Effective Remote Collaboration: The Tools, Tech, and Training You Need to Support Remote Teamwork

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Within the past year, we’ve seen significant changes in how employees work with each other and their employers, most obviously in the shift to remote work. Some companies may make remote work permanent, while others may adopt a hybrid structure mixing remote and in-person arrangements. Regardless, remote work and the flexibility it affords will likely be part of companies’ policies in some form for years to come.

As long as remote work persists, companies will have to find ways to foster meaningful collaboration between employees in a virtual environment. Fortunately, managers have already have plenty of tools and resources at their disposal. They just have to put them to use to ensure a strong company culture and a productive remote workplace.

The Collaborative Benefits — and Drawbacks — of Remote Work

Remote work has presented useful benefits to employees and employers alike. For employees, remote work has allowed them to skip the daily commute and readjust their work/life balance to fit their needs. For employers, workers have maintained or even increased their productivity throughout the shift to remote work. Couple this with the costs saved on renting and furnishing office space, and employers have plenty of good reasons to continue with remote work.

Of course, an all-remote workplace is not without its drawbacks. Individual productivity may have increased, but collaboration between employees has become more challenging. People accustomed to dropping by a colleague’s desk for a chat and holding spur-of-the-moment brainstorms must now contend with the distance between themselves and their coworkers. Collaboration difficulties affect not only current employees but also new and prospective hires, as the recruiting and onboarding processes rely heavily on collaboration as well.

In the new remote normal, companies have to adopt creative approaches to maximize remote work’s benefits and reduce its costs, especially in relation to collaboration and company culture. To achieve this, managers can encourage employees to build proficiencies in new skills and create spaces that promote active virtual collaboration.

Actively Foster Communication to Support Collaboration

Impromptu meetings by a coworker’s cubicle or in a conference room can’t happen with a remote workforce. These used to present easy opportunities to encourage communication and establish connections between employees, and replicating such encounters in a remote environment can be particularly hard. Without a plan and consistent follow-through, employees can feel sidelined, and new hires will struggle to integrate into the company.

A team thrives when managers actively foster communication. Resources like newsletters, weekly emails, and one-on-one meetings allow managers to share updates and apprise the whole team of new developments. True collaboration, however, depends upon general communication — and this is where digital remote collaboration tools make the difference.

Tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack offer instant messaging features employees can use to ping one another to answer questions or share ideas. These platforms also give employees time to consider their responses, leading to more accurate and thoughtful answers. Socializing can take place through these tools as well, which supports company culture. While they may look different than gathering around a conference room table, virtual collaboration tools — with the proper planning and follow-through — can serve as the glue to bond teams together, including newly minted employees, when everyone is working from home.

Check out the latest issue of Recruiter.com Magazine for more career advice and recruiting trends:

Encourage Small Talk

Constant communication can bring teams closer together, but is it enough to recreate the office environment? According to one study, office chats are as uplifting as they are distracting — in fact, the positives outweigh the negatives. Researchers found that office small talk can make employees feel more recognized by and more connected with their peers.

Microsoft Teams and Slack are excellent ways to keep in touch with coworkers, but it takes intentional effort to encourage non-work-related conversations in these spaces. Companies should actively encourage employees to talk about topics outside of their day-to-day responsibilities. Even just starting Zoom meetings by asking what everyone’s plans are after work can have the same uplifting benefits of in-person office chitchat. Through Teams or Slack channels, companies can ask random questions or start gratitude threads to further foster a sense of belonging and appreciation among coworkers.

While it may seem forced at first, these seemingly mundane small talks will soon prove worthwhile. Employees who are engaged will be more willing to assist coworkers and the company, building important work relationships along the way and boosting overall employee morale. That’s why it’s worth creating safe, open lines of communication that focus solely on fostering small talk between employees.

Train and Employees in Remote Work Skills

Remote work demands certain skills that some employees never had the chance to nurture in an in-person environment. As such, employees may lack the proficiencies they need to succeed long-term in a remote work or hybrid structure. Soft skills relevant to remote work and collaboration include:

• Focus
• Written and oral communication
• Time management
• Adaptability
• Facility with remote collaboration technology

Without practicing these skills, employees may struggle with the tools, resources, and strategies they need to work from home effectively. This may lead to delays on projects, problems within teams, and other productivity-draining issues.

Managers certainly want their employees trained in the right skills, but how can you train employees effectively when they’re scattered across the country (or around the world)? Digital credentials offer one path to upskilling. Employees can join online courses designed around key soft skills, like collaborating at a distance or time management skills. Once they complete a course, they can earn a digital credential that verifies their proficiency. Managers can then be confident their staff members can rise to meet the challenges of remote work, whatever they may be.

With the right tools and training, employers can prepare their workforces to operate effectively within remote environments. Effective remote collaboration will require active communication,  prioritizing the right skills and tools, and some extra intentional effort — but it will pay off for the long-term success and growth of the company and its employees.

Jarin Schmidt is chief experience officer at Credly.

Read more in Employee Morale

Jarin helps shape the future of documenting and promoting skills by leading the product, engineering, and design teams at Credly. With a background in design, strategy, and product development, Jarin is passionate about helping people tell their unique professional stories through emerging technology so they can discover the most rewarding opportunities.