Apr 7, 2022Remote tools16 min read
How to make remote team collaboration successful
Table of Contents
I.Company policies for effective remote team collaboration
1. 1.Promote transparency
1. 2.Define core values
1. 3.Communicate goals effectively
1. 4.Streamline internal processes
1. 5.Communicate generously
1. 6.Assume positive intent
1. 7.Minimize virtual meetings
1. 8.Gamify brainstorming
1. 9.Incentivize regular feedback
1. 10.Trust your team
II.The 21 best remote team management tools
To become remote-first and truly benefit from remote team collaboration, companies need a cultural shift. They need to build new internal processes from scratch, while teams must adopt a new set of behaviors. Simply replicating the office dynamics online doesn't work.
In the transition to remote, the biggest challenge is around collaboration and communication. Companies need to implement a new set of tools and policies that foster effective remote team collaboration.
In the first part of this article, we will explore several best practices around company culture, communication, and teamwork. After that, you'll find a useful list of remote team management tools that is a great start if you're building or scaling your company remotely.
Company policies for effective remote team collaboration
Remote collaboration doesn’t offer a one-fits-all solution. Each company needs to experiment with and adopt different norms and tools, depending on their specific needs. However, there are some best practices that have successfully helped remote teams so far.
Adopting a high level of transparency is crucial for remote team collaboration. It holds the team leaders accountable, and it builds trust with your team.
Transparency starts with a clear long-term vision. Data shows that when people feel aligned and connected with the company's vision, they feel more empowered to make decisions and do their best work.
But transparency doesn't stop there. It extends to how the company operates, from recruiting to performance evaluation to salary. For example, Buffer publicly displays their salary formula and how much each employee earns. Companies that publicly display salary numbers usually get better applicants for new job roles as well.
As the proverb goes, honesty is the best policy.
Define core values
Some remote workers might spend years without ever meeting their colleagues in person, and this trend will soon become "the new normal." While in-person team gatherings are a fantastic benefit to offer to your team, you can't rely solely on that.
How do you ensure that thousands of distributed employees align with your company culture? Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab, suggests writing down your company's values by providing examples of how people should interpret them.
Values underline internal and external collaboration. For example, to collaborate effectively at GitLab, you have to:
- Work without ego
- Solve problems without blame
- Explicitly help other people succeed.
Once the company culture is clear and accessible to all, it sets the tone for healthy and open collaboration.
Communicate goals effectively
Remote teams should row in the same direction by having clear goals, responsibilities, deliverables, and success metrics.
To make sure that everyone is aligned, it's a good practice to have a direction-setting meeting at the beginning of the week and then a 30-min check-in call every other day. It's also helpful to keep a public dashboard where people can see and track the progress made.
Streamline internal processes
Remote workers need to make an extra effort in minimizing their colleague's work. Ideally, when someone in the team seeks help to solve a problem, they've already done everything they could to solve it themselves.
While remote team management tools help, companies should aim to create a standardized internal process through a shared knowledge base, onboarding, and other go-to resources to minimize everyone's backlog.
Whenever you send someone a message on Slack or email, try to provide full context, relevant resources, and a clear outline of action items.
Clear communication is especially vital when working asynchronously: if your initial request to your team is unclear, it might take days instead of minutes for them to start working on something. It's a considerable loss of productivity and a source of frustration for everyone involved.
Assume positive intent
As a rule of thumb, assume positive intent behind people's words. Lots of nuances are lost when a text medium replaces in-person communication. Words can be subject to interpretation and spark doubt. If a message sounds annoyed, mean, or impolite, check in with the person before you jump to conclusions. More often than not, the message was well-intended.
Minimize virtual meetings
Many remote teams end up being on video meetings all day. Some people send meeting invites without making sure it's indispensable or taking steps to solve it without having a call.
Lots of meetings "could have been an email”, and lots of urgent texts could have waited. It's important to create a culture that respects everyone's time and attention. For example, by addressing the issue in an existing shared document or providing more context beforehand.
