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7 Game-Changing Collaboration Skills and How to Upskill Fast

Working with a team located around the world sounds exciting. But with time zones, cultural differences, and other preferences, how do global teams actually work together? Companies that juggle dozens of employee schedules have to find a way to make it easy for teams to work together, even if they’re not working at the same time.

Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2023 found that 30% of remote workers list collaboration as a challenge, but don’t raise the “return to office” flag just yet. Remote team collaboration is achievable with a few innovative solutions. Let’s dig into the collaboration skills and tools that help distributed teams work toward a common goal, including asynchronous communication, trust-building techniques, and collaboration platforms.

Why is collaboration so challenging?

Some teams work together seamlessly—like a pit crew changing a tire in a few seconds flat. Others might take a little more time to leave the starting line and can get held up when they need to run down information or get approval from stakeholders.

Along with challenges brought on by inefficient team and company processes, remote teams have to learn how to work with each other. Each person has a unique personality and skillset that they bring to the table, not to mention different working hours and schedule constraints. 

For example, one teammate may need to pick their kids up from school in the afternoon, so they’re unavailable for video calls late in the day. Another team member may find they’re most productive during the afternoon so they start their day late and work until 6 p.m., which means collaborating face-to-face early in the morning doesn’t work for their schedule.

Additionally, some employees may have communication preferences. This can include teammates who are hard of hearing and appreciate closed captions or subtitles. Others may have ADHD and prefer clear verbal explanations and feedback. And global teams may also need to provide translation assistance for employees whose first language isn’t English.

The principles of effective collaboration

You can build trust, open communication, and a desire to work toward your company’s shared vision with these collaboration principles.

1. Clear communication

Open and honest employee communication is essential. Clear written and verbal communication is key for sharing constructive feedback, welcoming diverse ideas, and creating a collaborative workplace where everyone feels safe sharing differing viewpoints. 

Clear communication also involves knowledge sharing and using team communication tools to create a central knowledge base where everyone can access vital information like team processes, data, and assets.

2. Active listening

Listening to others with an open mind invites the sharing of diverse perspectives. By practicing active listening, you focus on what others say rather than trying to formulate a response before they’ve finished speaking. Asking questions and seeking clarification are also vital to avoid miscommunication.

3. Trust

Trust allows teammates to rely on each other and encourages every employee to stay accountable for their contributions. 

A study by the University of Navarra Business School found that trust also helps remote teams overcome negative perceptions related to their colleagues’ behind-the-scenes work and builds feedback loops that strengthen a team’s belief that it can achieve a goal.

Even if you’re working in an office, your teammates don’t know what you do every hour of every day. And since remote work takes place in your own home or a coffee shop where your teammates aren’t present, it can compound on that question of, “What does this person do all day?”

Creating a transparent atmosphere where everyone shares their challenges, to-do lists, and wins can increase trust—and teamwork—among remote workers. It allows each team member to focus on their piece of the puzzle without worrying if their coworkers will drop the ball. One way to do this is to host asynchronous weekly video stand-ups where employees can record a quick message about their goals for the week.

4. Respect

Respect doesn’t just mean teammates treat each other with dignity and recognize their contributions. It also means they hold each other accountable and use “tough love” when necessary so the team as a whole achieves its goal.

5. Alignment on goals and expectations

Over half (55%) of employees lose up to two hours each day seeking out clarification on information required to do their jobs. Searching for the right information, decision maker, or process document wastes time and money—and saps your team’s productivity.

For successful remote collaboration, it’s vital to have guidelines on where to find essential information like standard operating procedures, when and where to communicate different types of messages, and what the team’s decision-making process looks like. Leaders should also keep their teams aligned on goals and progress, with processes in place for realigning efforts if teams get off track.

7 collaboration skills your team needs to work better together

Collaboration requires both personal and team-focused skills that you can nurture and strengthen to achieve better team performance.

1. Transparent and clear communication

Collaboration question
An informal Twitter poll identified underrated communication skills

Keep messages short and specific to avoid ambiguity and miscommunication when explaining ideas, providing feedback, and sharing knowledge.

