Even when working remotely, teams must collaborate to succeed. It’s important to work together when contributing to the same projects, when reassigning tasks and rebalancing workloads, and when resolving conflicts and disputes.
Despite the objective benefits of working remotely, like higher employee morale and productivity, there are some obstacles to collaborating effectively in this environment. Fortunately, there are solutions and work-arounds for nearly every obstacle.
The biggest challenges in remote collaboration
Overcome these significant challenges if you want to maximize your remote team’s collaborative potential:
1. Tool selection
Many of the issues related to remote workforce management can be resolved with the right tools. However, the tools themselves can create issues. If they’re hard to learn or if they’re nonintuitive, they can end up costing you more time than they save. If you have a selection of very different tools for different functions, they can be hard to manage—not to mention expensive, if you’re paying subscription costs.
The best idea is to utilize a comprehensive suite of tools that are designed to work together—a digital workplace platform where employees can quickly and easily work together. The simpler the system is, the better.
2. Role confusion
In a remote environment, it’s sometimes confusing to know your role within a hierarchy and your specific set of responsibilities. This can eventually lead to duplicated efforts, with multiple people working on the same tasks simultaneously—or worse, dropped priorities. You can prevent this by proactively and clearly assigning roles and responsibilities. The clearer and the more upfront you are, the less room there will be for ambiguities. Formally document responsibilities, if possible.
3. Communication channel knowledge
Remote work requires employees to communicate using a wide variety of different channels. Each channel has strengths and weaknesses—for example, emails are great for formally documenting a conversation and communicating non-urgent information, but text messages are better for fast interactions, and calls are better for extended dialogues. Educating employees on the best practices for each communication channel is the only real way to resolve this problem.
4. Synchronized additions
When multiple people are working on the same file or project, it can be confusing for several reasons: users might not know which version is the latest version and different people may be working simultaneously under different assumptions. This can be cleared up with the use of tools designed to allow for synchronized, real-time updates, and better high-level management.
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5. Check-ins and updates
Ongoing communication is crucial for the success of most projects, but working remotely can make it difficult to manage regular check-ins and updates. Casual walk bys are not an option, and sending a formal email to ask for a short update can be unnecessarily time consuming.
A sufficiently detailed project management platform can help you resolve this, but only if all your employees are trained to contribute new information on this platform using the same format. Train your employees to be consistent if you want this to work.
6. Employee engagement
Employee engagement is vital for an organization’s success. When employees are engaged with their work, you will have higher productivity, improved morale, and lower rates of turnover. But how can you keep employees engaged in a remote environment? There are several options here, depending on your priorities and access to resources. For example, you could improve engagement by giving employees more of the assignments best suited for them, practicing remote teambuilding, and collecting feedback to learn ways you can improve.
7. Cultural and time zone barriers
Not all remote teams will struggle with time zone and cultural barriers, but if you’re working with people in other countries or on the other side of the country, these may present an obstacle. In most cases, the best solution is to be proactive and upfront about potential issues. For example, if you have multiple teams working in different time zones, come up with a compromise on when to meet. If you have teams with different values when it comes to work, have an open conversation about that.
8. Individual time management
Working remotely means no supervisor will be looking over shoulders; it’s up to each individual to practice effective time management. This can be hard to achieve remotely, but you can instill better time management habits with the help of online classes, training, and access to more data (like with time tracking tools).
Learning and adapting
Few remote teams are perfectly capable of efficient collaboration at the start. Instead, it takes time to develop and refine the approaches necessary to succeed in this environment.
Measure and analyze your team’s performance regularly to take inventory of the tools, tactics, and habits that are working for you and against you, and in time, you can weed out the things that aren’t working, and prioritize everything that is.
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