Collaborating Effectively While Working Remote

Strategy UX
Ross Abplanalp

March doesn’t feel that long ago, yet we’re rapidly approaching May. I remember being stunned and a bit in disbelief that we were going to start working remote. Even the first couple of days, it didn’t entirely set in yet what the coming weeks were going to be like. 

Before quarantine, asking to do a video conference call was like pulling teeth or too high tech. Now I am joining discussions over GoToMeeting, taking one on ones over Slack calls and joining informational sessions over Zoom multiple times a day. Often these calls take place from my secondary office in my bedroom on an ironing board turned standing desk.

Ironing boards aside, at SiteCrafting we love tackling the complex and the abstract with and for our clients. Over time we have developed effective methods to facilitate collaborative meetings and brainstorming sessions, relying on in-person tactics including moving sticky notes, dot sticker voting and closely timing activities. 

Coronavirus closures have us all working remotely and re-evaluating how we work together. Our team was exploring remote collaboration tools before the stay-at-home order in Washington state took effect. Now that we are working remotely indefinitely and with new schedules, new ways of communicating and less face-to-face time, using new tools for collaboration is essential for our team to walk clients through the abstract process of building websites and ensuring that it’s a defined, strategy-focused platform for organizations to exceed their goals.  

A few things we’ve learned:

  • Engaging activities require new tools. One of the new tools that we are using is Mural. Mural is a collaborative and digital whiteboard that is feature-rich and flexible. In its simplest form, Mural is a digital space to add sticky notes full of ideas and share with others. It is also sophisticated enough to replicate real-life sessions with a number of activities and ideation sessions including dot voting, sticky note brainstorming and a built-in timer. 
  • Features of each tool, workspace and app have limitations. You are likely familiar with applications like Zoom and Microsoft Teams which are excellent screen-sharing and communication ideas. But what if you need to draw, write or share ideas simultaneously? For us, Mural fills that gap with features that allow your team to work together in real time. When another individual is on the board, you can track their cursor, share or follow their viewpoint or message in a board chat.
  • Prepare for flexible or asynchronous schedules. Connecting all the right people at the right time is a challenge we often experience. We assign tasks before collaborations sessions to optimize our time together. We also share notes and collaboration session boards (a Mural feature) after the session so participants can contribute and comment later. 
  • Digital collaboration tools can empower teams. Dynamic features help people articulate their ideas. Providing platforms that help people say what they mean and also show it is powerful. This is especially powerful when working with designers that communicate through their visual designs and enabling them another medium to work within.

In the past few weeks, our work environments changed, we canceled family vacations and, perhaps most importantly, we adapted; meeting challenges in new and creative ways. 

When we return to a new normal we will hopefully be able to return to our favorite real-life collaboration tactics. Will ironing boards be for ironing clothes again? Hard to say. One thing is certain, collaboration in the future will be enhanced by the mix of digital tools and tactics we are currently folding into the mix.