Nowadays, working in a team remotely is almost a state of mind. More and more companies have different project teams with members located in different parts of the world or teams and departments dislocated all around the globe.
Harvard Business Review reports that, according to recent studies from Gallup and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 22% of Americans work from home, while nearly 50% are involved with remote or virtual teamwork.
In the past, the collaboration and communication between these remote teams meant thousands of emails and phone calls. But the impossibility to physically meet and have conversations and discussions negatively impacted the productivity.
Online and virtual meetings revolutionized completely the collaboration and productivity for teams that have to work together remotely. Tools like Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams opened up a completely new world for remote team working (read the blog Online team collaboration with Microsoft Teams to have an example of how to collaborate online using Microsoft Teams). Through an internet connection, basic digital skills and the right tools, it’s now possible to have brainstorming, knowledge meetings, collaborate around projects, solve problems and much more, boosting in this way team productivity. Even though remote team working is now a habit for the majority of companies, people who work on remote teams still face many challenges that require new collaboration skills to be faced.
Lack of body language
When working and collaborating remotely, body language is completely missing. This can create misunderstandings, confusion, misinterpretations and other communication issues that cost a lot in terms of social interaction, productivity, and efficiency.
There are three kinds of distance in remote collaboration: physical (place and time), operational (team size and skill levels) affinity (values, trust, and interdependence). Virtual and online meetings reduce physical distances but do not compensate for the differences in skill levels and values among team members.
The solution to these two main challenges cannot come from the technologies used. To perform at the highest levels, remote teams have to find new and better ways to operate, communicate and collaborate.
1. Clarity and consistency
To avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication, it is fundamental that members in the team establish and respect rules and norms on how to communicate and collaborate. Some examples can be a set of acronyms, expected response time, rules on how to use communication platforms like Microsoft Teams.
2. Limit the digital volume
Even though communicating in a platform like Microsoft Teams will significantly reduce the amount of emails team members will receive, this does not mean that you can send hundreds of messages in a team chat. Discussions have always to have an aim and a purpose and having a team conversation full of confused messages and attachments is not going to help the productivity of the team. Try to send one message with the information you want to communicate (only the most important one). In the end, you are not whatsapping your friends, even though the platform is similar.
3. Always respect the social rules of interaction
You are communicating remotely through digital devices and online meetings. You are not having physical and face to face conversations with your team members, but they still remain human beings, with feelings and different personalities. Don’t forget to respect the normal norms of social interactions: thank you, good morning, have a nice day, and expressions like these are always welcome also in chats and online conversations.
4. Strengthen relationships within your team members
Your team is composed by people with who you are working and communicating on a daily basis. Conversations should not only be about work. Creating occasions for celebrations and socializing can strengthen relationships and lay the foundation for future collaboration. Find ways to shorten the affinity distance. Congratulate for a birthday, create personalized memes, share funny content, tell something personal, ask for advices and so on are also part of a remote team life!
As mentioned before, the challenges of digital interactions and remote team working cannot be solved by the technology teams use. Miscommunication is always a high risk, but by understanding the new rules of engagement and building the right communication skills among the team members, can help remote teams to work more efficiently, facing the challenges that our digitally-driven age brings.
Download our whitepaper Collaborate as a team in Office 365 to learn how to foster your team collaboration using Office 365 tools.