While we all wait for the green light to signal us to return to our offices, professionals around the world are making the best of working from the home. Remote working has been gaining popularity over recent years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has taken this trend and turned it into a necessity. Almost overnight, an overwhelming number of employees started working from home creating a need for increased levels of remote collaboration.

Offices and meeting rooms, once lively and often crowded, are now vacant. Hallway conversations and water cooler talks have disappeared. The era of remote working is upon us.

Collaboration has always been a cornerstone of success for businesses. Managers have continuously sought to facilitate productive interactions that better the team’s cohesion and performance.

In a remote environment, however, this challenge is markedly different. Strategies that were successful in person are not necessarily effective in a remote setting. Teams have been forced to adjust their working styles, and a recent Microsoft study suggest that remote collaboration is much more challenging and fatigue-inducing than its in-person counterpart.

Here are some tips and trick for improving remote collaboration.

Shorter Meetings

We’ve all sat through meetings that seem to never end. You lose focus, and your mind drifts as the meeting persists longer and longer. The Microsoft study analyzed brainwave markers, finding that fatigue in online meetings sets in much faster than in in-person meetings. In fact, this fatigue begins to manifest at around 30-40 minutes.

The research suggests that intense focus on the computer screen also accelerates fatigue. The inability to recognize non-verbal clues as you look around the room leads to confusion as to whose turn it is to talk, and an overall weaker understanding of the material being presented or the topic of discussion.

Setting (and sticking to) shorter meetings can keep a team focused and more productive. Where longer meetings are necessary, taking breaks or intermissions can allow team members to recharge before returning to the group discussion.

Take Regular Breaks

This may come as no surprise, but regular breaks are essential to remote working success.

Again, intense focus on a screen accelerates fatigue and increases stress at a rapid rate. The study also concluded that overwork and stress in video meetings was higher than in-person meetings.

Breaks can consist of many different things. Walking around for a few minutes, taking out the trash, running a short errand, or playing with the children and pets are all great examples.

A break from work does not have to mean a break from productivity. Rather, it’s a chance for your brain to do something different and return to the work topic in a more energized state.

Utilize a Variety of Collaboration Techniques

Collaboration can take place in many forms. It doesn’t always have to be a real-time video or voice conversation. Other types of effective communication include instant messaging, team chat workspaces, project management platforms and, of course, email.

With a mix of communication techniques, team members can stay up to date with team activities, deliverables, deadlines and other important messages without the monotony of a solitary communication style.

Each technique has its own place in a team environment. Where brainstorming conversations are the main focus, look toward video and voice conferencing. For informal checkups and quick questions, a chat or messaging platform is suitable. Utilize email for key informational distributions, task assignments and important communications that will be referenced in the future.

Institute Flexible Working Hours

The 9-to-5 work day is ending. Blending work and life activities into each day is essential for a successful remote working scenario.

Allowing team members the freedom to take care of regular activities during business hours and the flexibility to work in the early morning and evenings and on weekends is key to a successful remote working environment.

Many remote workers have other obligations at home that need to be addressed during a normal working day. In order to take care of their family, themselves and their work, remote employees are working at other times of day to get it all done.

Microsoft Teams has reported that activity in pre-work hours and evening hours has increased more than any other time of day – up to 23%. Furthermore, work on Saturday and Sunday is up by over 200%.

The world is changing, and the working environment for many is changing. as well. Effective collaboration is a necessary component to a successful team, but the ways in which we collaborate must evolve to meet the remote working situation in which many of us now live.

These tips can help to ease that transition and help your organization move toward a more cohesive and efficient strategy for navigating the new normal.

*This article is also posted on the ScreenBeam blog