Five principles for collaborating in a remote team

According to a recent study, 70% of people around the world work remotely at least once a week. And research predicts that in the next year, nearly half of all employees will be working remotely full-time.

Five principles for collaborating in a remote team

In fact, a growing number of companies are going away from physical offices completely. Remote work only continuing to build momentum. The teams who embrace remote work are winning by broadening their talent pool while providing an attractive work arrangement.

But remote work is not as simple as ditching the traditional office environment. Remote work requires a different set of guiding principles, tools for collaboration and systems for accountability.

While this article focuses on remote work, the skills and principles apply to any work environment. Whether your team is partially remote, offers flexible arrangements in any way, or simply have staff members who travel, you will benefit from employing these remote work principles.

1. Align your team around a shared vision

In a remote environment, it’s essential for leaders to over-communicate the big picture vision to the team. It can be easy to just set someone up and start giving assignments. This can work in the short term, but in the long-term, employees want to know the why behind the assignments.

To effectively collaborate as a team a company has to be excellent at communicating the big picture. From the top of the organization down to the entry-level employees, everyone needs to share a mission, language and set of values to operate as a team.

2. Communicate in the context of your projects

Communication is the lifeblood of remote work. Yet, communication is more than sending messages and making phone calls. For communication to be effective it needs to take place in the proper context.

It's hard to discuss work when the critical details aren’t front of mind. Or to talk about the response to a difficult client email when that email isn’t right there. Or to draw on a colleague’s comment from last week that you just can’t locate right now.

If you are communicating outside of the context of the project—a phone call here, an isolated email there—then each piece needs to be explained every time. And when the task moves back to its bigger project you have to explain it all over again.

The solution is to have one system that can be your team’s single source of truth, that allows for conversations to happen in the context of the work itself. When the work is connected in the same place as the communication happens, there is no need to keep adding the context. Everything is there where your team needs it.

3. Set expectations for communication

When you think of remote work, you often imagine a more peaceful environment, freed from the distractions of the workplace. Unfortunately, in many cases, nothing could be further from the truth.

Remote workers can be susceptible to constant distractions because chat and email have created “immediate response” expectations in many teams. If there is an expectation of being always-on, stress will be high and quality work will suffer. Substantial long-lasting change requires a genuine cultural shift, with space for focus.

If you are a leader or manager, you should do your part to set expectations that immediate responses are only for a crisis, which would then elevate to a phone call. Most quick chat messages can wait.

4. Make the most of meetings

For remote work to succeed, a rhythm of meetings is essential. Follow these best practices to ensure your meetings have a purpose and help the team work together.

Create an agenda: A good practice for communicating with purpose is for whoever sets up the meeting to provide an agenda with bullets, expected time and goals for the meeting.

Daily standup meetings: A daily standup meeting is a quick check-in to cover what you did yesterday and what you’re working on today. These meetings are a helpful way to keep everyone in sync and prevent confusion.

Regular meetings: Beyond the daily standup, you’ll also need regular meetings with your respective team. The goal of these meetings is to track goals and progress. Most projects take a period of time and as a manager, you need to ensure proper progress is being made.

Use video: When you are face to face, you are fully engaged rather than simultaneously working on your computer during a call. Prioritize video chat when possible to add personalization and empathy to the meeting.

Your distributed collaboration can at times feel lonely, so make the most of your meetings and have some face-to-face interaction.

5. Prioritize in-depth work

It sounds obvious to focus on quality work, but in many cases, teams can fall into a trap of busyness for the sake of busyness. Prioritizing quality work means the focus is always on the work. It's easy to get caught in an unfortunate and all-too-common trap: working extremely hard, doing a lot of ‘things’, but achieving little depth in any activity.

Cal Newport introduced us to the idea of deep work, which he defines as, “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limits.”

It’s possibly best to understand deep work by looking at its opposite. Shallow work is the distracted, on and off multi-tasking most workers of today are used to. This is the type of work that happens when you finish the day without achieving very much. You start a project, but you have 15 tabs open and are responding to instant messages, emails and phone notifications. This is shallow work, and it’s the norm for most workers.

Depth requires focus. To be all-in on a task for a block of time allows you to truly tap into creativity and quality. Deep work is where the magic happens.

Embracing remote work

Your team can thrive in a remote environment. You’ll remove wasteful commutes, provide flexibility in location and open up your team to a wider talent pool. Follow these principles and you can ensure your remote team is on the same page and getting their most important work done.