Sometimes the best way to work together is to play together. Not all meetings need to be structured! People collaborate better when they can communicate freely in an informal (virtual) environment.
You can design your virtual gatherings in creative ways. At SafetyWing, the team did a hackathon to brainstorm new ideas. They divided the team into groups, organized a 3-day program, and had prize money to fight for. The result was a bunch of new ideas the team was excited to work on.
Incentivize regular feedback
We all make mistakes. That's perfectly human. However, it's a problem if other people in the team don't feel free to call it out or give feedback. Silence and ambiguity can waste everyone's time and effort and leave people frustrated at the first roadblocks encountered.
Remote teams should always feel on the same page and on board with what they're doing. Therefore, it is good to cultivate an environment where disagreement and honest feedback are encouraged.
Trust your team
Trust your team when you're working on a project. For example, trust your designer to know how to protect and preserve your brand identity. They know this better than anyone else.
It's also good to allow your team to improve their skills by paying for their continuous learning. This type of culture encourages talent to flourish and positively impacts the company's growth. It's also one of the most wanted benefits in remote teams by our recent survey.
These policies are intuitively valuable, but implementing them can be a challenge. Luckily, remote teams have access to increasingly better software tools.
The 21 best remote team management tools
Many remote teams use Notion as a centralized source of general information such as mission, core values, policies, and onboarding documentation. But Notion is also a project management tool where teams can share roadmaps, workflows, and calendars.
Here's an example of Safety Wing's mission and vision:
Slack is the OG of remote team collaboration. It's the closest thing to a "digital office" you'll find and where most day-to-day communication happens.
It is organized in channels both for company-wide communication and private teamwork, where people can start a thread to discuss anything. It is modern, intuitive, and it has a solid search function.
Pro tip: even if Slack is informal, set guidelines on how to use it (e.g., people should respond within 24 hours)
GitLab is an asynchronous tool for collaborating on code. It's an excellent solution for companies that often need to develop and ship new software. The platform allows engineers to compare their code against each other without being together. Then they can create different workflows on top where other engineers can ask for reviews or edits. Overall it streamlines the devs' work to ship fast, effectively, and securely.
Asana is one of the best project management tools for remote teams. At the most basic level, it's used to keep track of tasks, who is responsible for them, and when they are due. But you can also create custom automated rules and forms to standardize more complex procedures. In a nutshell, it makes cross-team collaboration intuitive and effective.
Todoist is a reliable tool for managing tasks, sub-tasks, and recurring events (e.g., monthly payments). One of its best features is the browser extension that enables remote teams to access it from all kinds of devices easily.
One of the best features is its natural language analysis. For example, creating a new task that says "Follow up with Micheal on Wednesday next week" will automatically put it in your calendar.
Almanac's goal is to eradicate the endless Zoom meetings and scattered messages across different tools and instead collaborate efficiently through dynamic documentation in one place.
It's a modern text editor where people can make suggestions, assign revisions to specific people or ask them to sign off a document - all without editing the original main document where others can merge things later. It's super transparent, as you can see who wrote/commented on what at all stages of the edit.
Overall, it's beneficial to streamline the work of asynchronous teams.
nTask is a project management tool that does it all! Well, almost. nTask offers many remote team management tools, such as Kanban boards, Gantt charts, task management with team chat and time tracking, project planning, and much more.
It's almost overwhelming how much you can do with it; there's undoubtedly a bit of a learning curve to it. On the upside, it is one of the most affordable tools out there.
Monday.com is a solid project management tool to manage workflows, track progress at a high level, and always have a clear idea of who is working on what (and when).
One of the coolest features is to create a company directory with all the people working at the company, their local time, location, birthday, and a short bio.
Teamflow aims to bring together the best of two worlds: the human dimension of the office and the practicality of virtual meetings. It can gamify remote team collaboration by linking your video camera to a virtual avatar in a Sims-like virtual office.
