How to collaborate remotely with your team

When you can’t book a conference room with a whiteboard, tap someone on the shoulder for a quick chat, or brainstorm together over lunch, how can you effectively collaborate with your team? Remote work can be challenging—especially as some folks do it for the first time under already stressful circumstances.

Whether remote work is new to you and your company, or you’re used to it and want to be more effective at collaborating and communicating with your team, there are a few easy adjustments you can make to your processes that can make a big difference.

Collaborate remotely with Asana

Maintain trust, values, and teamwork

Although digital communication is almost like second nature, losing body language or other aspects of in-person communication can create tricky situations at work. Even small non-verbal cues can have a positive impact or lower morale depending on how they’re interpreted.

That’s why, according to a Harvard Business Review article, when we practice physical or social distancing, it’s important to reduce affinity distancing (distancing around values, trust, and teamwork). In other words—even if your team can’t be physically near, it’s critical that their values align, that trust is maintained and built between people, and that teamwork remains strong.

[Read: Trust, accountability, and communication: The essential ingredients for remote working policies]

How do you do that?

  • Create communication guidelines: As a team, decide what communication tools you use for certain types of communication. For example, at Asana we use Slack for chit chat, Asana for big projects and collaboration, and email for communicating with outside vendors or partners. Document what you decide as a team, and post the guidelines in an easy to find place.
  • Find the right communication balance: Sometimes, to be efficient, we lean towards short communication or conversations. To communicate effectively while remote, attach or link to important reference projects or information, include screenshots to demonstrate specifics, emojis or GIFs to convey emotion, or a phone call for a quick chat.
  • Set standards for video calls: If your team doesn’t already have a culture of video calls, now is the time to start. Video calls help people interpret emotion (you get a little body language!), build rapport, and show up for the conversation—which all add up to more trust.
  • Create space for celebration and team bonding: Finding dedicated time for team celebrations and bonding is just as important as getting the work done. When someone hits a milestone, send a note out to the team congratulating them. Throw a half-hour birthday party over a video call for fun. Host a monthly virtual game hour (pro tip: Scattergories works well online). When people can relax and get to know each other better, it makes working together much easier and more fun.

Get really good at meetings

Now is a great time to get really good at meetings. Video calls are more popular than ever, but just because they’re accessible in the click of a button, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re simpler. If you pulled up your calendar right now, are there meetings that could be shorter or crossed off entirely?

Here’s how to rethink your calendar and meetings:

  • Make an agenda and send it out: Start by identifying the purpose and goal of every meeting, then make an agenda outlining discussion topics, action items to go over, and timing. Distribute the agenda before the meeting so attendees know what’s coming and can think about how to contribute—or skip the meeting if it doesn’t pertain to them. Your meetings will be more effective and stay on track.
  • Take notes and distribute after: In the shared agenda doc or task, the meeting leader should take detailed notes about what’s discussed. After the meeting, fill in the notes with reference links to other projects and then distribute the document or task to everyone who attended. By assigning one note taker, everyone else can concentrate on participating rather than creating their own record. Notes are also useful for anyone who couldn’t attend.
  • Try a stand-up: If you have a recurring status meeting, instead of booking 30 to 60 minutes in everyone’s calendar, consider changing it to a 15-minute stand-up. What’s a stand-up? In the tech world, a stand-up is a quick daily status meeting where everyone on the team says, in a sentence or two, what they’ve done, what they’re doing next, and what problems they see ahead. It’s an effective way of getting a bird’s eye view, seeing opportunities for collaboration, and checking in with one another.

Don’t forget to find your focus time

As important as working together and collaborating are, equally important is finding your own focus time—and ensuring your team does as well. Finding that deep focus, reducing digital distractions, and fighting the constant deluge of app toggling and notification checking should be top priorities for everyone. With a little forethought and good frameworks for how to work, it’ll be easier for you and your team to find focus time.

[Read: How to find focus and reduce digital distractions]

Here are a few ways to do just that:

  • Say no to meetings: Yup, you read that right. Are you feeling overwhelmed by your calendar? Take a look at your priorities, find out what the purpose of each meeting is and who else is invited, and think twice about whether you should be there or not. If the answer is ‘no,’ decline and ask for notes if you think they’ll be helpful.
  • Timebox distractions: Taking small breaks throughout the day is important for helping you focus when it’s time. The trick is making sure a quick break doesn’t turn into an afternoon-long nap or Instagram scroll. Set aside specific times to do non-work related activities—a walk around the block, snack time, reading the news—and hold yourself accountable to that allotted amount of time. The break will be good for you and you’ll return to work with a clearer brain and more energy to accomplish your work.
  • Turn off notifications and use Do Not Disturb: It’s ok to block out distractions during certain times of the day so you can maintain flow and keep your head down. Take control of your notifications by disabling all but the most critical ones. If you’re worried you’ll miss something, set up reminders every few hours to check your Inbox or Slack quickly and then get back to work. In the same vein, if you work in tools that have a Do Not Disturb mode, turn it on when you need to concentrate. Protect your focus time—and make sure your teammates do as well—so that, when you have the time, you can do your best work without distractions.

We’re all in this together

As we learn how to collaborate remotely all across the globe, remember that you’re not alone. Everyone is learning how to be effective, together—even if we’re all practicing social distancing to varying degrees. With your colleagues, share what’s been working with you and ask if they have any new tips.

Also, acknowledge what’s hard and work with your team to gracefully get through it. Change can be disorienting. Simply acknowledging that fact and redefining what your days look like—and how you interact with your team and colleagues—can be empowering.