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One of the great opportunities of this age is that you can work together from anywhere. We call this ‘location independent working’. And although it’s a great opportunity, it can also be a great challenge.  Especially when online collaboration is involved.

Teams that are used to working in close proximity are likely to struggle when it comes to keeping in touch in this new situation. However, I know from experience that working together from a distance is certainly possible. But how does online collaboration actually work?

How can you stay in touch with colleagues? How do you keep your team close-knit and well engaged?

Learn more by reading about my tips and tricks to make online collaboration work for you.

  1. Create a common goal
  2. Increase mutual trust
  3. Make time for personal contact
  4. Utilize online communication tools
  5. Share knowledge
  6. Give each other space

1. Create a common goal

A shared team goal is an important condition for working remotely as a team. How does the team contribute within and outside the organization? What goal do they represent and aim for? When setting your goal, describe it in the clearest, challenging and inspiring way. Make sure you know what you’re working towards; both as individuals and as a team. This strengthens motivation and team spirit. Ultimately,  it’s what connects you.

2. Increase mutual trust

Mutual trust is the foundation of good teamwork. When you work with people you trust, you work faster and more efficient. Mutual trust means you can make quicker decisions because you know you can rely on each other. Trust also strengthens the connections within the team.

Previously, you built up trust by working right next to each other every single day. You got to know one another and through this, learned to trust each other. When you work remotely, mutual trust doesn’t come as naturally. To create this trust despite the distance, it’s important to get to know each other and take responsibility for your role in the team.

Trust is closely connected to expectations. Make sure you clearly discuss each other’s expectations, so you’re familiar with them. Did you commit to an agreement with a colleague and are you working remotely? It is even more important to fulfill that promise and your duty.

3. Online collaboration – Make time for personal contact

The main worry when implementing remote working is a lack of personal attention, which may lead to deterioration of teamwork (study: Quidos, 2013). This can be a risk, especially if you haven’t invested in consciously working on it.

When teams work remotely, personal conversations are first on the chopping block. It might save time, but eventually causes a decline in engagement within the team, which leads to less efficiency.

If you are not that far apart, making the effort to see each other ‘in real life’ is essential. It strengthens the team spirit and offers an opportunity to discuss more complex matters together. How often do you need to see each other ‘live’ and to what end? Clear commitments are key here. 

4. Utilize online communication tools

The ‘old ways of working’ were mainly focused on face-to-face meetings, email, and phone calls. Nowadays, there are many more options – each with their own pros and cons. From video meetings, chat, text, WhatsApp and webinars to social media like Yammer or Microsoft Teams; these tools can really benefit remote working. Chat is a great replacement for those water cooler moments and video meetings feel more personal than a phone call or an email.

Make sure to clearly display your availability status when you’re working on your computer. If you keep track of each other’s status, you’ll know what the best times are for reaching out. Chat makes you readily available to your colleagues. Before, you might have tapped them on their shoulder or popped by their desk for a quick brain pick, and chat now makes this a virtual possibility. It’s easy to be available, and certainly easier to establish boundaries. Using the ‘do not disturb’ status means uninterrupted work time, and as a lot of quick questions are more suited to chat, your email inbox won’t be as flooded.

When setting your status, it’s recommended to also show your location. This is not about monitoring where or whether you’re working. Surprisingly, it can actually create a sense of proximity and connection, especially when you’re all in different places.

Take our word for it. Once you get comfortable with these new ways of communicating and experience the benefits, you’ll find that you and your team can truly be flexible and still keep in touch.

5. Share your knowledge

Create a habit of sharing your knowledge. Link to interesting documents or make content available to others. Keep each other informed on the progress within your project and your field. Meet up for a virtual knowledge meeting or keep a joint overview of sources and expertise.

Your organization will most likely provide some cloud space; use it as a team and sharing centrally instead of by email will become second nature, immediately providing access to other colleagues who might also be interested. If you also allow editing, you can even improve upon the content as a team, and always have the most up-to-date version available. This way, you create a wonderful web of knowledge with instant access from anywhere.

6. Online collaboration – Give each other space

Last, but not least: give each other space and freedom to decide how, when and where to work. Once you have implemented all of the above, you will find this isn’t hard at all. You are both aware of the joint goal and each other’s role in achieving it. You know when you will meet and how to keep in touch in the meantime, both on a personal and a work level.

Ultimately, you have created a space in which you will be successful together as a team.

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Categories: Online collaboration

Saskia Langenberg

Saskia Langenberg is the founder of Mindshake. With consulting and coaching she helps managers to build great remote teams. And remote workers to have a happy and productive work-life.

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