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Remote Workers Weigh In: How do you collaborate in remote teams?

In a bid to cover some remote worker FAQs, through our new series, ‘Remote Workers Weigh In,’ we’ll be asking our team some of the most asked questions about what it’s really like to be a remote worker. 

In 2021, remote work is no longer seen as a fad or something reserved for specific roles. While it may not be everyone’s first choice, by now, most workers have had a taste of working from home and can vouch for its effectiveness. 

Before this worldwide anecdotal evidence, plenty of studies argued for its success, including the well-quoted Stanford University study with the Chinese travel agency, Ctrip. The study concluded that “home working led to a 13% performance increase, of which 9% was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick days) and 4% from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter and more convenient working environment).”

More recently, Owl Labs annual State of Remote Work survey found that of the 2,025 full-time workers involved in the study, ’75 % of people are the same or more productive during COVID-19 while working from home.’

79% of survey respondents also said that “video conferencing is at the same level or more productive than in-person meetings.”

These findings certainly make sense in my own work life. Working from home means less distraction and interruption, fewer meetings, and more ability to enter into a deep work headspace. 

Even when I worked in-office full time in a previous role, I would take specific work home each week because I knew my home environment suited those tasks better. 

But I am curious if this productivity translates to collaborative projects. Is it possible to maintain the same ease for brainstorming, spitballing, and finding solutions? Are long Zoom meetings the only way to effectively communicate on projects, or can asynchronous communication find a place in teamwork? 

To answer these questions, I asked the Shield team what collaboration looks like for them, how they make it work across time zones, and what kinds of tools help them on team projects. 

Weekly meetings keep everyone in sync

There’s always a balance to find with meetings, especially within remote teams. While they can sometimes feel unproductive and almost like time taken out of your day for deep work, they’re also handy for connection and checking in. 

At Shield, we have various ongoing meetings, including weekly team meetings, monthly all-hands calls, and 1:1s with our managers every few weeks. There are also other chances to catch up that are non-mandatory, including monthly AMA’s and social calls. 

These calls allow us to check in on progress, ask questions and have input into ongoing projects. 

“Most of the collaboration happens in that weekly meeting or slack channel,” our co-founder Tim Burgess says. “I have a slack channel with each person or project for async discussion outside of those weekly meetings. Ideally, this means that little things get addressed in Slack, and then in the meetings, we’re talking about bigger issues that we couldn’t resolve in Slack.”

This rings true for Angela, our Content Marketing Manager, “As a team, I think we rely more on asynchronous communication since we are in different time zones. However, our individual weekly meetings allow for more synchronous communication and provide a space for instant collaboration.”

Different tools work for different needs

Working remotely means everything has to be transparent online. Teammates can’t rely on everyone being in the same place at the same time to chat through an impromptu issue or share notes scribbled down on scrap paper. Instead, the nature of having a team across time zones means we rely more on shared online workspaces, such as Slack and Notion, to share information. 

“We use multiple channels,” says our Head of Customer Success, Givanny Madsen. “Slack to document meetings and key updates and agenda – also assists in tracking. Google Docs for key reports shared between the team to communicate sales updates and forecasts, Dropbox to store handover [documents] so we can all view the details and share with one another.” 

Angela says tools can help emulate that in-person collaborative experience.

“I really enjoy brainstorming and collaborating on Miro,” she says. “It’s fun to be able to post your own ideas and then review the rest of the team’s ideas in one place. It’s as if we were in the same room writing on a whiteboard.”

Zoom meetings at the beginning of a project can help

While most of the team agrees that a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous communication works best in remote teams, they argued that face-to-face calls are helpful at the beginning of a project so that everyone is on the same page. 

“Zoom takes time at the beginning, but if you don’t invest in those first calls, it is very difficult, at least for me, to set the right tone of what I would like to achieve,” says Julieta Moreno, one of our Global Mobility Subject Matter Experts. 

Our co-founder Tim Burgess agrees. 

“Oftentimes when starting a new project or dealing with a complex issue, we’ll have a meeting to discuss what we want to achieve (zoom or maybe in person if the person is in Sydney),” he says. “Recently, I’ve been trying to catch people for lunch because I like eating lunch and I like getting out of the house, and I like seeing people in real life.” 

Angela says this helps her not get stuck later down the line

“For bigger or newer projects, I definitely benefit from more Zoom meetings so that questions and concerns can be addressed quickly,” she says. “I also feel I’m less likely to get stuck when I have feedback and can bounce ideas with another person. And two brains are better than one!”

Always-Open Zoom rooms emulate working alongside your team

For those who miss the experience of working alongside each other in the office, our HR team has been trialing an Always-Open Zoom room. 

“Jamie and I have also recently tried to start an Always-Open Zoom room for anyone who’s feeling lonely. It hasn’t taken off as much as we’d like, but we’re still hopeful,” says Stella, our HR Manager and BP. “But because of that, we’re on Zoom together when we’re not in meetings, just working and playing some gentle music in the background, which means that we can then confirm and ask each other any questions like as if we sat next to each other in the office.”

So, can collaboration work in remote teams?

While the initial benefits of working from home may be more geared towards deep-focussed work, it certainly doesn’t mean collaboration is off the table. 

Through the use of Zoom and other asynchronous tools, teams can work together across countries, time zones, and work schedules. 

Each company and team will have their own tool preferences. Still, it’s important to remember that online resources are constantly evolving, and if you have a problem, there’s likely an existing solution. The key is trial and error and being open to growth and change. 

 

— Bree Caggiati

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