The global pandemic forced many people to rethink the way they work. Many of these changes are present today and expand all over the world. Being able to work from home, or anywhere else remotely, is no longer the consequence of an extraordinary situation.
But one of the most critical challenges of this new reality is the need to work in collaboration with people from different parts of the world who are part of a team.
- Remote collaboration for distributed work teams requires special strategies and technological resources to be effective.
- Working together remotely brings new challenges for both team members and team leaders.
- Remote collaboration has advantages and disadvantages, both for companies and for the individuals who embrace this new normal.
What you should know about a remote team collaboration
Physical location is no longer relevant in remote collaboration between remote team members. The commute to the office is no longer part of everyday life, nor is lunch with co-workers. You can be at home, on a paradise beach, in a co-working space or wherever you want. All you and the rest of the team need is a good internet connection. In this article, you will get to learn more about this working approach, its benefits, and the challenges it faces.
What is a remote collaborative team?
A remote work team brings together people located in different places to achieve a common goal established by the company. Despite the physical distance, differences in their time zones or their native language, team members have the same purpose. Digital tools are essential to work remotely.
Remote teams cross any cultural, geographic and organizational boundaries, allowing companies to be part of global projects (1).
How can a distributed work team be linked at a distance?
A distributed work team is similar to any work team. That is to say, each person fulfils specific functions, there are hierarchies, tasks are delegated, objectives and deadlines are defined, etc.
The distinctive element there is that the only way to link with each other is through the use of technology. A virtual meeting, a comment in a collaborative document, an individual, or a group message is the meeting place. Real bonding between team members is a real challenge. For example, sharing a coffee in the office to strengthen the bond between team members is not possible.
In order to overcome barriers between team members, it is important that people, despite their distance from each other, feel part of a common mission. When working alone, each person should be organized and have the self-discipline to work responsibly according to the requirements. Work schedules are not necessarily defined, but there are results to be achieved and deadlines to be met.
What are the strategies for a remote work team to be committed and collaborative?
As in any teamwork, it is essential to be committed to a common goal. In this regard, leaders use strategies for stimulating this commitment, delegating efficiently and communicating assertively with their team. Experts suggest holding regular virtual meetings. In particular, this is recommended prior to the start of the most intense work on a certain project.
Face-to-face interaction helps to build trust and understanding, which are the foundation of the team (2). Also, based on collaborative work strategies, leaders will define the most appropriate digital tools to use. If team members are not familiar with these tools, it is necessary to provide virtual training.
What are examples of remote collaboration?
It is possible to collaborate in a remote mode using both synchronous and synchronous communication channels. As an example:
|Synchronous remote collaboration||Asynchronous remote collaboration|
|Generate a brainstorming session on a collaborative whiteboard where everyone writes while a virtual meeting is taking place||Draft a document and have each team member comment on it when possible|
|Complete a common survey while a virtual meeting is in progress||Design a presentation collaboratively while working at different times|
Why is effective remote collaboration important?
Remote work doesn’t monitor attendance at a workplace, absence from work or overtime. While there are virtual resources to account for remote working time, it is the results that really matter. When working in a team around a project, the quality of the results will be related to the functioning of the team as such. In other words, if the collaboration is not effective, the results will not be effective either.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of remote collaborative work?
Remote collaborative work has different characteristics from traditional face-to-face teamwork. In that sense, we can mention some general advantages and disadvantages:
- Increased time flexibility
- Ability to balance work and personal life
- No commuting to a work location is required
- No need to be in a specific geographical location
- Stimulates autonomy
- Companies can rely on HR from anywhere in the world
- Internet connection costs are not necessarily included
- Not all countries have specific regulations to protect remote working
- The physical conditions are not ensured
- The right to digital disconnection for separating work and personal life is not always recognized
- Working relationships are mediated by technology
- The IT security of companies may not be guaranteed
What is the best way to collaborate remotely?
All forms of remote working are enabled by the use of online digital resources and their various features.
The growing power of digitization has expanded the possibilities for remote working. Access to databases, documents, and tools stored in shared virtual spaces (the cloud) enables many processes (3).
What tools can be useful for remote collaboration?
Currently, there are many tools that allow remote collaboration. Here are some excellent options (which have free versions or are simply free):
Slack is a very intuitive team communication tool where you can chat, collaborate, share videos, files, emoticons, etc.
See other best Team Communication Software
Miro is a virtual whiteboard that facilitates collaborative work and is easy to use. It offers a friendly experience with multiple options to work both synchronously and asynchronously. Images, texts, spreadsheets, etc. can be included.