Flo, their founder and CEO explained on the Building Remotely podcast: "It is very effective to have a room that is dedicated to a project in which the whole team can come together and put all the artifacts they need for it. You would imagine, now that we have gone remote and have infinite real estate, we would use it to create infinite working rooms."
Sococo is a tool that helps remote workers feel like they're in a shared space with their colleagues. It's ideal for remote teams who favor synchronized work: you can quickly check who is available and have a quick chat.
Remember how sometimes random conversations at the office brought new ideas to work on? It's hard to replicate that serendipity when working remotely. But Wonder aims to change that.
It's a virtual space ideal for networking, exhibitions, workshops, and social events. It recreates an ample floor space, with separated theme-based areas where people can start to gather around. Once enough people get close together, a conversation (video call) starts. Circles can host up to 14 people, while the whole space can host as many as 500.
A cool feature is that you can create automatic ice breaker questions for each circle (e.g., What's your favorite movie?)
Tandem is a virtual office tool that aims to capture those moments of shared inspiration that usually happen when working side by side.
The interface is minimal and practical, with a list of rooms. At a glance, you can see who is available and jump into a convo opening a small window. It feels like you're opening a tiny portal to your colleagues.
It's great for quick informal chats throughout the day, especially for people who need to brainstorm together often. Overall, having these frictionless convos can lead to more shared knowledge, transparency, team cohesion.
Sometimes it is hard to stay productive when working alone. Focusmate is a simple tool that aims to overcome that. Its value proposition is simple:
- Start a video call with a coworker
- Say what you're going to work on
- Start a work session of 50 minutes.
That's it. Simple and effective, it leverages peer pressure in the best possible way.
Miro is a fun and user-friendly collaboration platform for teams who need to work visually. It's a digital whiteboard where everyone in the group can drag and drop images, videos, put sticky notes, create mind maps, and leave comments.
It has a massive list of ready-made templates to get started. It can benefit remote teams working on projects like a new website design or a product launch.
Milanote is ideal for remote teams doing marketing, media, and design. But it can empower any creative worker. Similar to Miro, it's a space to organize things visually. You can use it for ads concepts, presentation decks, or mood boards.
Hiring remotely can be a challenge. Without a proper onboarding system, new employees can feel lost. Gusto is an all-in-one HR platform that streamlines communication during the onboarding of remote workers. But it also takes care of payroll, benefits, filing taxes, and compliance.
It's a modern solution to hire, onboard, and retain talent in an increasingly borderless workforce.
Like Gusto, Omnipresent makes it easy for teams to hire globally by taking care of the employee administration and compliance for over 160 countries. Companies can centralize onboarding, payroll, and benefits in one platform and give their employees the tools and support they need to feel part of the team immediately.
Remote collaboration doesn't have to happen only via Slack messages or Zoom calls. A great solution to streamline async work is to record quick videos of your screen and webcam.
Loom is a browser extension that allows you to do that and share the link of the recording with your colleagues. It's super practical and adds a human layer to the mere sharing of information and requests.
Kipwise is a platform to keep your team's knowledge base centralized in one place instead of having it fragmented in different Slack messages and Google Docs. It actually integrates with both platforms (and many others) so that you can easily save an answer on Slack as part of the documentation on Kipwise.
Overall it makes remote teams' SOPs consistent and easily accessible.
Working from home is ideal for some, but not everybody. Some people are happier and more productive when working in a professional environment. As an individual worker or team, you can use Deskpass to access over 1000 coworking spaces across America. The monthly membership is flexible, and you only pay as you use it.
There is no easy way to achieve great remote team collaboration. Each company will need to test and learn the most effective policies for the remote-first era.
New best practices will be developed and become part of the global culture. More remote team management tools will come to the market to help us do our best work.
Hopefully, rethinking how we work will continue to increase productivity and improve people's work-life balance. If you need more convincing that remote is the way to go, check out our chapter on Why build remotely!
About the author
Dario is a content writer & creator working remotely since 2017. He's a passionate minimalist and digital nomad. On his blog, he writes about personal growth and lifestyle design to help people deal with a fast-changing and progressively more borderless world.