How to Foster Collaboration in Remote Teams


The COVID-19 pandemic shook our economic foundations: Startups and small businesses have had to reassess business models from month-to-month. When everything is uncertain, small businesses need continuity and consistency to succeed. During the crisis, team members have turned to each other to find that stability.

But the need to work remotely complicates this. In order to collaborate effectively, team members must be able to trust and rely on each other. “In a small company, relationships are more intimate and personal,” says Michelle Reina who, with her husband Dennis Reina, co-founded Reina Trust Building and co-authored Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace. “When trust is eroded, it can’t be hidden.”

When we’re no longer work together face-to-face, that trust has to be grown with intention. Here’s how to build trust and foster collaboration in your startup’s remote teams.

Clarify Roles and Expectations

In small companies, individuals are hyper-reliant on other team members to move projects forward. But when everyone is responsible for the organization’s overall success, roles tend to become vague. That becomes even blurrier in a remote environment. Before collaboration can occur, you have to clarify individual roles and expectations. Make sure each team member knows exactly what they are responsible for in your work process.

Establish guidelines for when and how to work, too. “Underlying every expectation is a need,” Michelle Reina says. Work together to determine what your team members need from each other and base your remote guidelines on those needs. For example, if a team member no longer has access to childcare, they may only be able to work specific hours. In order to collaborate effectively, schedule team meetings during that team member’s available time frame.

Establish Trust and Healthy Communication

Without trust your team members can’t collaborate effectively — especially in a distributed work environment. For example, if COVID-19 has affected your financial situation, you may want to shield your team from bad news. But when you have to scale back on expenses or let an employee go, your team will know that you haven’t been transparent. This erodes trust between you and your team. “Team members need to be able to rely and depend on one another,” Michelle Reina says.

When an issue arises that breaks down trust, whether it was something that was done or said, small companies have to work through it as a team. “Have an open and honest dialogue with the intention of working through issues and concerns,” she continues. Transparency is critical. It demonstrates vital trust between team members.

“Trust provides the freedom to expand your boundaries,” says Dennis Reina. When fundamental needs of trust, reliance and communication are met, teams can collaborate effectively and can focus on finding creative solutions to the problems your business faces.

Create Intentional Collaboration

The shift to remote work probably put your training and development plans on hold. “When we were accustomed to seeing one another and now we’re dispersed, how can we help each other learn new skills to be successful in this environment?” Michelle Reina asks. But you’ve probably also learned that your team members are capable of stepping up and working together.

Even remotely, team members can share skills and talents with the team. Be intentional about learning, cross-training and sharing knowledge. Designate time each week for video conferences devoted to learning. Have team members take turns taking the lead on these calls. This makes the company stronger and strengthens bonds between team members. Focused and intentional collaboration between team members will move your startup forward.

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