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Keys to Collaborating From a Distance | S1E012
Episode 1226th October 2022 • Remote Leadership • Debra A. Dinnocenzo
00:00:00 00:21:31

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Debra Dinnocenzo discusses the keys to successful collaboration in the remote/hybrid workplace. Leaders and teams working from a distance must find new ways to build the necessary trust within the team, develop trust in the process of working from a distance, and build confidence and competence in using digital tools for virtual collaboration success. 

Debra offers a free resource to help leaders conduct effective coaching discussions. The “Virtual Meeting Icebreakers” is available for download at

Additional resources for leaders and teams are also available at


About the Host:

Debra A. Dinnocenzo is president and founder of VirtualWorks!, a consulting and training firm that specializes in virtual work issues.  Debra is a dynamic keynote speaker, innovative educator, impactful coach, seasoned executive, and successful author.  She is the co-author of the recently released book, REMOTE LEADERSHIP – Successfully Leading Work-from-Anywhere and Hybrid Teams, as well as several other books on remote and virtual teams.  

Since publishing her first book on telecommuting in 1999, Debra has been a pioneer in the shift to virtual work and remote leadership.  Few practitioners in the field have the depth of knowledge and hands-on experience that distinguishes Debra in the hybrid workplace and remote leadership space.  As a nationally recognized expert in remote workplace and distance leadership, Debra has spoken widely on related topics, and developed and taught "Leadership in the Virtual Workplace," an online graduate-level course offered by Duquesne University.  Previously, Debra was a teleworking executive and has worked from her home office for more than two decades.

Schedule a call with Debra HERE.


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Debra Dinnocenzo:

Welcome to the remote leadership Podcast. I'm Deborah Dinnocenzo and I'll be your host and guide as we explore new challenges and proven keys to success for leaders and teams who must get results from a distance. For more than two decades, I've helped organizations and leaders successfully go virtual. Now that we're all on a trajectory toward the next normal of work from anywhere and hybrid teams, I'm excited to share with you the insights and expertise that 1000s of leaders and teams have acquired through my books, coaching, training, and presentations. Join me to learn tips, techniques and skills that leaders and teams in your organization can implement now to achieve effectiveness in our evolving remote workplaces. Hello, and welcome to the remote leadership Podcast. Today we'll be discussing keys to collaborating from a distance. As our remote and hybrid workplace expands, we continue facing new opportunities and new challenges. Aside from the perpetual problem of burnout, we're hearing more about screen fatigue, and toggle overload. I'll address these challenges of overload in in future episodes. Today, however, I'm discussing the continuing challenges associated with collaboration in the virtual workspace face to face interactions, of course, are valuable and contribute to a number of positive team dynamics. Face to face is great when it's possible. But in person meetings are usually not necessary. And And increasingly, they're not so easy to accomplish. In reality, new ideas and solutions to complicated problems are usually developed by teams over time as they focus on a particular area. Most people have experienced this in face to face encounters both formal and informal. And that makes them more comfortable with collaboration when everyone is in the same room. But we're beginning to see that handling everything on site is not essential, nor is it possible as the virtual workplace becomes our continuing workplace normal. As you might know, Jason more wiki and I published a book recently titled remote leadership. The subtitle is successfully leading work from anywhere and hybrid teams. You can find more information about this book at remote leadership When Jason and I did our research for the book, we heard from people we interviewed and we surveyed. And we discussed and they shared with us their feelings about their experience with collaboration from a distance. People shared comments such as the biggest challenge to working remotely is brainstorming and whiteboarding. It's so much more effective to collaborate in person. People are social animals, we need to be physically together to come up with new ideas. Jason and I believe that successful collaboration from a distance involves trust and experience. And these are dynamics that people have experience with, and familiarity with in their face to face encounters and experiences, which has been more commonplace historically. But now we are in an era where we really have to figure out how to collaborate and innovate from a distance. In order for collaboration at a distance to work, leaders and team members need to have three things trust and experience or familiarity within their team and among colleagues. Trust and experience in the process, and trust and experience with the tools that they're using to collaborate.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