See other best Collaboration Software
Trello is an ideal resource for collaborative project management. It allows you to create a board and include comments, deadlines, files, etc. It offers a nice design, where you can include cards or task lists, among others.
See other best Project Management Software
Canva is a very simple graphic design platform, with templates available for various formats compatible with social networks, for example. It can be used collaboratively both synchronously and asynchronously, although you do not need to be a design expert.
See other best Presentation Software
Google Workspace is a Google service that includes web applications with functions similar to traditional office tools. They include Gmail, Google Slides, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, etc. It is simple for users who are used to the Office package. It allows collaborative work in different formats to be stored in the cloud. It can also be used to run virtual meetings or jointly manage an agenda, for example.
What are the specific applications for collaborative virtual meeting projects?
Several applications can be used to organize synchronous virtual meetings of a remote work team. Among them, Skype, Google Meet, Zoom, Discord, UberConference. Each of these tools has different features that can best suit the needs of a meeting.
See other best Video Conferencing Software
For example, some platforms such as Zoom allow you to break the meeting into subgroups and then return to the initial group. Another feature can be to subtitle what the person is saying, in another language, simultaneously with their presentation.
Why should we replace the use of e-mails with a collaboration tool?
Emails are currently a static communication resource. Email threads are not very useful for a collaborative work process. Important messages are mixed with other emails, and it becomes necessary to discard irrelevant messages.
It takes a lot of time to organize all the information that arrives in a mailbox. The latest collaborative tools make the use of email outdated and somewhat unproductive.
How can remote collaboration be improved?
Remote team collaboration is new both to companies and team members. Below, we have summarized some guidelines for improving remote team collaboration:
What are the tips to get the most out of remote teams?
- Ideally, leaders should plan in detail how human resources will be organized, responsibilities defined and tasks assigned.
- To strengthen the commitment to the project, it is essential to define goals for each team member and for the team as a whole, with short- and medium-term deadlines.
- Motivating the team may be more difficult from a virtual perspective, but it is always a necessary element.
- Maintaining good communication within the group is essential.
- In addition to physical distance, there may also be cultural, time and language barriers. This must be taken into account when organizing remote team building activities and teamwork, especially when it comes to virtual meetings.
Remote collaboration is all about choosing the right technological resources, and it is essential that the whole team knows how to use them.
How can remote work affect teamwork?
Human relationships in a face-to-face job can be friendly, conflicting, trusting, etc. In any case, they are comparatively closer. One of the challenges of virtuality is to bring distances closer so that individual work becomes collaborative work.
In the constantly evolving culture of remote work, teams are increasingly exposed to the consequences of virtual distancing. Its three dimensions – physical, operational and emotional – condition how well team members can work together in a virtual environment (4).
What makes a remote work team good?
In this chart, we have included a checklist of the main issues to be considered in remote work teams, according to experts.
While technology makes team building possible, the main obstacle that can affect team building is the human factor. Those teams that manage to make their members feel motivated, recognized and part of a group will ultimately succeed, which, if not considered from the beginning, can be the main problem in the coordination of a virtual team (5).
Today, remote collaboration for distributed work teams is a tempting alternative for both companies and individuals who are rethinking their professional lives. It brings with it some challenges for all parties involved. Some countries are currently revising their employment and migration laws to make them specially adapted to this trend.
It is clear that this new work trend is growing every day. Hybrid or strictly remote work schemes, supported through various technological tools, are multiplying. Although this method cannot be applied to all types of work and is more appealing to younger people, the subject has become part of the agenda of the 21st century. This has even led to the emergence of digital nomads, often as part of a remote team who do not want to be rooted anywhere.
1. Batirlik S. N. Gencer Y. G. AKKUCUK U. Global Virtual Team Leadership Scale (GVTLS) Development in Multinational Companies. Sustainability, vol. 14, no 2, p. 1038, 2022.
2. Cook, S. Making a success of managing and working remotely. IT Governance Ltd., 2019.
3. Peiró J.M. Soler A. The boost of teleworking during covid-19 and the challenges it poses. Ivie and Universitat de València, 2020.
4. Soga L. Laker B. Bolade-Ogunfodun Y. Delegation strengthens teams working remotely. MIT Sloan Management Review, 2022.
5. Rincón Y. and Zambrano E. Virtual work teams: the challenges of shared remote work. Negotium: revista de ciencias gerenciales, 2008, Year 4, nº. 11, 2008, p. 104-119