How to Collaborate with a Distributed Team: 6 Effective Tips

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How to Collaborate with a Distributed Team: 6 Effective Tips
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There’s a bit of a paradox leaders are learning to navigate in the age of distributed teams and hybrid work arrangements. Research shows that 73% of employees want the flexibility to work remotely, while 67% desire more in-person engagement. 

With a team spanning multiple locations, you need to reinvent your approach on how to get people to work together. Whether an employee is in office, at home, or working from a coffee shop near their house, it’s crucial they feel seen, heard, and connected to your company’s purpose.

Unfortunately, remote workers often feel left out in the cold – and they’re paying a price as they miss out on opportunities for advancement. Research shows executive staff would be 41% less likely to promote remote workers compared to their onsite peers, even though they’re more productive, work more, and take fewer breaks on average.

To create a workplace culture that provides the flexibility workers demand, and the inclusive collaboration that drives success, those in leadership roles must learn how to manage hybrid teams.

You can start with an intentional strategy for remote collaboration. 

What Is Remote Collaboration?

Remote collaboration enables communication and productivity within a team, no matter the geographic distance between them. Wherever team members are based, even if in different time zones, they feel empowered and capable of working together to achieve a common goal. 

6 Tips for Effective Remote Team Collaboration

Successful remote team collaboration is no easy feat, but it is possible with the right tools and mindset.

The goal is to create a workplace where employees thrive, and a culture of collaboration is built into your workflows, communications, and workspaces, whether virtual or in-person. 

With that in mind, here are six tips for succeeding in remote team collaboration. 

1. Cultivate a Balance between Synchronous and Asynchronous Work

If your team is spread across the country, it’s easy to become overzealous with check-ins as you try to build a sense of togetherness. You might think it’s a good idea to schedule multiple video meetings throughout the day and keep everyone engaged in frequent chat messages. 

While these things certainly play a vital role in remote collaboration, more communication isn’t always better. Research from MIT shows that almost 50% of meeting time is typically spent on non-essential information. 

Too much communication can eat away at employee productivity and increase feelings of stress for remote employees. While people in office may naturally embrace a 9-5 schedule, two-thirds of remote employees have increased expectations for working flexibly.

To create a fantastic workplace experience and boost collaboration, it’s essential to cultivate a balance between synchronous and asynchronous work:

  • Synchronous work: Set blocks of time for employees to work in tandem. Consider when each team member’s normal working hours and time zones overlap, rather than forcing collaborative work during unproductive hours. 
  • Asynchronous work: A working style where tasks and communication are not time-bound encourages deeper focus and attention. Workers can be encouraged to complete their work according to their own schedules, as long as they have channels available to ask questions and get feedback when they need it. 

For most organizations, it makes sense to blend the two approaches for maximum productivity and employee satisfaction.

The best way to achieve this is by being intentional. 

Set boundaries with your teams about when they’re expected to be online and available while also ensuring you promote “do not disturb” time slots for deep work that is free from distractions. 

2. Nurture Team Morale

In the physical workplace, interpersonal relationships are often built through happenstance: grabbing lunch together, meeting by the coffee machine, or after-work socializing.

Remote workers miss out on these small but important chances for social connection. In line with this, research shows that 81% of those under 35 fear loneliness because of long-term remote working. 

While in-person social activities aren’t possible for remote employees, you can still nurture meaningful connections within your dispersed team. Small gestures, like asking your remote team members to introduce their pets, help to foster a sense of togetherness and encourage your team to build empathy between each other. 

Another promising way to boost morale is by embracing multiple communication channels, which enable your remote employees to engage in different interactions. For example, you could set guidelines to use:

  • Email for formal/customer-focused communications
  • Chat platforms like Slack or Teams for casual conversations and quick catch-ups
  • Meetings for team brainstorms, in-depth catch-ups, and presentations
  • Texts and WhatsApp for urgent communications (during work hours to avoid burnout)

Bear in mind that collaboration overload can harm productivity, so reinforce the importance of asynchronous work times too. 

