Group projects can be challenging. Whether we’re talking about a group of peers working together on a history presentation, or coworkers collaborating in an office, it's no secret that group work can be complicated. Forcing that collaboration into virtual space presents its own set of obstacles.
So, what does it take to manage remote collaboration successfully?
We talked to two university students about their experiences and gathered helpful tips that you can use this school year.
Stay organized with schedules and to-do lists
Before working with others, make sure you are organized. There’s an adage about needing to love yourself before you can love someone else. The same is true for organization.
Staying grounded in unprecedented times can be difficult. Setting yourself up with helpful habits before adding group collaboration into the mix can make all the difference. Keeping a calendar, agenda or to-do list is a simple and effective way to stay organized.
For Sejal Anuraji, a junior studying psychological and brain sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, staying organized is key for success.
“During times of remote learning, I've stayed organized through a combination of using Google Calendar, writing down my to-do lists in my agenda/personal notebook, and using lots of post-it notes,” Sejal said.
Staying organized comes in many shapes and forms. Scheduling time to take short breaks for yourself in between tasks can be incredibly beneficial. Sejal talked about how easy it is to lose track of the amount of time spent at a workspace, and gave insight on what to do if you find yourself in that position.
“Every once in a while it’s helpful to take a quick stretch break or just even spend 5 minutes doing something unrelated so that you can take a breather,” she said.
Being able to see what your schedule looks like day by day will allow you to plan your life out accordingly when new events pop up. Pinterest is a great place to find inspiration for a study schedule so beautiful that it’ll actually inspire you to study more! Click here for study schedule examples.
Communication is key
Working on a project with people who aren’t in the room with you multiplies opportunities for miscommunication and error. Establish a primary form of communication with your group early on, to keep everyone on the same page. Aside from email or text, you might consider group messaging platforms like GroupMe and Facebook Messenger.
It’s also helpful to schedule regular virtual meetings in advance. This will unify group expectations and ensure that all participants are available. Having a regular check-in will keep everyone on track and your project on schedule.
Meet on video from time to time
Meetings are essential to keep the group working together productively. But in this time of social distancing and isolation, video meetings have the added bonus of helping you connect with your peers.
If you enjoy interacting face to face, Zoom and Google Hangouts are the next best thing. Holding virtual meetings over video allows you to read social cues better than if you communicate via text message. Being able to see your partners every once in a while helps mitigate confusion.
Matthew Spigelman, a recent aerospace engineering graduate from the California Polytechnic School, San Luis Obispo, collaborated with classmates via Zoom for his senior project last spring.
Matthew had chosen Cal Poly for its hands-on and collaborative course style. Naturally, he was concerned about having to work with his peers online.
“Working in person, I can tell how people are feeling — if the work they’re doing is tough and if they need help. I can [also] go talk to people about stuff that I’m having questions with,” he said.
It took a little while for Matthew and his 65-person senior project team to make the switch from in-person meetings to fully functional online collaboration. But once they got going, they found they were able to work well together despite the challenges.
Zoom proved a useful tool for the group’s purposes. Matthew’s team used the platform to have small group discussions in breakout rooms.
For success in remote collaboration, Matthew also advises maintaining open communication with peers and groupmates.
“If you need to reach out to someone, do it early because they probably have a lot going on as well. You can’t just go walk over and talk to them face-to-face; you’re going to have to message them,” he said.
Take a deep breath and be patient
Life is not normal right now. You and your teammates will face unexpected obstacles. Whether your issue is unreliable WiFi, time zone discrepancies, health issues or just the general stress of the pandemic, remember to be patient with your peers.
Keep communication lines open, and be sure to let your partners know if you can’t make a meeting, or will be late on a deadline.
And don’t forget to be patient with yourself. If you aren’t feeling well, how are you supposed to treat others well? Virtual meetings can be draining, as Sejal experienced.
“I consider myself kind of an introvert, so a lot of meetings in one day causes me to have meeting fatigue. I need a bit of time afterwards,” she said. “People shouldn’t beat themselves up about it — take the time you need to recharge.”
Summary and key takeaways
You can improve your chances for success in remote collaboration settings with a few simple principles.
First, get yourself organized by making lists or schedules. This way you won’t miss deadlines and leave your team hanging.
Second, communicate. Find a platform that works for your group and set regular meeting times. Make sure to schedule some video conferencing in there as well. Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger and GroupMe are among the many platforms you can use.
Third, these times are unprecedented. Have patience with your team and with yourself to navigate obstacles that might occur. And don’t forget to give yourself time to recharge. You’ve got this.