I've talked about trust in multiple episodes of this podcast, focusing on it primarily in Episode Four. In that episode I highlighted the critical components of trust, which are familiarity, integrity, and reliability. Without trust and good communication, effective remote collaboration is especially difficult. A team member can employ many strategies to increase both trust and communication within a virtual team. Specifically, the more there is an increase in familiarity and interaction among team members. The more this will fuel engagement, which is where collaboration begins. It is more challenging to help team members feel that they are part of a remote team without being able to see each other, especially when different time zones make even video calls problematic. It's hard to encourage the kind of cohesiveness the team needs for effective collaboration.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

We've traditionally heard that helping a remote team or a hybrid team. Build familiarity begins with a face to face meeting that was sort of a traditional line of thinking in the past as as the virtual workplace expanded. But increasingly, as we continue to expand the virtual workplace and add hybrid, and more geographically distant team members, face to face meetings really cannot always happen. But if a leader understands the key components of remote team effectiveness and takes appropriate actions, to reinforce these as the team is forming, or as new members join, the leader will be able to have a successful team without on site meetings. This begins with team members knowing each other to develop familiarity. remote teams need to make time for social interactions, to develop the kind of familiarity they need, in order to trust each other in order to be able to collaborate effectively. When a virtual team meets, they're likely to roll up their sleeves and get to work. This is one of the challenges of remote meetings, we leave little time we don't structure time for social interaction for the kind of chitchat that occurs when we do meet face to face that occurs more naturally get this small talk, we think of it as small talk can lead to big dividends in helping team members feel that they that they belong together and that they can trust each other. And that they this is how they get to know each other. Virtual relationships take time, multiple interactions, and shared experiences to grow. social communication helps improve trust, improve trust among team members,

Debra Dinnocenzo:

which is vital, as I said, for collaboration.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

One of the people we heard from as part of our research for the remote leadership book put it this way. We sometimes have meetings where no work is discussed. It keeps us connected, and makes us realize that we are all going through the same experience. I feel closer to my coworkers because of this. What we've have, what we found is that during COVID during the pandemic, there was more emphasis on finding time making time for some of those social interactions and Social Meetings were intentionally work was not discussed. That is waning now as we move past the pandemic. And we're busy getting back to everything that needs to be done. And to some teams are forgetting about the importance of that. And so if this is a good time to remind everyone that it is important to provide for that kind of social interaction either within team meetings, or separate from formal team meetings, and to do more creative things to build that kind of social rapport. By scheduling informal meetings, encouraging people to reach out to each other just to check in on them. Having virtual lunches, coffee breaks together, creative ways to do that, to not lose sight of the need for that kind of social report. So when team members collide operate on a concept, it's not because they have come into physical contact with one another. Often, it's because team members trust one another, and feel comfortable with each other and sharing ideas. So when team members trust each other, they also then need to trust the process or second point in collaboration, they need to trust each other, and trust the process. And the process is less familiar when we are problem solving and collaborating from a distance. trusting the process can be as simple as working with an existing structure for problem solving, innovating and collaborating and sticking to it. For hybrid team interactions, the leader must consider how to incorporate remote participants to ensure that their contributions are included in collaboration, discussions, and meetings. Ideally, collaboration will always have to depend on technology. When a leader has team members who are comfortable working with each other. And with the leader, the structure will matter, much less. The team will bring about great ideas and solutions, hopefully spontaneously, regardless of where team members are located. But while everyone is adapting increasingly adapting to working remotely and working in hybrid environments, it's important for leaders to do what they can to build trust and enhance communication, and to reinforce the structures that they choose to use or need to use for the kinds of collaboration and innovation conversations that need to occur remotely. Therefore, the right tools will also help a leader make this process even more interactive, and more engaging. There is an expanding array of tools available to make collaboration, more effective collaboration from a distance more effective new technology tools enable the easier use of features and functions that facilitate collaboration. So let's, let's highlight a few of these tools. First of all, video. Video is a really important tool for remote and hybrid teams.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

