Measuring the value of remote collaboration
November 18, 2020
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Author
RC Victorino

Collaboration isn’t easy for remote teams:

  • Collaboration hinges on trust — many virtual teams have never met face-to-face.
  • Teams collaborate easier when in the same space — many remote teams are distributed across widely different time zones.

But remote work isn't going anywhere. Working with teammates you've never met is the new normal.

To help your remote team collaborate effectively, you need to know what they're doing right and wrong.

That's where things get tricky. What exactly do you measure — and how?

Don’t measure output

Many assume the better the quality of output, the more successful a team collaborates.

That's not necessarily true.

When you focus on the end result, you risk failing to track project progress in real-time. You don't know for sure how individuals on your team collaborated. Did a core group of three coworkers take charge while others sat passively by? Or did every team member contribute?

Measuring success by output also doesn’t show you where bottlenecks and delays occurred. You can’t fix what you don’t know about.

Instead, measure milestones

Don’t wait until the end of a project to learn how things went. Milestones let you measure group and individual progress at important stages of the project.

Every time a milestone is reached, have your employees write a postmortem that summarized the work done — and how they contributed. These postmortems will help you see bottlenecks and issues from different perspectives. They’ll also reveal how comfortable your employees feel with their colleagues. You can then take steps to address any issues before the project is complete.

You can’t observe team dynamics remotely

A team is only as effective as its individuals. Evaluating individual performances contributes to the greater good of the team.

But remote teams work in isolation. It's not easy to observe your employees online — unless you take extreme measures.

Surveillance like that is invasive. It doesn't motivate employees — it lowers morale and erodes trust, making it even harder to get your team to collaborate enthusiastically.

Use peer reviews

To find out how teammates work together, go straight to the source with peer reviews. Peer reviews offer an unabashed, collective perspective of each employee's strengths and weaknesses.

Share this feedback with your employees to help them see areas where they can improve.

Peer reviews work best when:

  • Reviewers are guaranteed anonymity. This can relieve concerns of retaliation and hostility.
  • Merit increases are not tied to peer reviews. If employees feel their raises depend on peer reviews, they may spend more time cultivating relationships rather than focused on their projects.
  • There are clear expectations. Reviewers should know that you're looking for fair and unbiased input. If necessary, provide reviewers with prompts.

Measuring time spent in collaborative tools is misleading

Just because a team spends a lot of time on Slack, Asana, or other tools doesn't mean they're collaborating well.

In fact, the inverse may be true. The more time spent with a tool, the less effective the collaboration may be. Measuring deep work is better.

Deep work seems counterintuitive to collaboration since, by definition, deep work is the ability to work in a state of deep concentration and focus for a long period of time, without distraction or interruption.

But deep work is the output of effective collaboration. Ineffective collaboration requires constancy because you can't get it right the first time. Effective collaboration tends to happen in short bursts, followed by longer periods of writing, designing, coding, and thinking.

When employees are in deep work, productive collaboration likely preceded it.

How do you measure deep work?

Try daily scrums on Slack

At the start of each workday, employees post a Slack update sharing what they're working on that day. Our marketing team posts updates in our dedicated channel. We couple a work update with an emotion update to stay connected as humans (not just worker bees) despite being distributed.

Using Slack is a remote-friendly way to hold daily scrums. Employees don't have to adjust their schedules to attend a meeting. They share a post when they're ready. Updates are documented for easy review.

Review these updates to ensure each teammate schedules time in their day for deep work. Work updates shouldn't always revolve around meetings — that's a sign of ineffective collaboration.

Help your remote team collaborate better

Measuring your team's collaborative efforts gives you valuable context to help you make business-critical changes, like:

  • Evaluating your tool stack
  • Reorganizing teams based on personality dynamics
  • Optimizing your management structure
  • Investing in training to improve asynchronous communication

Once you know what to measure and how to measure it, you can help your team increase the value of the time they spend together.

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