How Tools Like GroupMap Help Remote Teams Collaborate Effectively

For employees and companies around the world, the impact of COVID-19 has changed the landscape of workplaces everywhere in record time, replacing physical office spaces with virtual environments. It’s also created many open-ended questions about the future of work: Is remote work as efficient as being in a shared office? Is it sustainable beyond the pandemic?

While the future of remote work remains uncertain, companies like Spotify have committed to continuing remote work even after COVID-related safety requirements are no longer in place. Other companies have considered a hybrid approach that would offer the flexibility to work both in-office and from home.

Whether companies remain fully remote, return to the office, or adopt a hybrid approach, most have found value in certain aspects of virtual work and will likely continue to use them. To help individual employees, people managers, and product managers overcome common obstacles and learning curves associated with working virtually, organizations like GroupMap have built easy-to-use management tools that facilitate efficient and effective collaboration for product managers and remote teams. 

The Evolution of Remote Teams

The virus has broken through cultural and technological barriers that prevented remote work in the past, setting in motion a structural shift in where work takes place, at least for some people.” – The McKinsey Global Institute

In a survey conducted by Pew Research Center of employed U.S. adults who said that the majority of their professional responsibilities could be done from home, only 20 percent worked from home all or most of the time prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. As of October 2020, that percentage of people working primarily from home had skyrocketed to 71 percent.

Before the pandemic, many companies believed that allowing employees to work from home would result in reduced efficiency. But is that true? As the world’s biggest work-from-home experiment has revealed, companies have found no such link between productivity and working remotely. 

“In most cases, this forced experiment around remote working as a result of COVID-19 has shattered those perceptions to prove that most employees can actually be trusted to get their work done from home,” explains Lauren Mason, a principal and senior consultant at Mercer, in an interview with the Society for Human Resource Management. “As organizations are thinking toward the longer term, they are looking at how they can execute flexibility at scale to deliver on the value of flexible working, like enhanced performance and productivity, a better employee experience, an expanded talent pool, and, in some cases, potentially reduced costs.” 

For many, remote work has proven to be a positive adjustment that allows for lower commute times and added flexibility. One research study by Slack found that out of more than 9,000 workers surveyed, 72 percent prefer a hybrid model moving forward. However, in order to support this hybrid model, 72 percent of US executives surveyed by PWC in late 2020 said that they were planning for increased investment in tools for virtual collaboration

Virtual Collaboration Challenges

From video conference etiquette to remote product management, the myriad social and technical learning curves associated with remote work present several challenges. For many individuals, the transition marked their first experience working in a nontraditional environment.

In a report by ESG Global evaluating the impact of COVID-19, 1 in 3 workers say they were not given the appropriate level of instruction on how to work safely and efficiently from home. 

Even before the pandemic, CEO and Founder of remote work website Flexjobs.com Sara Sutton Fell wrote extensively about how to operate successfully as a remote company. Fell says one of the best ways leaders can successfully lead teams remotely is by emphasizing processes and procedures rather than face-to-face interactions, which is so often relied on within in-office settings. 

Virtual Team Building Strategies for Product Managers

While product managers adjust to collaborating with teams remotely, individual employees are also adapting. Some of the most common struggles for new remote team members involve adjusting to the lack of physical or mental barriers provided in a physical office. Like a mental buffer separating home from work, a commute offered a neutral zone for employees to mentally prepare for the day ahead — or decompress afterward. Now, with everything being done in the same space, creating these distinctions falls on the individual.

To help individual team members retain a positive mindset, Entrepreneur.com explains how employers can help workers facilitate a healthy work-life balance by creating healthy boundaries, providing clear communication, and garnering a sense of community. 

Sara Sutton Fell recommends four key ways that people and product managers can help:

  1. Facilitate proactive communication through regularly scheduled individual meetings with specific questions and problems. 
  2. Set clear guidelines about which communication channels to use, and when to use them. 
  3. Translate a collaborative and healthy company culture into virtual settings.
  4. Reserve time for fun, celebration, and praise for a job well done.