What we're seeing as more remote meetings are occurring is a tendency on the part of some teams to not use the video that's available to them, which I find very interesting, since four years, maybe decades, we complained about not having the not being able to see each other and not being able to benefit from visual cues. And I've mentioned this before, so I'm a big advocate of having video and using video and making that a minimum requirement if you will. So if a team is fortunate enough to have access, particularly to higher end video conferencing, the leader should encourage maybe even require its use. It's easier for people to collaborate, and actually to build trust, when they can clearly observe non visual non nonverbal cues and body language. And having a high quality audio connections also is important. But having video and using it and leveraging its benefits is I think very important. Screen sharing and multi share tools are increasingly available. By now. Most remote leaders and distance teams are well aware of the importance of using screen sharing tools. When visual information is required for demonstrations or presentations or just to share a you know a PowerPoint or even a document. This is the kind of thing that we would naturally do in a room together. And sometimes in hybrid teams. Some people are in a room together other people are not. So if you'll recall from the podcast on remote first which Jason was a guest for that podcast, thinking remote first thinking that we have people who are remote that we are a remote organization does drive the kinds of actions and behaviors that ensure that we are including quite naturally ie those people who are not present. Chat is another tool that is available for remote and hybrid teams within our remote meetings. Using chat within a meeting app allows everyone to see the question and the answers that are shared in the comments that people share. Participants then can download a transcript of the chat. So if chat is used effectively, and there's a lot of good information that's shared, then participants can download the chat or the meeting, facilitator can download the chat and share with everyone to minimize the need to take a lot of notes. Another tool within virtual meeting platforms is reactions and emoticons. The meeting leader can ask participants to virtually raise their hands for example, or use an emoticon to quickly gauge how everyone is doing, or for people to share their reactions to something. These are all ways to help people remain engaged. Doing a quick check with emoticons is a simple way to see how participants are reacting to a discussion. And this helps again to keep people engaged while they're collaborating.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

And rotation and whiteboarding are increasingly available tools, and increasingly on used in online meeting platforms. Leaders should encourage the team to practice using these features and master them themselves. It's really important for remote leaders to convey confidence and competence with all of these different tools that we're talking about. So that a lack of confidence or a lack of competence isn't a distraction, and it conveys a comfortableness with our our remoteness. And so So virtual team members can collaborate more successfully, if they can be hands on during the meeting, and the leader needs to model that. So rather than just asking team members to to watch a talking head facilitator, we all know how boring that is. It's important to provide as many ways of engagement that support collaboration as possible. And of course, there's a plethora of new virtual meeting functions and tools continually being developed, and, and released. And I think it's great for teams to say, hey, we're going to try this, let's experiment with this. Let's learn together with new tools to see how this these might work for us. Another helpful tool is the use of breakout rooms. And this was one that it took people a while to get comfortable with this because it felt a little weird to go to another digital space if you will. And people weren't really sure how to use breakout rooms, but now they are more easily available in any number of remote and virtual meeting platforms. So these breakout rooms virtual Breakout Rooms allow team members to work on specific issues or pieces of a larger problem, which is really important in collaboration and innovating, and then rejoin the larger group to share their thinking their responses, their answers their solutions. Additionally, tools of the not so distant future, which we don't know what they are yet, but they're constantly being developed are likely to support collaboration in even more effective and engaging ways. Leaders might soon be using augmented or virtual reality or holographic images. But no matter what develops, remote leaders still need to commit to becoming proficient with the tools by experimenting, learning and mastering these resources and encouraging their team members to do the same. A supporting technique leaders can use to help teams develop trust and rapport and rapport is to use meeting icebreakers. icebreakers, as you probably know, are tried and true ways to kick off meetings in creative and fun ways. We've used icebreakers for a long time, in face to face meetings. But Jason and I when we published the remote leadership book, provide provided a resource and it's available All for you as a free download for using icebreakers in virtual meeting second settings. So you can find the virtual meeting icebreakers at WWW dot virtual works forward slash resources again that's virtual works forward slash resources and you just navigate to the Download Center where you'll find the virtual meeting icebreakers. So, in wrapping up, I just like to say that innovating and collaborating from a distance is challenging. For some teams, it's not easy. The pandemic was the tipping point for many process changes that have been facilitating new models of working and collaborating.




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