by Suresh Sambandam, CEO of Kissflow
Before COVID-19, your office was a powerhouse for collaboration. Overnight, team members became isolated on laptops at home.
The physical separation for newly remote teams has been tougher than expected. Email, chat, and video conferencing are great, but they aren’t the same as personal, face-to-face interactions. Team collaboration in your organization feels like it is suffering.
Remote collaboration isn’t easy when people are used to physical proximity. The security of a daily routine on the job surrounded by like-minded teammates has been swept away. No one can call an impromptu meeting or stop by a colleague’s cubicle for input. Forget about casual work conversations over coffee breaks. All those little interactions were barely noticeable before. Now they are highly valued and greatly missed.
Yet, effective collaboration is crucial — and possible — for remote teams. But you have to take a different approach to collaboration, beginning with new awareness and strategic digital tools.
Collaboration struggles that remote teams face.
Your teams aren’t alone. Others forced into remote collaboration are experiencing similar troubles.
One of the main differences between digital and face-to-face communication is the absence of body language and tone. In typed correspondence, you can never fully catch how a message is sent. Though a colleague may mean well, their brief messages are perceived as rude. Emotions surge, and tension rises, all because we cannot “see” how others are talking.
Newly remote teams can experience more miscommunications than usual. Messages are splayed out across email, chat apps, project management apps…you name it. Piecing together discussions from multiple apps makes it hard to track work and collaborate. Employees spend up to an hour a day navigating apps to keep up.
Different work schedules.
At home, employees may be free or more productive at different times in a 24-hour day. A workday is no longer confined to the same eight hours for everyone.
In this season of closed schools and offices, schedules have been flipped upside down. Team members aren’t sure when others will be free to collaborate. Communication feels sporadic and less reliable than before.
Imbalanced digital chatter.
An employee is finally gaining ground on their assignment, and, “Ping, ping!” The creative wheels that were turning in their brain shut off. Curiosity takes over, and they check the message.
The distractions aren’t coming from just personal apps, they’re coming from business apps, too. Digital tools empower us to work and collaborate from anywhere, but protocols should promote both collaboration and productivity. Employees need a way to regulate notifications and alerts.
How to overcome remote collaboration woes.
There’s no need to drudge through the rest of the COVID-19 crisis. A few adjustments can keep both productivity and team morale on the up and up.
Get used to asynchronous collaboration.
Instant replies are nice, but not realistic for remote collaboration. There are several plausible reasons your team members can’t get right back to you. Asynchronous collaboration is a key ingredient to success. Team members are relieved of the pressure to respond immediately. Sharing knowledge and ideas still happens in a timely manner, just not a stressful one.
Be sure you have a tool that offers asynchronous collaboration in a variety of contexts. Company news feeds are a good start, but what about posting ideas or feedback for projects? Are there places where conversations can happen in a flexible time frame?
Remote collaboration, even when asynchronous, calls for clear protocols. Agreeing on some communication norms, such as expected response time, prevents chaos and burnout. Defining the purpose of each communication platform helps employees know when to use which tool and avoids confusion.
Encourage employees to be intentional with messages. Frequent notifications can disturb and annoy group members.
Be judicious in your meetings.
Remote meetings drain people, no matter if they love or hate them. You don’t want to use all your employees’ energy in meetings, so reserve them for purposeful collaboration. This way, everyone will still have the mental stamina to be productive in skilled work.
Set time limits on meetings. Sitting through a video conference taxes attention spans more than in-person meetings. Get to the point, and do your best to keep the conversation from derailing.
Work in public.
Without office drop-ins, coffee breaks, and personal encounters, employees can begin to feel isolated in their work. Physical separation makes it harder to stay in-the-know.
Share what you are doing and learning for everyone to see. Did you uncover a hot source for industry research? It’s likely there’s someone else who can use the information. Did a team hit a milestone? Celebrate together and motivate others to press on toward their goals.
There are an endless number of ways to foster an open workspace online. Post ideas. Hold discussions. Update teams. Share knowledge. Encourage employees to prevent miscommunication by taking extra time to be clear.
Invest in a collaborative digital workplace platform.
Communicating in a digital workplace platform makes remote collaboration straightforward and stress-free. Everything from discussing projects to making announcements takes place in one application.
A robust digital workplace platform empowers teams to create solutions with built-in collaboration features. Using drag-and-drop boards, employees can automate processes, plan projects, and manage cases. Within the context of each workflow, team members can ask questions or add comments. Working in public is effortless when everyone is using the same platform.
Asynchronous communication in a digital workplace allows group members on different schedules to stay well-connected. And when employees know they aren’t expected to respond immediately, they are likely to be thoughtful in their replies.
A centralized platform makes it easier to set communication parameters. Controlling digital chatter is simpler when users can choose how and where to receive notifications in a single app.
Watch your teams shine.
Even though collaboration has been turned upside down, one thing hasn’t changed—your teams. If they were devoted to collaboration before, they will persist in a remote setting. What they need is a leader to arm them with the right tools and show them how to collaborate from where they are. Empower your people to excel in the present and future of work. Take the time to instill new practices and invest in a unified digital workplace.
Suresh Sambandam is the CEO of Kissflow, the first unified digital workplace for organizations to manage all of their work on a single, unified platform. Suresh is passionate about entrepreneurship, technology startups and spends a significant amount of time in the startup ecosystem mentoring young companies. He co-founded SaaSBoomi, Asia’s No. 1 & largest SaaS Conference.