How to Improve Team Collaboration in a Distributed Environment

Technology has changed the way we think, live, and work. Companies are no longer bound by any single time zone or location. Furthermore, orders and responses have also moved from a vertical hierarchy to one where decisions, responsibilities, and success are all shared.

Team collaboration is key to delivering results in the digital age. In fact, a number of studies have found that regardless of the industry or company size, team collaboration enhances productivity. But how do you achieve this if everyone is located all over the place? How do you deal with different time zones? How do you get everyone on the same page?

While it may sound like a daunting task to both work and manage in a distributed environment, it’s actually quite similar to working in a colocated team.

The key to collaboration is technology

In a distributed team environment, you will have to overcome the problems associated with virtual distance. Virtual distance is comprised of three elements:

  •      Physical distance (or the space between team members)
  •      Operational distance (or the quality and quantity of communication between team members)
  •      Affinity distance (or the level of shared goals and sense of community felt by team members)

Technology can help bridge the gap in physical distance, enhance communication, and build team spirit. There are many tools out there to accomplish this, but it’s important to first do some research and choose your tools wisely.

Use project and online task management

There are several established dynamic task and project management tools available to help improve transparency, prioritization, visibility, and collaboration.

At Intersog, we have taken advantage of the following:

  •      TeamWork
  •      Slack
  •      JIRA

There are several more tools like Asana, Trello, and Active Collab, but the right tool will depend on your requirements and company culture.

Take advantage of virtual communication tools

Text messages and emails can lead to miscommunication as we don’t get to see nuances that are relative to one’s communication style. As a result, it can quickly lead to disagreements if it’s not handled correctly.

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A solution to this problem is to take advantage of communication tools that allow collaborative features like screen sharing and video conferencing. At Intersog we tend to use Google Hangouts and Skype for video conferencing within the distributed team.

Slack can also be used instead of email for communication with clients, other teams, and third-parties. We have found that using these organizational chat tools are far more effective and efficient when it comes to collaboration. Unlike email threads, it’s also a lot easier to see the history of the conversation.

Build trust

A lack of trust between team members can have a lot of negative consequences. As a result, use these task management and communication tools to help build trust through transparency. You can also share proactively (share small wins) and have a fun zone to enhance team affinity.

These tools will also allow you to easily track your team’s workload. As a result, you will also be able to redistribute any excess work to balance it out.

It can also provide you with an opportunity to encourage team members individually and offer new tools that can potentially increase productivity.

What was your experience working in a distributed team environment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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    Andrew Zola is a freelance writer, designer, and artist working in branding and marketing for over ten years. He is a contributor to various publications with a focus on new technology and marketing.