The four basic rules of remote collaboration

Written on 
May 12, 2020

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Unlike office-based working where collaboration develops organically, remote work requires an explicit conversation on how to work together. You’ll be sharing a new digital space together and using new tools to communicate – without syncing on how the join them all together, information will quickly get lost and people make feel disconnected.

So where do you start? While there is no single “correct” way for distributed teams to collaborate, there are a few best practices which make the whole thing easier. Having worked remotely since our company’s inception, here at Memory we’ve boiled these down to the following four basic rules of remote collaboration.

Establish rules of engagement

First up, you need to agree basic protocols to keep everyone on the same page. This essentially means establishing processes for communication, feedback and documentation. These are the main rules of engagement your team should establish first:

  • How and when you will check in with each other each week
  • The best hours to contact each other with non-urgent requests
  • What to do if you’re blocked or have an urgent request
  • How you will flag your availability or unavailability to others
  • What tools you will use to document and align your work
  • How you will use different communication channels
  • How you will share work that impacts others
  • Where you can see and update progress against team goals
  • How to broadcast achievements with the rest of the company
  • Where you can all provide ongoing feedback

Aside from keeping remote work visible, these rules of engagement help to set expectations around response times and schedules. You all need to realize that you won’t always be immediately available to each other — and no one is constantly entitled to another’s time.

Get the right tools

Intelligent cloud-based tools form the backbone of remote collaboration, but you need to pick them wisely. Remote teams can tend towards software sprawl in their efforts to keep work visible. This can quickly get expensive, where you pay for rich feature sets you don’t need. It can also get disruptive, introducing new admin and inefficiencies into your team’s workload.

🚨 Remember: every new piece of software is a potential distraction.

While your company will want to investigate a few tools relevant to your niche, make sure they aren’t duplicates of these fundamental remote collaboration tools:

  • Video conferencing apps – Zoom is ideal for synchronous, in-person communication.
  • Asynchronous communication hubs – use Slack and Basecamp to keep conversations transparent and searchable.
  • Task managers – board- and ticket-based tools like Productboard and Trello are solid choices.
  • Automatic time trackers – apps like Timely keep work visible and help remote employees manage their schedules.
  • Secure cloud repositories – tools with in-built document collaboration tools like Dropbox are a plus.

➡️ 10 indispensable remote collaboration tools

Re-learn how to communicate

Without the visual cues and fluidity that comes with working in the same room, your team’s communication needs to become highly descriptive, structured and explicit. It sounds intense – and it is! – but this clarity can actually make you all stronger, more considerate communicators.

Here are a few remote communication best practices you’ll want to follow:

  • Imagine everyone you talk to is in another time zone: your messages should contain all the information people need to work on something, without them sending any follow-up questions. Be clear and self-contained — linking any resources and assets, and detailing relevant information, actions and requirements.
  • Asynchronous communication – instead of discussing every message in real-time, successful remote teams talk intermittently. That is, each team member picks up a message when they actually have the space to deal with it. Asynchronous communication effectively documents all team conversations – people can read through message threads and catch up on updates at their own pace.
  • Set protocols for communication tools – instant messenger apps like Slack can quickly become distracting and messy without an agreed structure in place. That’s structure at a team level – making sure everyone is using the right channel for the right communication – and structure at an individual level – setting boundaries around managing inboxes for your own sanity.

➡️  See how to use Slack without destroying your productivity

Remember to keep it human

As a remote worker you can feel like a resource. The communication best practice detailed above can make conversations dry and transactional, with little room for discussion beyond work. But empathy and meaningful interaction are essential to any effective team. As such, your team needs to make an ongoing effort to stay connected and human.

That means creating spaces for casual conversation and self-expression. Host weekly team meetings and create open daily virtual fruit breaks, allowing people to drop in when it suits them. Create dedicated Slack channels and Basecamp pages for socializing and sharing ideas. Follow these up with company-wide social events where everyone can unwind together – think cross-team competitions, awards ceremonies and all-important meetups.

➡️ Check out all our tips on how to socialize remotely

Working from home for the first time? Check out our employee blueprint

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