As we head into fall, it’s safe to say that we won’t be going back to business as usual as soon as we may have thought. In fact, some surveys estimate that one-fifth of the workforce could be entirely remote after the pandemic.
Your team has probably found a good WFH groove by now, but cross-departmental collaboration while working remotely is a whole different ball game—and one you’ll likely need to master. An improvised, all-hands-on-deck approach might have done the job up to this point; in the long run, though, it simply won’t be sustainable.
One company that’s figured out how to collaborate across departments remotely is Appian. They’re the B2B software company behind one of the most important tools for companies and organizations right now: an app called the Workforce Safety Solution, which helps coordinate a safe, smooth, and compliant return to onsite work with features like employee health screening and phased reopening management.
In order to build and launch a completely new product that companies around the world can use securely and confidently—especially for the millions of jobs that can’t be done remotely—teams across Appian had to figure out how to work together seamlessly, and fast.
Below, three interdepartmental colleagues reveal the tips and strategies they’ve found most helpful for working together, apart.
1. Build Camaraderie Early and Often
If teamwork makes the dream work, team spirit is the salve that keeps it going strong. But cultivating a team’s chemistry can get tricky when you’re working with groups outside your own department, especially at large companies like Appian. And when everyone’s virtual, building a sense of connection with your teammates is more important than ever.
“Several people I’ve been working with on this project I’ve never even met in person,” says Senior Consultant Bryan Graney, one of the app’s early developers and current product managers. “So to help to break the ice and get to know people right away, we rotated presenting a fun fact about ourselves or our culture—or just a nerdy fun fact in general—during our meetings.”
The taskforce made a point to continue getting to know each other outside of meetings by keeping up conversations and shooting each other non-work-related video links via chat, positively impacting both camaraderie and morale. “When you’re in an isolated work environment, you have to create ad-hoc moments for personal interaction,” Graney says.
2. Branch Out of Your Communication Comfort Zone
Establishing channels for clear communication is key. Just because your department is on a mission to eradicate emails and would rather wait for responses on Slack doesn’t mean your colleagues in another area of the company feel the same way.
“Historically, our departments like to work very differently,” says Sasha Cassidy, a solutions success manager on the Workforce Safety team. “Our sales team likes to pick up the phone, our engineering team is great about using our chat channels to communicate, and the rest of us fall somewhere in between.”
Getting clear on which style works best for your colleagues can help everyone communicate more efficiently across teams while working remotely. Senior Industry Marketing Manager Alexa Cushman—the app’s marketing lead—found that picking up the phone was surprisingly helpful.
“Being an older millennial, I’m used to sending texts and DMs. But there can be so much that’s lost in tone and personal connection when you don’t talk to someone on the phone or video chat,” she says. “If I have a specific question or request that’s long-winded, giving someone a call and having that connection has really helped us work better together.”
3. Keep Meeting Invites to a Minimum
Since the start of the pandemic, the number of meetings per person has gone up by 13 percent, and so has the number of meeting attendees, according to a new workforce study by the National Bureau of Economic Research that examined anonymous calendar data of more than 3 million users.
“It’s more important than ever to know who you need in a meeting,” says Graney. “Because when the meeting is virtual, it’s very easy to not even realize who’s in the room and how many people actually joined. So to stay focused, we learned to keep meetings to just one representative per department. That way, you get the best value of everyone’s time.”
4. Use One Centralized Source of Information
When you’re executing a new initiative, it’s easy to operate off the rails trying to get the product delivered under deadline. Documentation and formal project planning can fall by the wayside in favor of moving fast and being nimble. But one of the best things you can do when working across departments is to get everyone on the same page—literally.
Pointing all departments to one single source of truth mitigates misinformation and communication bumps and speeds up alignment as the project scales up. “Initially it was like, ‘OK, everyone pick up a shovel and just help out where you can,’” says Cassidy. “We learned that it’s so important to consolidate all project information, including ownership of tasks, in a shared document that people can continue to reference.” The more your cross-functional teams can operate in sync, the easier and clearer the path forward becomes.
5. Give Credit Where It’s Due
Acknowledging coworkers’ accomplishments is probably the single most important tip of the bunch—because working from home under the current circumstances is hard and there's nothing like a shout-out to boost morale.
When building the Workforce Safety Solution, Graney gave demos every other Friday. “Whether it was during the meeting or afterwards, we would give him recognition,” says Cassidy. “Just saying, ‘Hey, I know you’ve been working really hard, this looks awesome’ helps a lot.”