3. Equip Your Physical Workspace with the Tools for Job

For employees that come into the office, Microsoft found that in-person time is viewed as an opportunity to team build, boost camaraderie, and attend meetings face-to-face. 

However, just because remote workers aren’t there in person doesn’t mean they should lose out on those benefits. Without the proper hardware and software in the workplace, your remote employees won’t be able to contribute effectively. 

Unfortunately, this is a wide-scale problem – especially when it comes to team meetings. Frost & Sullivan found that out of the nearly 90 million meeting rooms worldwide, only 7.8% are video-enabled, meaning remote attendees are losing out on vital collaborative opportunities.

The good news is that this is a relatively easy fix. At Expansive, for example, we offer on-demand meeting rooms designed to enhance remote collaboration. With interactive blue boards and flat-screen TVs with wireless screen sharing capabilities – you and your remote colleagues will feel like you’re in the same room – no matter the distance.

4. Be Mindful of Remote Employee Well-Being

When managers and employees share a physical workspace, it’s easy to gauge how people feel. If someone’s facial expression seems anxious, or they’re working long hours, this could be a sign that they need extra support or are taking on too much.

Naturally, with employees in remote settings, it’s harder to assess well-being and stress levels. Managers can’t simply glance across the room or swing by an employee’s desk for a chat, meaning many symptoms of stress related to remote work go unnoticed. 

It’s no wonder that Forbes notes that 82% of remote workers feel burnt out, with 52% reporting that they work longer hours than those in the office. This kind of workplace stress is bad for productivity and collaboration. Harvard Business Review found that stress and long hours reduce team morale and increase the probability of resignations. 

To maintain a healthy team output, managers must recalibrate their approach to employee well-being, adopting new methods of checking in and supporting people who aren’t in the office. 

There are numerous ways to do this. Organizations may embrace tools like Microsoft Viva, which provides data analytics-led approaches to employee well-being, offer employees access to free online well-being services, or rethink their approach to 1:1 meetings and HR check-ins. 

5. Harness the Power of the Cloud 

Sending documents back and forth over email can easily lead to errors and confusion among a team. It’s all too easy to duplicate files, lose important work, or write over vital information.

To equip your team to collaborate effectively, wherever they are, you need a single source of truth: live, cloud-based documents that can be accessed by any employee, anywhere, and edited by multiple people in real time—no need for downloads and uploads. 

There are a host of cloud-based services out there that are perfect for this. Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 lead the pack as the most popular options. 

Remember that when you enable collaboration in the cloud, you’ll need to consider security and data privacy. Make sure you have mechanisms like multi-factor authentication and restricted file access in place to keep your corporate information safe. 

6. Establish Unified Goals and Expectations

Great managers lead hybrid teams by fostering a sense of interpersonal unity. There is no “us” and “them” mentality. Instead, every team member feels encouraged, supported, and connected to a broader purpose. 

Crafting interpersonal unity amongst a dispersed team takes empathy, adaptability, and a shift in focus from input to output.

By centering your strategy around team contribution, rather than location, you’ll help build a sense of collaboration equity. Your employees will feel encouraged to perform at their best, knowing their input is valued. 

In the long term, promoting collaboration equity is good for business. Research indicates that companies promoting collaborative working are five times as likely to be considered high performing than those that don’t. 

Keep Learning and Recalibrating

Fine-tuning remote collaboration is a process, one that needs to be continually improved. Every organization and every employee is unique, so it makes sense that your approach to nurturing a dispersed team will also be highly individual.

As you experiment with different strategies and tactics, keep your ear to the ground and adopt a learning mindset. Listen to how your employees feel about the changes you make.

Keep what works and fix what doesn’t. Stay committed to refining your approach to remote collaboration so that you empower each of your team members to achieve their full potential.

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