Best Practise Guidelines - Remote Collaboration

These guidelines were developed with the input and feedback of the “Remote Collaboration” workshops on the 18th and 25th of September 2020

1. Guidelines are no rules and need regular updating

Working together remotely makes it necessary to articulate some rules for collaboration and interaction more explicitly to communicate them since “learning on the job” is hampered. Therefore is recommended to write a 1-3 page document of “Best Practice Guidelines” like these.
However, whatever you articulate are no ultimately and always true rules. Contexts, teams, needs and tools keep changing. Tread this document as a basis for communication and something that needs regular discussion and updating. (Recommendation: Schedule a call just to discuss this issue for your group)

2. Explore the level of structure that works for your group of self-managers

In remote work, everyone has to be their own manager to a higher degree. This challenge makes you grow but also takes energy. If you are working in a very flat or implicit organisation it can be hard to identify who is responsible for which tasks in helping meetings or projects go smoothly. Explore rotating, voting or assigning implicit roles like “moderator”, “note keeper” or “agenda writer”. These jobs do not necessarily be done by one person alone, but giving someone explicit lead in something enables them to act more objective, to value their contribution and to start and finish tasks. Reports from positive remote work experiences usually include a degree of concrete structure.

3. Regular check-ins

  • The appropriate form of check-in depends on the size of your group.
    • In small groups ( <5 ) check-ins can be incorporated into your topical calls as a quick round at the beginning.
    • In big groups ( >5, <15 ) check-ins should be scheduled as their own regular sessions. A weekly or biweekly schedule is recommended.
    • In large groups ( > 15 ) it is recommended to use a chat tool instead of in-person check-ins (which could and should happen in smaller subgroups). A regular schedule can still be applied by agreeing to write a t3 -5 sentence check at the beginning of each week for example.
  • A check-in is not a report. The goal is not to give a scope over everything you are doing. Aim for a speaking time around 3 minutes and either:
    • Flag a concrete problem or overload and ask for help
    • Celebrate something positive
    • Give necessary information about private or professional context that currently strongly influence your work or mood and that you feel comfortable sharing quick and publically
  • It can be helpful to formulate “check-in questions” like:
  • How is your workload this week?
  • What are your challenges/hardships/important events this week?
  • What are you looking forward to this week?

4. Calls

In general, the appropriate behaviour in calls is also influenced by the size and character of your group. For this university course of yours, however we can also formulate a few general guidelines:

  • Camera on
    Always keep your camera on during the call. As a student, you are required to be an active listener even in a big audience. Facial expressions are important and you are encouraged to exaggerate your reactions and body language.
  • Mute
    When you are not speaking, mute yourself
  • Prepare an agenda
    An agenda helps to manage expectations and keep track of what needs and get done. Agendas can be drafted collaboratively in a shared document with or without an assigned owner (see above at the structure point).
  • Use the chat
    The chat is a powerful tool that can make online lectures and meetings even more interactive than “in-person” meetings. Use it to ask questions and comment without interrupting the current speaker verbally, to share links and to ask for and assign speaking time.
  • Use hand signs and other agreed symbols (there is a limit to the group size in which such signs are effective. If your group is larger than 15 people or so, use the chat to ask for speaking time)
    * Thums up: “Yes”
    * Thumbs down: “No”
    * Rise a finger: “I would like to speak”
    * Rise open hand with all fingers: “I absolutely want to speak as soon as possible”
    * Many programs like zoom also enable you to use emojis. These can also be very useful.
  • Moderation
    Especially in bigger or large groups, it is recommended to have a dedicated moderator who keeps track of the agenda and chat, shares links and helps to distribute speaking time. ASsigning this as an official role enables the moderator to take an objective role.

5. Platforms

  • Keep your default tool set small, an experiment and develop in smaller groups
    This point especially is not written in stone! There are always new updates and tools emerging. However, especially in a large group, it can be useful to agree on a limited number of unfolding tools as not to keep adding to the number of applications one needs to keep track of. In smaller groups, like your project groups however you are encouraged to explore a more diverse toolset to figure out what works for you and your project. These experiences can also inform regular discussions about the changing and updating of your unfold toolset.

  • When choosing your default tools try to cover these 3 categories. (Examples are just suggestions). (The concrete tool examples are currently given in this list are informed by the quantitative and qualitative reports of both courses as of September 2020 in context of the “remote Collaboration” workshop. These are just suggestions on that basis with the goal of keeping the default toolset low. They can be argued with and certainly should be regularly questioned and updated.)

    • Fast: for direct communication (chats and calls)
      • Messenger
      • Zoom
    • Slow: for shared work and development
      • Google docs (here it might be worth looking in the possibility to set up a shared drive for all students with larger storage capacity)
    • Formal: When communicating contracts or important client conversations
      • Email
  • Other suggestions:

    • This Forum: We have set up this open coursework group and this closed coursework group for you here on discourse. We offer you to use it together with the dreams tools presented in the Plato workshop. This is an offer. The open group makes it easy to share your work and questions with a larger community and the public, the closed group lets you work safely on client work and other things you do not yet want to share outside the course. This type of platform emphasis the process and lets you follow and learn from it.
    • Discuss if you want to use project management tools at some point. Those can also add unnecessary work depending on your organisation needs.

6. Socialising

One time or regular social events can improve your experience, connection and therefore collaboration as a group. Explore organising such events. You already reported a few great ideas during the workshop. Here are a few that came up the most:

  • Quiz
    • Music
    • Personal/icebreaker
      • On zoom
      • Via chat
  • Home office tour
  • Show each other your favourite personal item in a call - obscurest wins
  • Play games together

Adding to, developing and realising some of these ideas would be great. Maybe start with scheduling a call to discuss what you would like to try first and what you would need for it. Of course, organising this takes time and energy, but if it improves your connections to each other and eases your collaboration it will be worth it.

Thank you very much for your time and contributions during the workshop.

You do not have to commit to following these guidelines to the letter, but you are asked to acknowledge their existence and commit to actively question, develop and communicate your remote collaboration processes.

One way to do so would be to comment here to show you read them, to voice support or critique to get this ongoing process going.

Finally: This post is a “wiki” this means that each and everyone of you is able to edit it via the little pen icon underneath to keep updating it.

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ping @ragnarl