Leading from home? Become a virtual collaboration wizard.
Is working from home creating a thinking problem? For leaders used to furiously scribbling on brainstorming boards in the office war room, the answer may be yes. Collaborating from home can feel flat and disconnected—especially during abrupt transitions with no preset structure for remote work. Don’t let this hurt productivity. Instead, use the current challenge as motivation to transform your remote leadership skills and add the title of virtual collaboration wizard to your catalog.
Demystify an enchanted landscape
Brainstorming in the office requires little more than a wave of the wand and a meeting space. At home, it’s a completely different story. Your team needs obvious tools like laptops and remote collaboration software, but it’s the not-so-obvious tools that make virtual meetings more effective. Tethered phones and mobile hotspots get around connectivity issues caused by increased network bandwidth. Headsets help eliminate echoes on calls. Front lighting on video chats helps teammates see faces to feel connected. And a well-placed stack of books ensures laptop cams are at eye level—because looking down on your team or up someone else’s nose is never a good look.1
Summon the right collaboration tools
As for remote collaboration platforms, 61% of Americans working from home rate them as essential to their productivity. For Gen Z, that number rises to 77%, so if your team is younger, picking the right one is crucial.2 Start by taking inventory of what’s available versus what you need. If your team works on office-issued laptops with preinstalled software, call IT or HR for a rundown on your remote options. Otherwise, the virtual collaboration tools you choose will mostly depend on your budget, your business and whichever service gets the most done with the least effort.3
Google’s G Suite is perhaps the simplest, most functional and accessible option out there, but it isn’t tailored to any industry’s specific needs. Still, it offers speedy collaboration tools that integrate into many other services and platforms, making it a great place to start:
- Drive lets you create, share and store files
- Slides gives you an easy way to create shareable slide presentations
- Sheets does the same, but for spreadsheets, graphs and data charts instead
- Docs lets your entire team see and collaborate on a word document in real time
- Sites allows you to quickly create websites to serve as a hub for collaboration projects
- Hangouts lets you participate in computer-based calls or face-to-face video meetings
There are countless other tools that fit major remote needs, including Trello for project management, Clockify for time tracking and Basecamp for an all-in-one platform. In early 2020, Microsoft Teams became the clear instant messaging choice for working from home, registering as many users in one week as its rival Slack has in total.4
For industries where remote visual brainstorming is critical—like design and architecture—don’t just look for platforms that provide real-time collaboration. Unlimited canvas space, drag-and-drop functionality, multiple presentation options and the ability to attach files are important too, and you’ll find many of those features in these virtual board programs.
Cast a spell for collaborative magic
It doesn’t take a wizard to find the right tools for working from home. But personal communication issues caused by remote work can only be fixed with smart leadership—specifically by fostering a better environment for collaboration. Ongoing research into group collaboration shows that while you can stimulate your team’s collaborative behavior by adjusting the technology they use or the responsibilities you assign (e.g., task structures), to a much greater extent their output is determined by their willingness to voluntarily share information with, and learn from, team members. This volunteered teamwork is called emergent interdependence.5
To facilitate emergent interdependence, allocate resources and define roles so that your team naturally depends on each other (e.g., high task interdependence). Also make sure that the final results reflect on the team (e.g., high outcome interdependence) rather than the individual (e.g., low outcome interdependence). For example, imagine a giant book of spells edited by nine wizards where each wizard has one chapter to edit. The task and outcome interdependence levels would both be low because each wizard’s knowledge could be judged based on their own chapter.
But how would this change if the book didn’t cite the wizards by chapter (high outcome interdependence) and everyone could edit every other chapter (high task interdependence)? The team would then be judged as one collective group, so members would be more apt to display emergent interdependence because their reputations would be on the line only if every member performed. This would create a more willing, effective and enthusiastic collaboration to elevate and support one another. That, in itself, is magic.
Bits and bobs for your cauldron
Now that your remote collaboration apprenticeship is over, here are a few final tips to help you prepare for what’s ahead:6
- Acknowledge and greet attendees at the top of meetings to establish an air of familiarity, participation and respect. Call on silent team members who aren’t normally quiet.
- Get documents into the right hands well before the meeting starts—not 30 seconds before or 10 minutes in.
- Set an agenda for each meeting and require everyone to open meeting files in advance to keep things moving—especially if they’ll be sharing their screen.
- Clarify what’s expected from everyone on an hourly, daily and/or weekly basis.
- Assign a note taker and have him/her send follow-up emails with summaries, tasks and requests so everyone is on the same page.
- Communicate regularly to keep on task, but trust in your team to get the job done. Communication overload can be harmful.
- Focus on goals and accomplishments, not necessarily on activity, during a time when pets are cooped up, kids are homeschooled and spouses might be working from home.
- Always remember: Masters of the mute button are the true unsung heroes of collaborating from home.
And that’s all it takes to become a full-fledged virtual collaboration wizard. The rest comes with practice. To learn about visual collaboration tools that make remote brainstorming even more effective, get in touch today.
1“The 5 Cs of Remote Collaboration: Tips and Tricks for Online Communication.” EDHEC Business School, 26 Mar. 2020, https://www.edhec.edu/en/news/5-cs-remote-collaboration-tips-and-tricks-online-communication.
2Coronavirus Research PDFs/GWI coronavirus findings April 2020 – Work Behaviors (Release 7).pdf, www.globalwebindex.com/hubfs/1.
3Hinchcliffe, Dion. “Working in a Coronavirus World: Strategies and Tools for Staying Productive.” ZDNet, ZDNet, 11 Mar. 2020, www.zdnet.com/article/effective-strategies-and-tools-for-remote-work-during-coronavirus/.
4Swartz, Jon. “In Just One Week, Microsoft Adds as Many Users to Its Teams Collaboration Software as Rival Slack Has in Total.” MarketWatch, MarketWatch, 19 Mar. 2020, www.marketwatch.com/story/these-tech-companies-with-telecommuting-tools-are-well-positioned-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-2020-03-19.
5Woolley, Anita. “Harnessing the Power of Emergent Interdependence to Promote Diverse Team Collaboration.” Research on Managing Groups and Teams, www.academia.edu/2734066/Harnessing_the_power_of_emergent_interdependence_to_promote_diverse_team_collaboration.
6“Council, Forbes Coaches. “Council Post: Top 15 Tips To Effectively Manage Remote Employees.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 30 May 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/05/30/top-15-tips-to-effectively-manage-remote-employees/.