What Students Need to Know to Collaborate with Remote Work Teams

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Between classes, office hours, and club meetings — all remaining virtual to an extent — almost all college students have had some experience with remote learning and collaboration. It has introduced them to crucial skills like independent working and time management. But remote learning, alone, doesn’t necessarily prepare college students for working from home in the future. 

A remote work team requires more connection and interaction daily than a college course. There must be mutual trust, clear communication, team brainstorming, and more. All of which is more advanced than most students would practice while taking classes online. 

Sure, they’ve grown up learning to work with in-person teams for class presentations, sports, and student organizations. But the transition of transferring those skills to the virtual setting and in a professional environment can be a lot.

And since many companies have already made the call to stay remote long-term or offer some WFH flexibility, all students should prepare for the likelihood of joining a remote work team. 

Here’s what your students need to know for effective collaboration in a remote-work setting: 

Expect more from managers

It is rare for a boss of an entry-level position to become your young job seeker’s favorite person. But too many college students go into their first post-graduation job thinking they should set the expectations low for their employer. And that attitude can be especially problematic for a remote work team

In reality, many managers are willing to step it up for the well-being of their employees. During the sudden shift to mass remote work in 2020, many rose to the challenge. According to Asana’s Anatomy of Work, nearly 80% of U.S. workers felt their manager was more supportive in delegating and communicating goals since the shift to remote work. 

So while job seekers may suspect they’ll dislike their bosses personally, it is reasonable for them to expect strong support and communication. Without holding their managers to that standard, the personal stress management and overall team collaboration would suffer. 

Assure your college students that managers exist to be a support, not a pain. And address that a WFH environment without thorough communication from management is not a stable environment long-term. They should look for signs of a supportive leader when searching for jobs. This information can often be discovered in current company reviews or they can reach out to employees at companies they are interested in for virtual informational interviews to ask how managers supported them through the shift to remote work (temporary or not). 

Use email effectively

WFH teams rely on email. Other communication platforms are growing in popularity, but email is a reliable and familiar staple for many organizations. 

The danger is in distraction. 

When a work team is remote, virtual communication occurs more frequently, and team members are on their computers to access email much more often. As a result, workers interrupt themselves in the middle of a project to fall down the rabbit hole of email when they see the notifications throughout the day. 

According to a RescueTime survey, more than 70% of employees keep their email inboxes open all day, and 80% do not have any structure to how they engage with it. 

Moreover, remote workers already have difficulty checking out of their workday, and checking email notifications after hours will lock them into that permanent state of work mode. 

Encourage students to make a plan with their inbox. If they have specific times of the day set aside that they go through and respond to emails carefully, communication and productivity will improve. At all other times during the day, they can send quick responses to direct messages. A brief statement like, “Received. I’ll get back to you on this shortly,” goes a long way. 

Understand the proper chat etiquette

Tons of remote companies rely on collaboration tools to connect their separated work team. Asana’s 2020 study indicates that 24% of U.S. employees used collaboration tools for the first time that year, and 62% of full-time workers increased how much they use them since working from home. 

When it comes to that type of communication, college students must learn how to balance authentic conversation and professionalism. 

That authenticity is pivotal because they may never meet their work team in person. So how well the team understands the new hire largely depends on what they learn from them over virtual messaging systems. 

However, cursing and inappropriate jokes are not welcome in that professional environment. Even GIFs and memes could border on too casual, and the acceptance of emojis varies by company culture. 

Help students identify how to find that balance and fit into the company’s etiquette. Take the initiative to show them what professional, authentic chats can look like in various work environments. 

Ask for help when needed

Even if your college students demonstrate that they can master the three previous tips, successful collaboration can fall through if they’re unwilling to admit when they hit roadblocks. 

In college, it can be challenging for students to seek assistance from the tutoring center or Career Center because they feel like they should be independent. There’s a level of shame in confessing they don’t have all the answers themselves. 

But there shouldn’t be shame in reaching out to others when WFH. Just because it feels more alone doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone available to help. If a new hire doesn’t recall details from the mountains of information they got from orientation, they will save themself a heap of stress and time by asking someone for clarification. Otherwise, they could end up doing the process wrong every time! 

Employees should always try to find solutions independently as the first step when they run into problems. But be sure to explain to your college students that there’s no point in wrestling with an issue for hours on end. Chances are, a co-worker is easily accessible through the collaboration tools and can offer the right answer in just a few minutes. 

Have students who aren’t interested in remote work? They still need to prepare for THESE workplace realities.

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Val Matta
Val Matta
Val Matta, Managing Director of CareerShift, co-founded the company in 2005 to help individuals bridge the gap between education and employment.  As a recognized expert in the field, Val is a frequent speaker on career management, networking, and job hunting strategies.  You can connect with her and the CareerShift team on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter.