From Traditional to Virtual Collaboration: How Online Tools Support Remote Work

The shift to remote work due to COVID-19 was at first thought to be temporary. Seven months later and this temporary challenge has become the new normal. With most employees still working from home, companies have had to adapt and find long-term solutions to the drastic change of working virtually while still collaborating effectively.

In research done by Harvard Business Review, they found that the top 10% of highly collaborative workers actually grew their business during a crisis and continued an upward trajectory afterward. At GEM, exploring online tools to support virtual collaboration has been critical to maintaining our operations as it was before the pandemic. 

Because of heavy reliance on team-based storyboarding, moving from the traditional big room brainstorming sessions to garnering ideas virtually could have been intimidating, but the GEM team persevered.

“When we were fully thrust into remote work, we still had to prepare for a design sprint that same week,” said Amy Huizenga, GEM Scrum Master. “Even though that design spring went well, it was thrown together haphazardly because of the sudden change. That’s when I began exploring online tools to figure out how they could facilitate our next design sprint.”

The team’s project required multiple people to take part in multiple activities that contributed to the final product. They tested multiple tools, but ended up using a tool called Mural, which gave them the features needed to successfully collaborate virtually as a team.

Ultimately, the team found that the remote storyboarding using these online tools were just as productive as in-person brainstorming. 

“Even when we go back into the office, I will still opt to use these tools. The virtual collaboration allows more people to be present during the storyboarding session and provides a way to archive our notes, ideas, and sketches that would eventually be erased off of a whiteboard if we participated in person,” Huizenga said.

Online collaboration tools can vary based on a company’s needs. Understanding what the biggest challenges are for your employees and what features could create an easier, user-friendly way of managing those challenges is key.

Need to manage the day-to-day tasks among remote team members? Try Jira or Trello. Want to make sure your employees are still having conversations even though they’re not able to pop over to their co-worker’s desk? Try Slack, Zoom, or Donut.

Incorporating Online Tools to Promote Company Culture

In addition to the features to assist collaboration, Mural has proven that remote work can and does work. GEM has even used this tool for internal team building activities, which brings employees together during a time where everyone feels separated. This is important. Without a strong tie, employees may feel disengaged. That means these online platforms that promote collaboration, conversations, and culture are more important than ever.

Adaptability Is Necessary to Move Forward

Without a willingness to accept change, collaborative tools won’t accomplish much on their own. That’s why adaptability is one of the most essential skills to instill in employees during the COVID-19 era. Before the pandemic, adaptability was often thought of as an individual trait, rather than a learned skill, but being thrust into change when the whole world shifted to remote work proved otherwise.

“I think it’s remarkable how willing everyone has been to try something new,” Huizenga said. “Adaptation is one of the biggest challenges of software development, so I’ve been encouraged by the adaptability of our employees. It’s become clear to me that if you have a team of people and a company that values innovation, we can still achieve our normal practices virtually.”

With increased intelligent software and robust online platforms, companies have a variety of tools at their fingertips to help maintain a collaborative and productive environment even in the most challenging of times.

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