How to help your team excel at remote collaboration

4 min read
Will Fanguy
  •  Dec 29, 2017
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Remote work is on the rise. Being able to work from anywhere that has an internet connection makes employees happier and gives businesses a chance to grow their talent pool from almost anywhere in the world. But having a partially or even fully remote team is not without its drawbacks, especially when it comes to remote collaboration.

But just because your team’s separation is physical doesn’t mean it has to be mental as well. There are tools and practices being used by companies both large (like GitHub, Automattic, and our 500-member team here at InVision) and small that help reduce the friction of working together when you’re not actually together. Here’s a selection of tips and tools we use to make remote collaboration happen.

“Remote collaboration is a work-in-progress.”

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You know what they say about people who assume. Don’t make assumptions about what your team knows or what they understand. Ask questions. Provide clarification. If there’s a chance for a misunderstanding in person, that chance is multiplied via text when you can’t see body language or facial expressions or hear the inflections in someone’s voice.

To help with this, you can pick up the phone or make a quick video call. Calls don’t have to be a big event. A quick 2-minute call to ask questions about this draft or provide more info about that wireframe can save you hours of time fixing things down the road.

“Don’t make assumptions about what your team knows or what they understand.”

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Schedule regular team and 1:1 meetings to keep everyone on the same page regarding priorities and project progress. One of the benefits of working remotely is fewer meetings. That being said, there’s no substitute for getting everyone together in one (chat) room and brainstorming through an idea or providing updates on the current high-priority project.

Related: 50 things only remote workers understand

Share your work

One of the great things about working on a team is being able to combine your superpowers with those of others to produce something amazing. But that only works if you’re willing to share. To start, keep a record of your work, your decisions, and the reasoning behind them. Help your team understand why you did what you did. Let them know what you’re working on. And don’t make big decisions without working together. Teamwork makes the dream work and all that.

Related: Home offices and what working remotely looks like

Another good idea is to maintain accessibility via shared work hours. Here at InVision, everyone in the Western Hemisphere strives to work the same hours every workday. But it doesn’t have to be that involved. Sharing two or three hours a day with your team can make a huge difference. Even if you’re getting ready to end your day as someone else is just getting started, sharing that time and communicating in real time can help bridge the gap between “shifts.”

Use the right tools

There is list after list of the “best tools for remote teams”, and there’s no shortage of options out there for ways to use them. Here’s a list of the tools we use on the content team here at InVision to keep our remote collaboration game strong:

  • We use Slack because every remote team needs a place to communicate, collaborate, and store the documents and processes that are essential to running a company.
  • We use a combination of in-app Slack calls and Zoom for our meetings and video calls. Slack calls are great for super quick check-ins, and Zoom can manage everything from our weekly team meetings to our monthly all-hands company calls.
  • For screenshots and screencasts, we use a mix of Annotate, Droplr, and Skitch. There’s no substitute for being able to show something to a colleague instead of having to describe it.
  • We use Dropbox Paper and Google Docs for collaborative writing and meeting notes. The team is split on their loyalties, but both tools give us the ability to work together on larger projects and keep meeting agendas for future reference.
  • Finally, we use our own InVision products (including Freehand, Craft, and Boards) to collaborate and share ideas. Like you, we’re looking forward to the release of Studio because its collaborative, connected workflow will make the process of brainstorming, ideating, iterating, and creating much more streamlined and seamless.

“The biggest stumbling block for remote collaboration is inaction.”

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Don’t worry about whether or not you’re doing it right

The biggest stumbling block for remote collaboration is inaction. If you spend all of your time trying to find the perfect tool or the ideal process, you’ll never get any actual work done. Remote collaboration is a work-in-progress. Keep a positive attitude and keep moving forward, and you’ll keep getting better at it.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard