Remote work: 10 tips to be a better virtual collaborator

Mismatched expectations, poor tools, or even bad manners can hurt virtual collaboration. Consider these remote working best practices for leaders and colleagues
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6. Curb constant interruptions

“IT workers underestimate how distracting an instant messaging notification or an impromptu Zoom invitation can be. Workplace studies have shown that it takes 5-20 minutes for workers to return full attention to a task after any interruption. In busy IT environments, these interruptions can happen several times an hour,” says Kaelum Ross, founder of What in Tech and senior IT project manager at Fujitsu.

“We have encouraged a few behaviors that have significantly reduced this occurring,” he says. “We ask people to add busy blocks to their calendar to complete important tasks to ensure no last-minute Zoom meetings. We encourage the team to change notification statuses on IMs (remove sounds, pop-ups and lights) and instead check every 15 minutes. We also use ‘do not disturb’ mode for harder tasks. These three things resulted in a marked improvement in how the team viewed their workday and ability to complete tasks comfortably. Of course, high-priority things come up that demand immediate attention, but we changed the culture to focus on phone calls only for urgent items (not relying on IMs)."

7. Invest in better collaboration technology

“If you have employees, check that their equipment is okay, because a microphone that constantly fizzes or a webcam that makes them look blurry is no good for a productive meeting,” says Thomas Fultz, CEO and founder of Coffeeble. “If everyone has the right equipment, every meeting can remain focused on the content, and nothing else.”

8. Think beyond video for meeting collaboration

“Zoom fatigue is a real issue. I think the best way to combat this is to introduce other ways to collaborate beyond just talking over video,” says Dan Bailey, president of WikiLawn. “We use virtual whiteboards, for example. It’s also a good idea for the meeting coordinator to make a point of including everyone and getting feedback. Give the meeting topics ahead of time so people have a chance to formulate their thoughts, then allow everyone the opportunity to speak.”

9. Be available and timely with replies

“Communicating virtually is a lot different than walking around the corner to the next office. To be a better communicator, keep in mind that you must be timely,” says Timmy Yanchun, co-founder of LTHR Shaving. “If you leave your messages unread for a period of time, that could hold up the completion of a project. Communication is closely linked to productivity, and now that so many people are working remotely, we may have a better understanding of why. Be prompt with your replies, and even over-explain a little to make sure the recipient understands your answer. There’s no good reason you can’t stay on the same page - literally.”

10. Reflect, and be open to change

“To be better virtual collaborators in 2021, many will build off what they started in 2020. If you haven’t already had a retrospective on how things are currently working with you and your team (communication channels, team meetings, ways of working, inclusion, expectations) it would be a great place to start at the beginning of 2021 as you shape and establish your New Normal for the year,” says Sarah Pope, head of future of technology at Capgemini Invent.

“Conducting retrospectives on how things worked well or didn’t work as well in 2020 is the best way to figure out better ways of doing things and drive toward new breakthroughs,” she says.
“Don’t keep ‘surviving’ or getting by. Although some of those discussions with teammates or managers can feel especially challenging while not in person, the outcome and improvements will be worth it.”

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Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.  

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