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3 Tried & Tested Ways to Collaborate Effectively in Remote Teams

In this article, we’re going to share with you our 3 tried and tested strategies to collaborate effectively in remote teams.

Organising meetings offline can be a hassle. But when you’re trying to organise one with a 10-person team in different timezones… Yikes.

But don’t despair, it’s far from impossible!

After 5 years of experimenting (cough failing cough) and iterating, we’ve developed an effective strategy that helps our remote team, Melewi, work closely together. Now, we’re able to design kickass products for companies around the world like McDonald’s, Samsung and Visa.

In this article, we’re going to share with you our 3 tried and tested strategies to collaborate effectively in remote teams.

To strategize, think about how you can replicate what you take for granted in real-life collaboration:

“What is it that you don’t consciously think about when you’re next to somebody in a room? Is it being able to tap them on the shoulder? Is it being able to sketch something out? Is it being able to fold something and show that to them?”

Keeping that principle in mind, let’s dive in.

1. Create a Space for Open Communication

We’ve found that the best way to overcome miscommunication, as you may have guessed, is to over-communicate by creating an environment that encourages open discussions.

Ping Each Other Anytime

Reaching out to Rikke, Melewi’s Senior Designer, for help via Slack

To wrestle timezone challenges, we’ve adopted Jason Fried’s (founder of Basecamp) practice of having a 4-hour overlap with the team. This, combined with our go-to communication channels, such as Slack and Google Hangouts, allow us to ping or call each other anytime. No more collaboration delays, yay!

Frequent Video Meetings (and we mean very frequent!)

Tiago (Brazil), Rikke (Denmark) and Melissa (Singapore) on a Skype call discussing a design project

You’ve probably been there: when a co-worker doesn’t get in touch until a small problem has snowballed into a huge obstacle. This is why video meetings are essential for us to clarify, address and fix business problems while they’re still manageable.

We never miss our daily standups – a short 15 minutes where everyone updates the team on what they’ve done the day before, what they’re about to do and what obstacles they’re facing. These daily standups help to nip problems in the bud. Even with just a quarter of an hour, we still have time for a couple of jokes and lots of laughter!

Table of our team’s meeting schedule

We also regularly schedule time for specific catch-ups, such as business strategy sessions, marketing reviews, finance planning meetings, and team 1-on-1s, to keep us on track across the different aspects of the business.

2. Building Trust and Human Relationships

Another important strategy to encourage the team to work effectively together is by building trust and human relationships.

Replicate the Water Cooler Chats

Screenshot of our #random channel with a picture of Peach’s adorable daughter, Lili

Team members can build rapport with each other when non-work related conversations are allowed to occur spontaneously. This goes back to our principle of replicating interactions that occur in a physical office space and bringing it online.

We’ve created dedicated non-work related channels on Slack, such as #jukebox where we share the latest hits we love, #travel where we share our lovely travel photos, and #random where we share everything else (like the latest iPhone X memes on Twitter).

The team’s travel adventures around the world

Occasionally, we also goof off before and after our daily standups!

These short and spontaneous chats may seem counterproductive at first, but in the long run, it makes everyone in the team feel like they are united in working together as a team.

Structured, Get-to-Know-You Sessions

Screenshot of our 30 minute highs and lows session

The next method is much more intentional and highly effective in giving team members the opportunity to build strong relationships with each other.

Every Monday, we have an internal, short 30-minute call where we share our highs and lows, which may be work-related or personal. By sharing what’s going on in our private lives, we get to know each other on a more personal level and become closer as a team.

“My high this week was catching the Phoenix’s live concert!” – Mary

On top of this, we’ve scheduled 1-on-1s with Melissa (our founder), every 2 months. During these dedicated meetings, we’ll discuss our experience, our goals, how we’ve been and how we can improve our personal and work lives at Melewi.

By addressing any obstacles and working together to align the company’s goals with our career goals, 1-on-1s help to keep us productive, motivated and fulfilled.

“You spend so much time finding great people, it’s worth it to help them grow to be the best they can be.”

– Justin Rosenstein, Co-Founder of Asana

3. Keep Everything Organised

Organising everything from our workflow to online documents supports the two strategies mentioned above. With this structure in place, we can keep track of all the design sprints and client projects we’re working on to complete them efficiently.

Everything goes in the cal

Screenshot of some scheduled meetings

Google Calendar is our best friend when it comes to organising our time (Mel: YES!!!). We set recurring meetings internally so that it becomes a routine – we just need to turn up at the same time, on the same day of the week (easy peasy!). This simple trick also holds everyone accountable to turning up.

With every project design sprint, we also create a clear timeline with clients and schedule reviews with them in advance.

By putting all these down in the calendar, we can block out chunks of time for important things and get more done.

Safe in the Cloud

Apart from scheduling meetings in the calendar, it’s highly important to keep our files organised and easily accessible.

When we’re designing for clients, we make sure to upload everything to Dropbox and name the files according to a particular standard. We’ve created a template for naming files too.

Screenshot featuring a guide to how we label our files on Dropbox

For internal documents, we use Google Drive and Dropbox to keep everything in one place, and everyone has access to it.

Organised Workflow

In order to manage and work on multiple sprints/projects as a team, we have developed structured workflows for all processes in the company.

When working with clients on a 1-week or 2-weeks sprint, we have at least three checkpoints – (1) sprint planning, (2) mid-sprint review and (3) sprint retrospective & delivery.

Once we’ve discussed the sprint planning with the client, we’ll have an internal meeting to split the tasks. This involves writing all the tasks down, setting clear expectations on when it will be completed and dividing the tasks between team members. This establishes clear ownership for each team member so that we can collaborate effectively together.

The internal catch-ups are then done multiple times until we’ve finished the final sprint retrospective and delivery with the client.

To help us keep track of our progress, we use multiple tech tools like Google Docs, Dropbox, RealtimeBoard and Trello.

Not only is effective remote collaboration possible, it’s easy and efficient if the right strategies are used. Remember to experiment with what works best for you and your team, and don’t give up because the end results are definitely worth it!

What are the greatest challenges you face in collaborating in a remote team? Tweet us, we’d love to hear from you!

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