It can be difficult to work in teams. Teamwork can be even more challenging when we can only communicate via technology. As you practice remote teamwork in your classes, we encourage you to think about the following items. 

Working in teams remotely results in additional communication challenges

  • It is difficult to accurately read body language over video chat. As a result, it is easy to be out of touch both with how team members are feeling coming into the meeting, as well as whether or not everyone is on the same page about decisions made within the meeting.
    • Start off meetings by giving people a chance to share how they are doing.
    • Give everyone a deliberate chance to contribute their thoughts, particularly about important decisions. 
  • You will have fewer “informal” encounters with teammates. You may be used to checking in with teammates before and after classes to see how work is going in between meetings.
    • Since these types of informal meetings won’t be happening, it is important to think deliberately about how your team wants to keep track of the progress being made on key tasks in between meetings.
  • Given the challenges of working in teams remotely, you may need to have more difficult conversations with your team.
    • When things are going well, be sure to acknowledge the successes! Be concrete in your praise. Identify specific things that you liked that you can highlight. 
    • When identifying things that need to be improved or addressing frustrations with the working process, focus on the problem, not the person. Use we/team language to try to troubleshoot issues. More tips for difficult conversations can be found here
  • There are extra logistics involved in having a well-functioning team that is working remotely. 
    • You may need to be more specific in assigning team roles and more comfortable with delegating work to teammates. This may also mean that your team will have to do more independent work and place more trust in each other’s abilities. 
    • Consider appointing a team coordinator who would be responsible for making sure that important remote teamwork logistics (such as those mentioned in this post) happen. Recognize that this is an important responsibility that can take more time than one might expect and adjust work responsibilities accordingly to have an appropriate workload across the entire team. 
  • Be patient with yourself and others. Working in teams remotely in normal times can be challenging. Working in teams remotely in the middle of a pandemic is bound to amplify some of these stresses. Be honest with yourself, your teammates, and your instructors about what are attainable goals for you and know that everyone is trying to do the best that they can within their current context in these times.

Tips for holding virtual meetings

Meeting Preparation

  • Make sure the selected time works for everyone’s schedule. Send a meeting link and email reminder so everyone knows when to show up.
  • Decide the purpose of the meeting. Is the goal to plan and discuss issues that have come up, work together on a shared document, or some combination of those activities
  • Create an agenda for the meeting. This is an opportunity for everyone in the team to contribute their thoughts on what should be discussed and/or worked on at the meeting.

During the meeting

  • Personal check-in
    • Give everyone a chance to check-in about how they are doing (personally/ academically/etc.).
    • The stress that team members may be feeling helps give context to people’s moods during the meeting and what they are able to work on outside of the meeting.
  • Modify agenda
    • Review the agenda for the meeting and prioritize what is most important to talk about/work on.
  • Conduct meeting
    • Work through the agenda.
    • Make sure everyone has a chance to weigh-in on decision points.
    • Use Google Docs or another collaborative platform to allow for record-taking and collaborative brainstorming.
    • It is easier to get distracted in virtual meetings. Encourage a norm of no multitasking on activities not related to the meeting.
  • Wrap-up the meeting
    • Schedule the next group meeting.
    • Make sure everyone has clear action items that they can work on individually or in small teams within the group.
    • (Depending on meeting frequency/proximity of a deadline) Make plans for how individuals will update the group on the progress they are making and if there are any challenges making things go slower than expected.

We encourage you to work together to figure out what works best for you and your team. Below are some additional resources that might be useful to you:

#tipsforsuccess #teamwork #difficultconversations

Blog post by Ian Andrews