The following is an excerpt from The Remote Worker’s Handbook, the new book from Entrepreneur Press, available now at Amazon, Entrepreneur and Barnes & Noble.
When working remotely, maintaining the lines of communication, sharing content, and collaborating is critical to success.
There are two main types of remote collaboration. The first involves individual co-workers handling their responsibilities on a project on their own. Ultimately the project comes together because everyone works independently to handle their pieces of it, while the project manager works to coordinate and piece it together.
The second way remote workers collaborate is in real-time, using online tools. This means that members of a team or co-workers go online at the same time, from their respective remote locations, and use the same tool(s) simultaneously. Several people can work at once on the same Microsoft Word document, Excel spreadsheet, or PowerPoint presentation using the real-time collaboration tools built into Microsoft 365.
Collaboration typically requires an efficient way to communicate (by voice call, video call, virtual meeting, IM, text messaging, or email). You’ll also need a way to share data via the cloud (using a file-sharing service or tool). For collaborating in real-time, you and everyone you’re working with will also need access to the same application. There are some single collaboration tools, like Slack, that allow teams to handle many of these tasks and offer seamless integration with hundreds of other applications.
Related: 8 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Co-Working Space
There are also plenty of software suites that include multiple applications designed to work seamlessly together and that have collaboration tools built in. Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace are examples of this. Countless project management, CRM, and other types of applications also now accommodate team members and collaborators working remotely.
As connected as technology allows us to be, there are certain human-based strategies you’ll need to employ to make collaborating from different homes, cities and countries seamless.
10 strategies to help you better collaborate online
1. Kick off a conversation, meeting, or collaboration session with some informal pleasantries. Not only will this help everyone change their focus from their previous work to the current task, but it’ll also foster more personal relationships across the team.
2. With roughly 65 percent of the general population being “visual learners,” it makes sense to use visuals when brainstorming, interacting, or communicating online with co-workers and teammates. Take advantage of colorful pictures, charts, and graphs, and use an interactive whiteboard to help get important points across—as opposed to just using text and numbers.
3. While there are plenty of tools that allow people to interact via IM and file sharing, sometimes it makes sense to also participate in a short video call or virtual meeting (5 to 15 minutes long) to communicate important information, clarify a miscommunication, correct an error, or ensure everyone on the team understands the topic or issue.
4. When working on a specific project with one person or a group of people, try to keep all communication and content in one place— not scattered across multiple applications or files.
5. Make sure all the most up-to-date information for a project is available to all pertinent people on your team. If they have to search for timely information or rely on old versions of files, it wastes time and puts the whole team at a disadvantage.
6. Pay attention to the clock. When setting up a time to collaborate with others, schedule a specific time (15, 30, or 60 minutes), and then stick to that schedule. Avoid long collaboration sessions, and don’t go over the allocated time, because people will likely have other important meetings or tasks on their schedule. You can always schedule a second session later, if needed. If you do go longer than one hour, be sure to give everyone a five- to ten-minute break during the session to avoid fatigue.
7. Nominate a team leader. No matter how small, every project or task that involves two or more people collaborating should have a team leader to keep everything (and everyone) organized and on track.
8. Ensure all team members are held accountable. It’s very easy for team members to sit back and let others do the work. This is referred to as “social loafing,” and it’s a problem when dealing with less productive teammates or co-workers. By assigning everyone very specific tasks and deadlines and communicating clear expectations, it’s easier to hold everyone accountable for getting their work done.
9. Follow an organized and structured approach, with defined expectations and realistic deadlines. When collaborating on a larger project, gather the team together at the start and develop an organized approach to completing your tasks. Set realistic expectations and deadlines, and be sure to outline any procedures that need to be precisely followed. Discuss everything in a virtual meeting and then follow up in writing, so there are no misunderstandings and people have a resource they can refer to when they have questions.
10. Create detailed profiles within all communication and collaboration tools. Chances are, as a remote worker, you’ll need to communicate with dozens or even hundreds of different people using various online tools. When collaborating with a group, make sure everyone creates a detailed profile for themselves within each collaboration tool. This profile should include their full name, job title, a headshot, and a brief description (one or two sentences) of their job responsibilities. These profiles make it easier to remember names, understand the hierarchy within a team or organization, and quickly determine whom to contact when specific questions or problems arise.
The Remote Worker’s Handbook is available now at Amazon, Entrepreneur and Barnes & Noble.
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