We’ve written about remote working more than once. More than a trendy topic, remote working has become a standard way of operating in companies large and small. However, remote working does not mean remote collaboration.

Spread across six major cities, Padilla is a distributed organization. Communicating by email and phone are standard practice, but emailing a co-worker is not collaboration. Real collaboration takes a connectedness with others; human interaction working towards a common goal. That means discussing things, feeding off of each other’s ideas, and building on them. Collaboration can be hard given the distractions of an average workday, but it’s even harder when spread across thousands of miles and a few time zones.

My usual projects involve team members spread across two or three offices. Getting a distributed team organized and motivated has many challenges, none of which are unique to me. An informal survey of coworkers and friends revealed some common complaints, and some helpful solutions.

Scheduling

Getting everyone on a call at the same time can be tough to schedule, especially as teams grow to 5-10 people, or beyond. Schedule meetings well in advance, then set attendees as required or optional so they can manage their own time and involvement. Also, this may sound like a no-brainer, but putting a light agenda in the invite helps people gain context as to what the meeting is about and what’s expected of them. While this sounds like fundamentals, doing it right can set you up for success when you ask for teams to work together.

Context Switching

We’ve all experienced a calendar full of back-to-back meetings where there’s zero time to digest the last meeting or send a recap email before the next meeting has already started. Context switching is the ultimate productivity killer. Adding 15 minutes to a meeting will help everyone switch gears, settle into the conversation, and take important next steps at the end of the meeting. You’ll get more out of everyone with a little extra time.

Chat and Video Calling

There are countless solutions available chatting and calling or video calling people. Slack, Teams, WebEx, Zoom, the list goes on. It’s impossible for me to imagine a modern workplace without some of these tools, and while I love the access these apps provide, it’s all too easy to treat them as transactional work-only utilities. When you walk from your desk to the kitchen it’s natural to stop and chat with people, to talk about your weekends and socialize. These tools allow us to socialize long-distance and we have to take advantage of that. Knowing your remote team on a more personal level builds trust and makes it easier for everyone to give good feedback or share ideas. They’re only tools, it’s up to us to use them with personality.

Real Time Tools

Different needs require different tools. When working with my account teams or other producers I encourage the use of OneDrive or Google Docs for documents and spreadsheets. Shared documents allow multiple people to contribute and see what others are working on, all without worrying about merging comments from multiple versions of the same document. They’re a huge productivity win.

With design teams we use Sketch for production ready art, but in the earlier concept phases we’ve used InVision Freehand with great results. Think of Freehand like a shared whiteboard with infinite space. You can paste images or complex vector shapes, in real time you can see what other people are working on, and there are built-in drawing and writing tools which enable fast and easy idea capture or robust feedback. This has been the closest approximation to a traditional creative wall review for us and it’s amazing.

Go Collaborate

Offices around the world are trying to find solutions to improve remote collaboration. While the tools that work for my team may not be the right solution for yours, remember, the tool is only as good as our ability to connect through it. Ultimately it’s up to us to create meaningful interactions with our teams, whether we’re on a different floor or in a different country.