Remote Collaboration: Why it's Important + 4 Tips to Improve it
Paint a mental picture of collaboration at work. What comes to mind? You might be imagining an in-person office filled with teammates brainstorming, coffee pots, and post-it notes. Is this wrong? Not at all.
But our minds immediately jump to remote collaboration.
We picture diverse teams from around the world working remotely and still collaborating as vibrantly as they do in conference rooms. They won’t miss the little things about in-office life—like office friendships, face-to-face chats, and spur-of-the-moment syncs—because they still have all of them.
Remote collaboration is possible no matter how far apart your team members are—a few simple tips are all you need to spark casual chats and lightbulb moments.
What is remote collaboration?
Remote collaboration is precisely what it sounds like—it refers to distributed team members working together. Remote collaboration can be asynchronous (think of a Slack conversation where teammates respond during async work hours), or it can happen in real time, like a conversation over a Zoom video call.
Why is synchronous collaboration important for distributed teams?
Collaborating in real time brings clarity and a human touch to remote work. When team members have some synchronous collaboration time, it's easier to build trust and relationships, which ultimately make your team more effective.
Of course, it's possible to work completely asynchronously and be effective, but we believe some elements of synchronous collaboration can make working remotely both more enjoyable and efficient.
Working together strengthens team bonds
Remote work shouldn’t equal working alone. When remote teams can solve problems together, they strengthen their social connections and learn to lean on each other for help when needed.
Working together remotely also makes room for the lightweight banter that builds strong relationships. Sure, checking tasks off a to-do list together feels great, but simple conversations are just as powerful.
Sync collaboration makes updates lower-effort
Remote team members can give each other async updates—we love to write Slack soliloquies and send Loom video walkthroughs of our thinking. But sometimes, a Slack or Loom doesn’t tell the whole story. For example, you don’t want a team member to feel like they have to type out a novel every time you want to hear about their progress in detail—it can be draining.
A study by Loom showed that having to "Slack-splain" or change the way you communicate for Slack can be psychologically taxing.
Synchronous remote collaboration can help everyone get on the same page about priorities and how to efficiently complete projects, without that added effort of communicating async.
Intentional synchronous collaboration makes sharing knowledge and context easier
Nothing is more frustrating than feeling like you can’t find the information you need to get your work done.
When done well, synchronous remote collaboration will keep your teams on the same page, prevent work overlaps, and make sure everyone has access to the knowledge they need to do their best work.
4 tips for collaborating remotely
When it comes to remote collaboration, you can’t rely on the same tactics that are built into a physical office experience—stopping by a co-worker’s desk, overhearing conversations that give you context, and so on.
You need a strategy for clear online communication and support so your teams can work together effectively and equitably, and make the most of your sync time.
We’ll break down our favorite ways to help your teams work together. Experiment with these ideas to see what works best for you!
1. Prioritize relationship-building with lightweight office rituals
It’s easier to work with a team member when you already feel comfortable with each other. Set a strong foundation for remote collaboration with simple rituals that build personal relationships. Here are a few of our favorite ideas:
- Celebrate team members’ successes in weekly roundups. According to a study by Quantum Workplace and Bamboo HR, 52% of respondents would like more recognition from their manager, and 41% hope to receive more from their teammates. Celebrating wins as a team makes people feel valued, which sets the stage for great working relationships. At Remotion, we do this with a #wins channel on Slack.
- Try Frond to help new hires feel special and get to know the team when they join. Their product “Hello” helps you welcome new teammates in a personal way with custom videos.
- Cowork to different team members’ favorite Spotify playlists for an easy way to share some personality and make spending time together feel comfortable.
- Start meetings with ice-breaker activities to get all team members involved. For example, Sonu Bubna, co-founder of Shopper.com, introduced the rose and thorn game to help her team connect through sharing. During the game, team members share a “rose,” or a positive aspect of their week, as well as a “thorn,” or a challenge they encountered.
- Add 5 minutes of optional small talk before the start of meetings. This allows teammates to have built-in time for chit-chat in an opt-in way.
Remember, the point isn’t to pile on responsibilities or force awkward conversations—it’s to encourage natural connections that lead to better relationships. Be sure to get feedback from your team to find out which rituals are good fits!
2. Use virtual coworking to feel connected
Without a replacement for spontaneous in-person interactions, remote teams can miss opportunities to share ideas as they pop up and lose out on casual conversations.
Spur-of-the-moment chats that happen every day in offices are equally important for virtual teams. Why? According to Academy of Management Discoveries research, these bursts of communication followed by periods of silence are actually a feature of successful remote teams. In the study, this communication style led to a 29% boost in team performance versus teams that connected in other ways.
Our Software Engineering Manager, Harriet Willmott, describes coworking as a time for lightweight, meaningful connections—similar to riding in the car with a friend, watching the landscape pass by while listening to music, and chatting occasionally. It's low stakes and powerful at the same time.
Mark Strassman, former SVP of LogMeIn, also advocates for giving remote employees unstructured time to work together and stay productive. "Having people around lets me focus more." But, Strassman adds, "If I want to stop and ask a question, I can."
Coworking helps team members get things done and catch up at the same time. Project-specific coworking sessions help virtual team members progress toward common goals remotely while still working “side-by-side.” If anyone needs to ask a quick question or share an idea, they can simply pop off mute to discuss.