Engaging Activities

Brainstorming and creative planning sessions are a great way to utilize everyone’s unique individual strengths within a team. And although teams may not be working together in the same room, there is still virtual space for creativity and collaboration. 

According to Brent Tworetzky, Chief Operating Officer at Parsley Health, product managers rely on working well through others to help their teams succeed. One advantage remote brainstorming offers, states an article by Harvard Business Review, iis that it’s now easier to get a large group of people into the same room to creatively collaborate together. 

To make the most of creative planning:

  1. Break into small or individual groups — or breakout rooms — before problem-solving.
  2. Give every member of the group a chance to offer a possible solution.
  3. Compile all ideas before discussing with the larger group.
  4. Share small group ideas with everyone in the larger group.
  5. Create a shared document with everyone in the group.

Utilizing the Proper Tools

Establishing a collaborative remote work environment requires tools to stay organized, creative, and communicative. Tools that help document, update, and archive ideas in real time are great ways to keep teams engaged while commemorating input and ideas. 

Logistically, there are many ways to implement remote collaboration. So, which tools are right for you? To boost office morale and keep spirits high, chat platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams provide fun, instant ways to send messages. For live documents and project management, Google Suite makes it easy to share and collaborate within teams. 

For product managers who rely on virtual brainstorming sessions, GroupMap offers a one-stop shop where you can design an activity, invite participants, capture responses, and view results — all in real-time. GroupMap provides the structure and framework for teams to ideate, innovate, and decide on what will work best, and is designed to help teams easily share ideas and prioritize them by using visual templates which help guide and organize thinking. It removes some of the ego, reticent, and band-wagoning that can occur in the brainstorming process and helps to give everyone a voice and an opportunity to have their ideas put forward. Ideas can be prioritized independently, and the facilitated process helps teams move forward with ideas. 

Creating a creative, collaborative, and efficient remote work environment isn’t impossible — it’s just different. Online tools like those offered through GroupMap are great for management and mood-boosting, ultimately helping everyone make the most of their workday. 

How GroupMap Facilitates Collaboration and Creativity Within Remote Teams

Creative planning often involves brainstorming independently, providing suggestions, and collaborating between team members. For product managers using GroupMap, the use of visual templates, independent prioritization techniques, and facilitated stages help to move teams from divergent to convergent thinking. Ideas can be assessed and judged on their own merit and everyone has the opportunity to contribute. 

While users can create their own templates and maps for decision making, creative planning, and collaboration in GroupMap, some of the most popular existing templates and tools include:

  • Customer empathy maps to help identify the key customers and what their pain points, experience, and interactions are with a product or service.
  • Value proposition canvas that can be used to help identify areas of a product or service that can add the most value to the customer and to help solve the problem at hand.
  • A lean business model canvas to help create a one-page business model to test the validity of the idea and to look for assumptions in the model that require greater feedback or research.
  • A simple pros and cons template that can help with decision-making, or a more complex DAKI (Drop, Add, Keep, Improve) activity can help the team work with stakeholders to look at their product backlog and groom it more effectively.
  • A range of agile retrospective activities that can help the team reflect on their experience to date and what went well, what could go better, and what they need to do to improve for the future.

With GroupMap, users have the ability to design templates that suit their teaching and learning, as well as their project needs, like creating a poll or survey, a simple kanban board, or a case study analysis. Additional examples can be found at www.groupmap.com/blog.

GroupMap and Boot Camp Learners

GroupMap was born out of the desire to improve student engagement, teacher feedback, and facilitated discussions within university environments. “As a product based company that has helped organizations build awesome products,” writes GroupMap CEO Jeremy Lu, “we are excited to be able to help students develop the skills and capabilities to create their own products while learning how to work together, collaborate and think better together as a team.”

Students in The Product Management Boot Camp at Texas McCombs receive access to GroupMap during their boot camp experience so that they learn how to work collaboratively with peers on product initiatives, just as they would on-the-job. They’ll get hands-on practice with tools like Value Proposition Canvases that are critical to building great products, all while working together as a team.

Ready to learn more about product management and the tools that can help your remote team work together effectively? Explore our product management boot camp to get started.

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