Determine whether your team primarily uses asynchronous versus synchronous communication—and when to use each communication style. Async communication improves collaboration by reducing meetings while keeping everyone on the same page, especially if teammates work across time zones.

How to nurture it:

  • Record videos to communicate with added context from nonverbal cues, tone of voice, and even on-screen information.

  • Create an environment where all questions are valued and given equal consideration.

  • Set expectations around response times, urgency levels, meeting etiquette, and appropriate communication channels. Sharing these during your new hire orientation is ideal.

2. Active listening

Actively listening without judgment and using cues, like nods, shows you value what the other person says. Asking follow-up questions also gives the speaker a chance to clarify if necessary.

Action can be just as important as listening. Employees feel more listened to when they share with leaders who then take action rather than doing nothing.

How to nurture it:

  • Establish ground rules, such as limiting distractions, keeping mics muted, and allowing space for silence to avoid interruptions.

  • Set up internal communication tools that allow employees to leave notes, ask questions, and share knowledge.

3. Adaptability, compromise, and flexibility

Collaborative teams know when to compromise and when to pivot. Each individual is a team player ready to take on new tasks at a moment’s notice—even if they don’t fully agree with the new direction.

How to nurture it:

  • Set expectations for voicing disagreements. As GitLab’s remote handbook puts it, “Any past decisions and guidelines are open to questioning as long as you act in accordance with them until they are changed.”

  • Encourage employees to consider the goals of other teams and the company as a whole when making decisions.

4. Problem-solving and conflict resolution

Teammates need to know how to work together effectively to identify the problem, brainstorm solutions, assess the effectiveness of different ideas, and take action. 

How to nurture it:

  • Promote a culture of iteration and innovation where employees learn from failures rather than sweeping them under the rug.

  • Focus on transparency and empower teammates to share problems and ideas in a constructive way.

  • Inspire teams to brainstorm together and maintain focus with problem-solving frameworks like McKinsey’s seven-step problem-solving process

5. Organization and time management

every time zone
Every Time Zone lets you see the date and time for global teammates in one glance.

Organization and time management minimize distractions like unproductive meetings and inaccurate documentation, keeping teams focused on their goals.

How to nurture it:

  • Use tools to reduce meetings and help your teams regain time by working together asynchronously.

  • Create procedures for pivoting and realigning on new goals, including communicating any changes to all teammates.

  • Use the best productivity tools for your team’s preferences and needs, such as password managers, screen recorders like Loom, and meeting templates.

6. Emotional intelligence

collaboration-skills gitlab-ceo-self-awareness
GitLab’s CEO demonstrates self-awareness by publicly sharing his flaws, strengths, and communication preferences

Getting in tune with your emotions greatly benefits collaboration. Emotional intelligence (EQ) involves four primary emotional competencies: knowledge of self, emotional self-control, empathy, and communication—all key for supportive and effective collaborative team cultures.

How to nurture it:

  • Help employees develop self-awareness through questionnaires like Myers-Briggs and DISC that help them identify their strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and beliefs, and how those impact others.

  • Train employees on how to spot bias and how to overcome it. This is especially important for hybrid teams where employees in the office may benefit from proximity bias.

  • Develop empathy by encouraging teammates to share about themselves or their lives and supporting employees’ mental health through well-being programs.

7. Giving and receiving feedback

Loom demo real time feedback
Real-time feedback enabled in the Loom product demo.

Feedback is essential for teams to grow together, but only when shared the right way. Meaningful feedback recognizes employees’ recent accomplishments and takes into consideration their goals, priorities, and strengths.

How to nurture it:

  • Encourage teams and leaders to regularly share feedback rather than save it for formal performance reviews.

  • Save negative feedback for one-on-one meetings where employees can ask clarifying questions and learn rather than feel scolded.

  • Create a culture where shared feedback is actionable—it tells recipients how to improve.

Teams that consistently strengthen these collaboration skills are inherently more inclusive. This leads to improved trust and stronger connections, creating a never-ending loop that helps teams improve performance and employee wellbeing.

How to create a collaborative environment

Alongside building soft skills, there are other ways you can create a remote-friendly, collaborative work environment.

