Three Effective Collaboration Strategies For Distributed Teams

Many companies are making remote work permanent, but there are still challenges to overcome. 

This article was originally published by Allwork.Space.

We need to stop assuming that old ways of work will come back and start anticipating working with distributed teams most—if not all—of the time. This will require that companies transition to an agile-first mindset that allows them to change habits on how teams work.

During Group Futurista’s “The Future of the Digital Workplace Webinar 2.0”, Jarom Chung, Product Director at Lucid, gave a keynote presentation on how to drive collaboration across distributed teams.

Chung argued that we need to make a bigger effort for teams to be in sync; otherwise, distributed collaboration will continue to fail. This effort requires that company leaders and employees alike rethink their approach to meetings and collaboration.

In Chung’s words:

“The pandemic has resulted, for most of us, in too many meetings, with too many people, that take too much time.”

Meeting times may have increased, but collaboration has decreased since people started working remotely. To make matters worse, Chung argues that there is a deep loss of connection with lack of understanding of the full picture, which increases distance both physically and emotionally.

The goal of Chung’s discussion was to change the current mindset from surviving remote work, to thriving in remote work.

But wait, aren’t companies ready to welcome back workers into the office?

While companies have announced plans to welcome back employees in the office as soon as July, the reality is that companies are changing and adapting how they work.

Again, “we need to stop assuming that old ways of work will come back”.

It’s true that workers will return to the office, but they won’t do so full time. And many companies have already announced a remote-first approach to work moving forward.

What does this mean?

It means that distributed teams are here to stay, even if some workers do go back to the office.

Back to changing our mindset from surviving to thriving remote work…

For teams to succeed in remote work environments, companies need to transform their mindset from endless meetings to deeper team collaboration and connection. This means shifting from e-mail to Slack or Teams, and saying good-bye to Whiteboards and PowerPoint presentations and embracing visual collaboration tools that get the nuances that allow for the connection of ideas in a virtual environment.

Easier said than done, right?

“Distributed teams demand collaboration solutions that work anywhere, any time. Just as in the office I’m able to turn around and talk to someone behind me, I need to be able to know where my distributed colleagues are and how to find them.” – Jarom Chung, Lucid

3 Types of Team Collaboration to Transform Endless Meetings into Deeper Team Collaboration

  1. Ad hoc collaborative sessions.
  1. Facilitated, prepared collaboration with your team.
  1. Building a distributed war room.

Let’s take a deeper look at each of these.

Ad hoc collaborative sessions

These are one-off meetings around a specific topic or discussion. Pre-remote, this type of meeting usually happened in a conference room, had a whiteboard, and were often initiated through casual conversations.

This type of meeting has failed in remote environments because:

  • It is difficult to collaborate simultaneously; remote collaboration requires is a higher activation energy.
  • Different levels of engagement and participation; people participating remotely aren’t necessarily willing to jump in during remote collaboration meetings.
  • Most people participating in remote meetings are multi-tasking, which creates silos.
  • Silos are created by multi-tasking because people aren’t bringing their whole attention and expertise to collaboration sessions.
  • Hard to efficiently synthesize ideas, Chung argues that this happened even pre-pandemic and in remote environments it’s even harder to get all ideas together, make sense of them, and plan action.
  • Lack of clear next steps.

To avoid the above pitfalls and increase the chances of your distributed team collaborating efficiently, Chung proposes the following:

  • Transform unengaging calls into team visual collaboration by embracing the right tools and platforms.
  • Have a shared location for knowledge (I.e., the cloud)—this is key for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration.
  • Have a shared communication channel.
  • Invite participants to engage—this means calling people out by name and asking them for their input.
  • Always end the meeting with clear action items and next steps.

Facilitated, prepared collaborative meetings

This type of meeting is designed to draw out people’s ideas and input. Think of brainstorming sessions or sprint planning meetings. This type of meeting typically has one person leading and driving the discussion.

Common pitfalls of this approach include:

  • Unprepared teams and facilitators.
  • Poor time management.
  • Unengaged participants.
  • Difficulty synthesizing ideas.
  • Difficulty deciding how to take action.

To avoid these pitfalls with distributed teams, Chung suggests the following:

  • Assign pre-work and set the stage.
  • Create an agenda and share it with participants beforehand.
  • Start off with ice breakers, especially if there are people that don’t know each other present.
  • Make sure every voice is heard—again call people by their name and ask for their input or feedback.
  • Time bucket activities—otherwise meetings will go on forever.
  • Determine next steps.

Building a virtual war room

Virtual war rooms, pre-remote, where basically a centralized meeting space where key people met together to solve a difficult problem. Often, this type of collaboration meetings required iterations and multiple sessions.

Some virtual war room examples include:

  • Strategic planning
  • Pre-mortem exercises
  • Release planning
  • Big room planning
  • Competitive analysis.

With remote work, virtual war rooms face one particular challenge: there is no centralized workspace, which means teams don’t have a physical spot for their war rooms.

For war rooms to be effective in a virtual environment, you will need to:

  • Find technology that supports effective team collaboration.
  • Use technology to augment what you would do in real life.
  • Make sure you are prepared.
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