How to Improve Remote Collaboration in 2021

eWEEK DATA POINTS: While every team will have a different remote experience, there are some things upon which companies can improve in the future. Here are some suggestions from an expert.

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The rapid move since last March to remote workforces has accelerated changes for many businesses. Digital transformations, shifts in business models, and growth strategies must happen on condensed timelines under foreign conditions. To facilitate these sudden changes, companies have adopted new collaboration and communication tools.

Even for organizations that have been fully distributed since inception, there are always ways those companies can improve how they collaborate. While every team will have a different remote experience, here are some of the things that companies can improve upon in the future.

Industry information for this eWEEK Data Points article comes from Corey Hulen, founder and CTO of MatterMost, which makes enterprise team collaboration and messaging software that deploys under IT control either on-premises or to cloud infrastructure.

Data Point No. 1: Record and share meeting video

Record meeting video, especially in group settings. This helps keep team members who couldn’t join the meeting for whatever reason looped in. Even for companies that have been remote from the get-go, it can be hard to remember to start the video recording and share it back to the right group afterward. Finding the right processes and tools to use recorded video more effectively is something we can improve on moving forward. 

Data Point No. 2: Implement more office hours

One of the great things about remote teams is that they’re great at working asynchronously. But this also presents some challenges. It’s important to have those face-to-face interactions when possible (or at least virtual face-to-face interactions). Setting aside time to interact more -- especially in casual ways -- is a challenge. There’s no great way to replicate the spontaneity of in-person interactions online, but having anti-meetings that carve out time for team members to get to know each other better, bounce ideas around, or just interact with folks that aren’t part of their daily meeting rotation is a good way to foster a more connected team.

Data Point No. 3: Manage offline time

With a distributed team, it’s not uncommon for messages to be sent when people are offline. While organizations don't need to implement a formal process for different time zones or offline message reception, it can help preface messages with “Not Urgent” or other qualifiers if they know someone is likely to be offline. Even using this practice by convention is helpful, but companies that can find a way to use technology to help manage this process would enable them to improve their collaboration practices even more.

Data Point No. 4: Organize smaller meetups

Before COVID, many remote-first companies arranged company-wide meetups on occasion, which were a great way to bring the team together. Those are important, but often a need and desire for smaller group meetups for specific teams and cohorts develops. For companies that won’t be going back to an office post-COVID, rebuilding those face-to-face interactions at the right level is key. There's never been a better time to start building these types of interactions than now. 

Data Point No. 5: Recognize family challenges

When COVID hit, teams that were already largely remote and distributed had a leg up in some ways that likely made the transition easier -- from knowing how to build a remote team culture, to having the right IT infrastructure to secure their workforce. But for companies that weren't remote-native, and even for those that were changes to how families share spaces during COVID has been a struggle. It's important to make an effort to have a culture that embraces the fact that people have families, to recognize the fact that kids, spouses and even pets might make an occasional appearance on a Zoom call -- or require someone to shift their schedule around occasionally. 

Data Point No. 6: Codify and document cultural practices 

Many companies have dealt with challenges like these through culture and convention over the past year. That fact doesn’t mean that they’re solved problems that may have arisen because of the sudden shift to remote work. By making the choice to deliberately adopt practices that work for people (and adding them to company handbooks or other written guidelines), organizations can more effectively scale those practices as the company grows. 

Data Point No. 7: Remote collaboration challenges will continue; build that culture now

Whether long term or short, many organizations will be working remotely as we head into 2021. There are many ways to tackle the challenges that remote teams face, from process tweaks to technological improvements. While convention can act as a salve, it may not completely fill in the structural gaps left by sudden changes in the way we work. Organizations that take the time to evaluate the future of their workforce, understand how to improve collaboration, and codify some of these changes into lasting policy are more likely to develop welcoming and scalable collaboration practices moving forward.  

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Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...