How to Collaborate Effectively with Your Remote Team

Generation W speaker Erica Dhawan is the co-author of a Harvard Business Journal article on the art of collaboration as it relates to remote work teams. “The digital era has ushered in a revolution in communication that’s equivalent to the one surrounding the invention of the printing press. It’s changing how we speak — often in bullet points. And it’s affecting what we hear, as the jumble of information coming at us can lead to frequent misunderstandings and confusion,” writes Erica.

Here are some best practices shared in the article:

Don’t conflate brief communications and clear communications: In our efforts to be efficient, we sometimes use fewer words to communicate. But such brevity can mean that the rest of the team wastes time trying to interpret your messages. (And then misinterprets them anyway.) Don’t assume that others understand your cues and shorthand. Spend the time to communicate with the intention of being ultra clear, no matter the medium. Indeed, you can never be too clear, but it is too easy to be less clear than you should.

Don’t bombard your team with messages: Do you follow up on a task by email, text, and phone? Do you tend to ask people if they got your previous message? Abusing those access points can be a form of digital dominance, a relentless and uncomfortable form of harassment. The medium you choose creates different demands on the time of the receiver. Using all of them for the same message is ineffective (as well as annoying). Choose your digital volume wisely.

Establish communication norms: Remote teams need to create new norms that establish clarity in communication. Companies such as Merck have created acronyms for their digital communications like “Four Hour Response (4HR)” and “No Need to Respond (NNTR)” that bring predictability and certainty to virtual conversations. Individual teams can also establish their own norms — e.g., to use or not use Slack, Google Docs, or Whatsapp groups. And norms can also exist on an individual level, such as people’s preferred response time, writing style, and tone. For example, some individuals prefer short and quick messages, while others favor lengthy and detailed responses; people also differ in their preference and tolerance for humor and informality.

See the hidden opportunities in written communications: Being behind a screen can create new opportunities for certain team members, making space for those who might be less inclined to speak out in groups. Text-based communication places less importance on interpersonal skills and physical appearance, offering an effective way to share power and decision-making. Research shows that introverted individuals are less inhibited in online versus offline interactions. However, you need to watch out for virtual unconscious bias, where punctuation, grammar and word choice might reveal prejudiced attitudes towards certain groups.

Create intentional space for celebration: Old school birthday cakes are still important for remote teams. Creating virtual spaces and rituals for celebrations and socializing can strengthen relationships and lay the foundation for future collaboration. Find ways to shorten the affinity distance. One company we worked with celebrated new talent by creating a personal emoji for each employee who had been there for six months. You can find your own unique way to create team spaces for social connection. How you do it is less important than whether you do.

Read the entire article here and don’t miss seeing Erica Dhawan during this year’s Generation W where she will be leading a breakout session titled “Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence.”