1. Establish a clear vision

Let your team know that collaboration is a priority, then establish a clear vision for how they can collaborate successfully. This should include: 

  • A list of realistic expectations

  • How to share and act on feedback

  • Current team goals and how those goals are measured

  • A list of tools your team can use to collaborate together

  • Guidance on how and when employees can share ideas and opinions, such as all-hands meetings or one-on-ones

It’s also important for your vision of collaboration to include opportunities where individual contributors can collaborate or share feedback with leadership. This gives your employees a chance to get noticed by company leaders, which can reduce proximity bias and open doors to promotions or challenging new assignments.

2. Encourage diversity

Foster a space where diverse people, experiences, and opinions are welcome. Doing this allows teams to bring different perspectives to the table, which leads to more creative solutions.

Some steps you can take to promote diversity include: 

  • Create equitable flexible work policies: Outline who can work remotely, when they can work remotely, and how much time they need to spend in the office, if any.

  • Providing equitable communication channels: Offer a variety of channels where everyone, including remote employees and those who may not be comfortable speaking during meetings, can add their input. A mix of text-based, video, and audio channels along with translation and closed caption tools is best.

  • Set expectations: Define how teammates should respect each other’s time, such as not scheduling meetings after 5 p.m. in the invitee’s time zone.

It may also be beneficial to regularly review meeting invites, as well as who’s getting access to special assignments and career development opportunities. Reviewing this data can help you spot whether your teams or leadership consistently exclude certain individuals or types of employees.

3. Recognize and reward collaboration

Recognize teammates for successful collaboration so others have good examples to follow. This could be more formal, such as an employee of the month award, or informal, such as a shout-out in a team meeting or on Slack.

It’s also helpful to regularly send out pulse surveys to your employees that ask questions about whether they feel recognized for their contributions and how smoothly they feel collaboration happens on the team. This can surface opportunities to improve processes or even meet with your team to field ideas for improvement.

4. Use collaboration tools

Help your teams work smarter, not harder, with collaboration tools. From video collaboration software like Loom to project management software, a variety of tools exist that encourage communication, build trust, and keep teams organized. Some ways you can use collaboration tools to encourage teams to work together include:

Loom video recordings

How to implement:

  • Share a Loom video covering an upcoming meeting agenda to help teams prepare and use time efficiently.

  • Provide feedback that includes vital context like body language and on-screen cues.

  • Create casual notes and welcome messages that others can respond to on their own time.

  • Share project updates and communicate progress or pivots.

Slack channels

collaboration-skills donut-for-slack
Use apps like Donut to encourage team connections

How to implement:

  • Encourage your teams to share more about their personal lives and interests with informal Slack channels that mimic spontaneous conversations and water cooler chat.

  • Use apps like Donut to randomly pair teammates for virtual coffee chats.

  • Create channels where teammates can propose new ideas or share their struggles and ask for help.

Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other video conferencing platforms

collaboration-skills gitlab-zoom-trivia
Zoom Apps let teams challenge each other to trivia competitions and other challenges

How to implement:

  • Organize virtual happy hours, coffee breaks, or other casual get-togethers to promote camaraderie.

  • Use Zoom Apps (or the equivalent if you’re using a Zoom alternative) to host competitions and games.

  • Schedule optional office hours where teammates can hop in and chat with leadership.

Other ways to promote collaboration include using tools like World Time Buddy to check what time it is where your coworker lives, project management tools like Trello to share project progress, and team knowledge hubs like Google Drive.

The ROI of great collaboration

Collaboration is an essential workplace skill thanks to these benefits: 

Teams that work together effectively achieve more than an individual employee could, and team collaboration also influences individual well-being. 

Create a culture of teamwork with Loom

Choosing the wrong tool or not investing in tools at all could cost you. Over half (54%) of employees think that poor collaboration tools reduce revenue, but the right collaboration tools and skills carve a path to success.

Using a video communication platform like Loom creates clear communication channels that support team collaboration. Loom video recordings also enable teammates to adapt to situations like working across time zones and reduce unnecessary meetings for better time management. Discover how Loom videos can boost your team alignment and collaboration today.


Jul 1, 2024

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