works for one business will work for another.