3. Build a culture of writing
Writing everything down has been drilled into us over the years, and for a good reason.
Putting everything in writing—from meeting notes to training docs—enables remote teams to share knowledge and minimizes information silos. Adam Garcia, the owner of The Stock Dork, agrees that "clear documentation is essential" for his team when working remotely.
Our favorite tools make documentation super simple.
- Internal wikis like Tettra or Guru help you store all of your valuable info in one place. Creating a library of resources empowers teams to find and share information anytime they need it.
- Not every discussion warrants a full-on Zoom meeting. When your team needs to share quick updates and comments, remote collaboration tools like Slack or note-taking software like Notion are a perfect solution.
- We also suggest summarizing meetings in writing to cement ideas and give teams a reference point for conversations. Collaboration apps like Google Workspace or Quip are great tools for this!
Team buy-in is especially important with tools—if the platform isn’t a good fit, they won’t use it. So check in with your team to see what documentation tools they already use and like!
4. Run intentional meetings
To keep remote teams connected, it’s easy to overcorrect and schedule a lot of 1:1s and team meetings. While some connection is great, too many meetups make it difficult to get work done.
According to Udemy's Workplace Distraction Report, 60% of respondents feel like meetings are just a distraction from their actual work. Meetings filled with interruptions and delays only make matters worse.
Tim Parker, Director of Marketing at Syntax Integration, advises leaders to "minimize virtual meetings," holding them only "when absolutely necessary."
Tools like Dive can help you make the most of the meetings you do have by helping you clearly define goals and keep things on track. The clearer your expectations for meetings are set and the better they are run, the better your team morale will be.
Find the balance between connection and distraction—schedule the meetings that are absolutely necessary, but let your team iron out quick questions and other light communication via Slack and coworking sessions. When you need to schedule a meeting, send out agendas in advance so teams know what to expect.
Make room for spontaneous collaboration with Remotion
As we continue to embrace remote work, we need creative solutions for its challenges—like a virtual place to work, collaborate, and build relationships, all in one spot.
Remotion gives your team members a space to connect and work together spontaneously, no matter where they are.
The case for virtual coworking: build a connected remote culture.
Regularly coworking with your hybrid or remote team can help you build the social cohesion that makes work feel less like work.
Here are the biggest reasons we think virtual coworking is an effective way to create a close-knit remote culture:
1. It fosters casual conversations.
Building a connected remote culture is all about fostering 1:1 or small group organic conversations. Virtual coworking makes space for those conversations. When you spend time together outside of agenda-driven meetings, spontaneous chats naturally occur, as they would in a traditional office.
2. It's more inclusive than scheduled social events.
It can be draining for introverts to have to participate in scheduled, purely social conversations. Virtual coworking allows the team to spend time together and occasionally chat without having to constantly be "on," making it more inclusive for introverts and extroverts alike.
3. It's easy to say yes to.
Purely social events are important, but if your remote team is busy or on a tight deadline, it's tough to find the time for social chats without it feeling like an obligation. Coworking is much easier to get your distributed team onboard with because it doesn't take time away from getting work done.
4. It improves remote collaboration.
Coworking can lead to unblocking and shorter feedback loops and stronger remote collaboration. Quick questions get answered easily and in the moment, without a having to schedule a meeting or go back-and-forth in messages. Coworking also builds peer accountability.
5. It's scalable.
Coworking works for teams of all sizes and is a great way to scale your remote culture as your team grows. It's helpful to create opportunities for teammates from different functions to get to know one another.
6. It creates shared momentum.
Virtual coworking helps remote workers for the same reason you might get a membership at a traditional coworking space: the feeling of togetherness is motivating!
Get started with virtual coworking: choose the type most aligned with your priorities.
It takes intentionality to make virtual coworking feel natural and energizing enough to stick—it's not as simple as leaving a Zoom call open all day.
Here are a few of the ways we've set coworking up for our team. We recommend choosing one to start with. If it works, make it routine and experiment with other types from there.
Try independent coworking.
Try project-based coworking.
Best practices for virtual coworking.
Keep group sizes small.
Limit your work sessions to 4-6 people to minimize distraction and help make introverted teammates comfortable chatting.
Signal boost coworking.
Set a norm of letting the entire team know when you're hopping into a coworking room or session.
Make it routine.
Once you've figured out what kind of coworking works for your team, make it a regular, opt-in event. Set up a recurring calendar event to do it at the same time each week to maximize the impact.
Set expectations ahead of time.
When you're first introducing coworking to your remote team, share what you're imagining in your calendar invite and at the top of work sessions to get everyone on the same page. For example:
Let's try virtual coworking! We'll work independently on our own projects with our cameras off, but we'll share virtual space and listen to music together — like we might work side-by-side at a physical office.
Listen to music together.
Play music while you work in a virtual room to create a shared environment and add a little bit of personality to your virtual coworking session.
Set up Coworking Rooms in Remotion.
Most of the above is doable with any video chat app or virtual office, but much easier with Remotion—which we designed with a lightweight, smooth coworking experience in mind. Remotion is the perfect virtual coworking platform—easily set up virtual rooms that your teammates can hop into for different styles of coworking.
While Remotion's virtual workspace is free to use with your remote team, if you're curious about joining a virtual coworking community built on our platform—check out Swift Remote Studio for iOS, Mac, and Swift developers.