We’ve all been there, a pile of work to get through and too many meetings and distractions to get it done. The office can be a great place to bond with colleagues and collaborate but there may be times when you just need to be more productive!
If you find yourself working remotely, perhaps because you need absolute focus, or because you’re working with a team based somewhere else, there’s a set of digital tools that can help you overcome the distance.
This post is intended to give you a set of tips and tools to keep the collaboration going when working remotely.
Vision and Goals
It’s important that you and your team know where you’re heading. Make sure everyone is aware of the project’s vision and goals and try to keep it visible. If you work in sprints, make sure everyone has a shared understanding of what the goal for the sprint ahead is.
Communication tools are hugely important when working remotely. Whether you need to jump on a quick call, need to show progress, or are a planning session or retrospective, make sure you choose a tool that keeps the communication channel open, allows you to see your colleagues, and preferably allows you to share your screen.
Recommended Communication Tools:
Slack is an awesome tool for technology teams; it allows you to create private or group chats, share and pin important documents, add private notes to yourself and keep track of everything. And, particularly relevant for this article, your visible status can be set to “Working remotely” amongst other things.
Appear.in or Google hangouts can be used for ad-hoc meetings with a wider audience when you may need to share your screen.
Use Skype for chat or video calls with screen share (bear in mind you’ll need to add everyone to your contact list beforehand).
One thing about communication that working remotely can’t replace is the comfort and reassurance of being able to turn around, tap a shoulder and start a conversation–working in the same place as your team means there’s more chance of building personal relationships which is absolutely crucial when it’s time to make decisions and get buy-in.
Understanding the time difference is key to organizing and scheduling meeting. If your team is working in a different time zone, make sure you have all the answers you need before they wrap up for the day. Bear in mind they may start their day mid way of yours and you don’t want to get stuck.
Timeandzone.com is one of many tools which can help, even including a meeting planner (so you have no excuse for not being present!)
Organizing and Prioritizing
“No one told me I had to do that!”
Does that sound familiar? Lost documents and to-do lists with no allocation. Aim to have a single place where all the work is listed and prioritized and make sure it’s allocated and everyone knows what they need to do. Tools like JIRA, Waffle.io or Trello can help you organize, prioritize and allocate work. It’s also important that everyone is aware of dependencies so that they don’t get stuck.
Another tip is to keep all docs related to a specific piece of work in a single place: designs, specifications, requirements, acceptance criteria, etc. If you work with user stories, for example, make sure all the info needed is documented in the relevant story.
Here are some tools you can use:
JIRA, Waffle.io and Trello, as mentioned, are project management tools that allow you to create cards of work to prioritize and allocate tasks.
You can use Zeplin to increase collaboration between designers and the development team. Make sure you link to the designs from the relevant work card or user story.
Collaboration between designers and developers is essential to the success of a web project, and it’s a measure of a team’s success. Whilst sharing the same…
Google docs is a great tool to collaborate with your copywriters. You can access it from anywhere, overwrite with comments or suggestions, and have the latest version always available.
Similarly, I use Google sheets to keep track of all work at a high level. Use it to list out features and future work and mark when it’s done, is in progress, has still to be handed over.
It’s crucial that you get the handover process right when working remotely. Whether this is via the project management tool you’re using (where you can list all related docs), video calls or interactive prototypes. Whatever solution works best for your team, make sure everyone has a shared understanding of what they’re doing.
You can use the tools above to communicate and handover work to your team, but if the work ahead requires a lot of detail and explanation try using a tool like QuickTime to record a session that features an interactive prototype and voice-over with relevant information–the team will be able to revisit the record whenever in doubt.
A get-work-done attitude and the right set of tools will overcome the distance and let you collaborate with your team almost as if you were sitting side by side. Do jump on calls whenever you’re in doubt and try, as much as you can, to meet your team face to face to build on relationships–believe me, a trip to the pub can do wonders!
If you know of any other tools to make working remotely easier, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Credits: Illustration from Slack’s new diverse graphics by Alice Lee