5 tips and tools for collaborative working while remote

Miro board for collaboration with Provenance
Image credit: Miro and the new generation of virtual, collaborative work tools

At Provenance, we’ve been working remote since inception and have conducted many workshops and collaborative sessions with remote groups all over the world. We are often enabling a business to bring data together from across their supply chain, often not a local endeavour.

“Global supply chains provide a challenging environment for coordinating meetings, often involving participation from multiple businesses across continents and timezones. On one project we brought together stakeholders from Singapore, Malawi, the West Indies, the Netherlands and London. Finding a suitable time slot was interesting, but today’s tools make collaboration much more efficient and engaging than your standard conference call.” – Caitlin Jones, Business Analyst at Provenance

We have learned a few things about running online strategy workshops and collaborative sessions from our work with businesses across often remote supply chains and operating as a remote team. See our tips for what’s become the new ‘normal’ and how we can all continue to power sustainability and transparency commitments virtually.

1. Video should be the default, but the platform you choose sets the tone

Virtual workshop tools (Google Hangouts) with Provenance

(Image credit: Google Hangouts syncs with our wider Google Business suite and puts the video link automatically in all of our calendar appointments)

Because physical distance can create emotional distance, it’s important to keep as much of your conversations as face-to-face as possible. 

At Provenance, we use Zoom or the ‘tile’ setting on Google Hangouts when we’re having a collaborative session where everyone is participating. When the focus is the presentation, team video etiquette requires that participants go on mute so the presenter can share without unnecessary background noise. 

Tools we like to enable video: Google Hangouts (small groups, less than four), GoToMeeting (good for enterprise and webinars due to chat and recording ease), Zoom (high adoption with downloads surging 183% this month) and Run The World (functionality for big, online events).

2. Get everyone to participate with assigned roles and breakout room features

Zoom - Virtual workshop tools at Provenance

(Image credit: Zoom gives that tiled look to engage with your whole team, but you won’t get anything done unless you designate clear roles upfront)

We suggest assigning someone to lead from a facilitation side (getting all of the tools set up) and someone else to take notes. For notes in a shared document (we prefer Google docs, but Notion or Evernote are also popular) so everyone can see or add along as they go – but one person is responsible). 

It’s also important that everyone is heard and engaged. It can be difficult to get some of the more introverted stakeholders to ‘unmute’ at times on a chatty video call, but it’s very important to tease out their knowledge for the project. We find that simply ‘going around the table’ to call on everyone individually is helpful to keep people engaged while also avoiding the inevitable ‘talking over’ that happens with larger groups. 

We also like to split people into smaller breakout groups to get cross-company stakeholders to work on specific solutions around their transparency initiatives.

Tools we like to enable participation: Zoom (breakout room feature), GoToMeeting (chat panel and ‘raise your hand’ option for larger groups), Google Docs (easy collaboration), Evernote (shared notes in easy web and mobile app) and Notion (task-focused with option to embed other tools).

3. Go beyond just video with interactive experiences using whiteboard tools, polls and more

Miro board for collaboration with Provenance

(Image credit: Miro enables visual collaboration)

In a physical meeting, you have boards, post-its and the space itself to help facilitate more creativity and productivity. It’s important to bring this into the virtual world since it shapes the outcome of the meeting. 

In lieu of traditional office equipment, it’s easy to invite everyone to ‘add a post-it’ to a shared document or slide. We’re also increasingly using digital whiteboards to create collaborative heatmaps with clients of their supply chain impact or customer journey.

For a larger workshop where you need to engage and involve a significant number of stakeholders, interactive platforms like Run The World can also help more seamlessly capture questions and sentiment from a group with a slick, social feel.

Tools we like to collaborate: G Suite (live, collaborative files), Miro (for flexibility of boards), Kaptivo (whiteboarding camera) and Discourse (for forum-like feedback).

4. The before & after are more important than the actual meeting

Calendar invites by Provenance

(Image credit: The Provenance team use the I-DO-ART system for ensuring all meetings have a purpose and set expectations)

More than ever, over-communicating agendas and takeaways from workshops is crucial to keep the momentum. For us, this means ensuring everyone has access to everything; transparency is key. How you prep and how you follow up set the tone and dictates the vibe (productive, creative, efficient, etc.).

Notes from meetings, reports, third-party documentation – all of this should be organised in a digital ‘hub’ of sorts in a way that all sides can access freely to find what is needed to continue when the meeting is over.

Finding a conferencing tool in advance that all systems can use is also key. Many of our corporate clients have mandatory software or ones that can’t run on their machines at all.

Always ask new participants to test (and download, if necessary) the tool you’ll be using before the call so it saves the initial lag in time with first-time users. 

Tools we like for prep: DropBox (for saving and sharing marketing materials); Google Drive (open, shared space with us and our clients – much more organised than email attachments) Eventbrite (for webinars or larger events), Calendly (for easier scheduling and checking availability) and Doodle (picking out the best dates for a group).

5. Don’t skip relationship-building – schedule in social time

Virtual workshop tools with Provenance.org

(Image credit: Houseparty is one way to foster team-building in the time of social distancing)

One of the most significant hits to businesses during this whole crisis is the lack of social interaction. Fight off the isolation by booking in ‘coffee talk’ time – 5-15 mins chat at the start and end of the meeting. 

We deal in transparency, and as such, there’s delicacy required to actually peel back that curtain. The more we can establish a personal connection upfront, the smoother it makes the process of getting into often complicated and faceted layers of supplier networks and impact. 

For a project kick-off or when engaging stakeholders for the first time, more structured ice-breakers are helpful to build rapport and bring a more friendly element to the traditional workshop.

Tools we like for socialising: Kahoot! (free, game-like quizzes to serve as ice-breakers), Donut (randomised, integrated coffee breaks) and Houseparty (for virtual happy hours and team time).

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In all of this, agility, preparedness and a genuine human connection will help with the learning curve around this new way of working.

From our side, we’re supporting businesses amid this crisis to turn their intentions around sustainability and supply chains into actions. And we will continue to power the transparency movement – without pause – through this next chapter.  How can we help you?

 


Are you working on your supply chain and impact transparency strategy? Get in touch about a virtual workshop with our team of experts.

Do you want to see what other brands are doing to make and communicate a more positive impact? See our latest case studies.