How to Collaborate Remotely: One Student Team’s Success Story

How do we team remotely? With the shift to online courses and meetings, Georgia Tech faculty, staff, and students have quickly familiarized themselves with tools like BlueJeans, Microsoft Teams, and Kaltura. Without the option to meet in person, it’s more important than ever for teams to develop communication strategies to stay on track and stay positive.

Incoming sophomores Chase Goulet, Chris Ozgo, and Gavin Rolls are practicing ways to promote strong online team dynamics while working on an independent summer project. With their teammates Sreya Atmuri, Bryce Jackson, and Grace Pfohl, they are collaborating to develop a basketball training app for a client. Since their original summer internship plans fell through due to the quarantine, they decided to develop the app as an alternative way to gain work experience. “Because we all know that this project will be a great experience for our future careers, we're all super motivated to work on it,” Chase says.

This team of Computer Science majors has approached the challenge of collaborating remotely with a clear set of tools to support their communication processes. “Using online tools like Slack, GitHub, Jira, Confluence, and Zoom has allowed us to develop a product seamlessly as if we are all in the same physical location,” Chris says. Chase adds that the digital nature of their app development project means that it’s easy to share files with each other, and Gavin mentions the team is lucky to be able to do all their work on a computer.

When cultivating effective online teamwork, it’s important to consider not only the tools but also the methods. As computer science students, this team uses the “Scrum” method of Agile software development. As Chase explains it, “the Scrum framework is an Agile design methodology that segments development into weekly (or bi-weekly in our case) sprints where goals and checkpoints are concisely laid out for each member of the team.” Gavin adds that this framework is “specifically designed to enable enhanced productivity,” with principles that “encourage collaboration and allow for the review of team dynamics and processes on the fly.”

Following this method, the team meets on a daily basis. “To make sure we're on track, we host 10-minute ‘Stand-Up’ meetings Monday-Friday where each member of the team highlights what they've worked on, what they plan to work on, and if they have any impediments blocking their development,” Chase says. “This has been a great way to make sure everyone in the team is familiar with what everyone else is working on.” Sometimes the daily meetings go slightly longer, but never more than 20 minutes in order to maintain efficiency. “These scheduled conversations,” Gavin elaborates, “help contribute to the sense that everyone on our team is working day in and day out to create the same vision, and help us stay posted on what everyone is doing.” The daily meetings, he says, are “incredibly important,” and also help the team track their progress “from a big picture standpoint.”

Another important part of the Agile method is reflecting on the team’s progress every two weeks. Since their work is divided into two-week increments, these meetings are key to their collaborative process: “we talk about what we achieved over the last two weeks, where that puts us relative to our initial goals, and what we're hoping to achieve in the next two weeks,” Gavin says. These reflective checkpoints streamline the project work, he adds, allowing the team to keep track of their goals as well as their progress toward meeting them.

To create a positive and productive team dynamic even while working remotely, the team prioritizes clear communication with their daily meetings and biweekly reflections. Notably, this includes planning ahead: as Gavin emphasizes, “scheduling this communication in advance instead of having it happen in a more impromptu manner has helped us stick with our initial communication goals.” Due to the flexible nature of the team’s Agile method, they occasionally schedule additional “quality check” meetings: “one member will have a meeting with one or two other members to ensure that the component they have developed works properly and will be compatible with the rest of the app,” Chase explains.

To help fellow GT students reshape their virtual teamwork experiences this summer, the team is willing to share some key tips and strategies. Chris emphasizes, “Communication is key. You have to be willing to talk with your teammates or else no one will understand what’s going on and what they are supposed to be working on.” Chase agrees: “I would highlight communication as the highest priority when it comes to teamwork and team efficiency. Make sure everyone has at least a high-level overview of the product you're creating or the app you're designing, and that every member understands what every other member is working on. This way when questions inevitably arise, everyone will know who to ask as necessary.” Gavin adds, “establishing a plan regarding workflow with your team members early on, and being serious about sticking to that plan, is really critical. A clear idea of how work should get done has helped me push myself to stay accountable when it comes to the work that I do. Make a plan from the outset and be transparent about how well that plan is going.”

Chase has some additional advice: “For any students or teams trying to make the most of their summers in quarantine, now is definitely a great time to work on projects you've been putting off or have always wanted to work on but have never had the time to. I'm working to put together a portfolio of all my design work from over the years now that I actually have time to do so.”

With today’s team collaborations relying on online interactions, this stellar team’s tips are particularly timely! The right tools and communication strategies are essential to collaborate remotely, and structuring the work to keep the team on track will lead to success.

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