Now that you’ve adapted to the fundamentals of staying productive from home, you may be looking for ways to refine and optimize the experience — especially when it comes to collaborating successfully within your distributed team. How do you stay connected and communicative with your closest colleagues when you’re working in separate spaces? What are some steps you can take to be a better teammate from home?
These best practices for remote teamwork can help you and your teams find new approaches to productivity and collaboration while maintaining the basic principles of trust, communication and engagement that made your in-office shared projects successful.
While there’s no such thing as a distraction-free workspace, one of the most significant challenges of working from home is managing disruptions. From sharing WiFi and communal spaces with our roommates to helping our children adjust to at-home schooling, road bumps are inevitable.
We won’t all face the same challenges in creating our home offices, but we can all extend empathy and understanding to one another as we navigate balancing multiple responsibilities. Being flexible with meeting times, working hours and expectations for correspondence enables teammates to meet those shifting demands so that they can continue doing their best work without feeling overwhelmed or unable to devote their full attention.
And, making sure to communicate those needs and how they’ll be addressed ensures that everyone is on the same page and knows when and how they can most effectively engage in shared work with their teammates.
Making sure everyone is aware of changing schedules and expectations is just one part of adopting remote work best practices. In any environment, effective teamwork requires creating clear, open channels of communication about anything your teams need to work together effectively, from technology updates to personnel shifts to project updates.
In a traditional office environment, this kind of information is often disseminated via quick, in-person conversations, in passing in the hallway or at one’s desk. In a remote environment, there are multiple channels of communication available, and it’s important to choose the most appropriate option for the information at hand. More complex updates that might spark questions or require discussion may warrant a meeting, while something more simple and straightforward can be conveyed in an email, an instant message or in a Teams or Slack group.
Keep in mind that it is possible to over-communicate, however. Many workers experienced meeting fatigue during the initial stage of the remote work transition, as overloaded schedules can make it difficult to accomplish other tasks. In addition, when teammates’ correspondence channels become overloaded with unnecessary information, they are more likely to miss messages that contain relevant news.
While every team member will experience shifts in their individual schedules, establishing collective practices and expectations can foster a sense of working together even while you are spread apart across multiple locations. Being intentional about the time you spend together in meetings, whether as a full team or in smaller working groups, generates thoughtful conversations and improved productivity, both on the individual and group level.
For example, you may want to establish set rules for how long a meeting should run for based on its intent, blocking out longer stretches of time for less structured strategy and brainstorming sessions while keeping meetings on more specific topics short and focused. Brief but regular check-ins on project progress can keep teams on track for looming deadlines, while also allowing individuals to manage their own workloads with clear expectations about what might be on the horizon for them. And, if you’re tasked with a significant number of execution tasks, you may want to designate certain hours of the day as meeting-free zones so that everyone has the time they need to focus on those responsibilities.
One of the hardest adjustments in the transition to remote work is the loss of face-to-face interaction and socialization. Catching up on each other’s lives or the latest Netflix series might feel like a distraction from marking items off our to-do lists, but getting to know our colleagues and embrace our shared interests helps build the trust and communication that serves as a foundation for better collaboration.
In a remote work context, friendly interactions don’t happen organically the way they do in the office. It’s important to be intentional about creating time and space for them. You can call or IM teammates just to chat while you work, or organize teambuilding activities over video meeting platforms, such as end-of-week social hours or virtual game sessions. These activities will not only strengthen the bonds across your team, but they’ll also help you each establish a healthy work-life balance — something that can become increasingly difficult when our homes are also our offices.
Working from home is here to stay for the immediate future, and many organizations will expand their remote and mobile work policies in the long term as well. This will create a hybrid approach to the workforce, in which some teammates work in the office full-time, others work from home, and many bounce between the two locations depending on their schedule and needs. Therefore, adopting best practices for remote teamwork can help your teams diversify their approach to communication and collaboration now so that they can adapt more effectively to being part of a distributed team later.