At TÜV Rheinland, like many others, we are currently working on tools for virtual collaboration in the home office. From Skype and Zoom to OneNote or todoist: Numerous tools help you to hold video conferences, share documents and organize your work.
But does that alone make everything better? I don’t think so, because apart from the tools, the way we work together must change! Remote collaboration demands more transparency from all those involved, but also more trust and responsibility. How can this fit together?

Transparent collaboration

Transparency is not about control or command, but rather about everyone being on the same level and being able to make the necessary decisions to get ahead in their own work. This transparency requirement applies to all those involved – and perhaps even more so to managers in the sense of “leading by example”. It also means a significantly increased (self-)discipline in using tools. This is because every stage of work must be documented accordingly, even small progress and intermediate results. For the tools, this means that they should no longer be pure reporting tools (this should actually be done automatically), but should function as work and communication tools.

What does trust mean?

In this context, trust means on the one hand that employees can trust their superiors, that they receive all relevant information and networks to perform their tasks – and that it is okay to proceed as they see fit. Employees should be experts in their field or have the opportunity to acquire the relevant expertise through further education, training or coaching. For managers, trust also means that they give their employees the freedom to carry out their tasks to the best of their knowledge and belief. A basic prerequisite for this is that there is a clear goal for the team or the company which everyone involved knows and with which everyone can identify. It is also necessary that the managers empower and encourage the employees to make decisions independently in order to be able to complete their tasks.

Shared responsibility

This brings us to the subject of responsibility – which also has several sides to it. On the one hand, it is crucial that employees are given full responsibility and decision-making authority. On the other hand, this must also be accepted by the employees, because if they have real responsibility, they can no longer pass it on to managers. For many, this is an unfamiliar situation that should be practiced, discussed, reflected upon and, if necessary, accompanied.

Meetings and rituals

In this context, different types of meetings, arrangements, routines and rituals play a role that should not be underestimated. There are several different types of meetings and arrangements, in particular I would distinguish between formal and informal. Formal ones focus on things like exchange of information, project status, support, learning/recognition, planning and procedures. In addition, there are some formal formats that are particularly targeted at emotional areas. Informal meetings or agreements should be planned and permitted, especially in the case of virtual (remote) cooperation.

Formal meetings

Examples of formal meetings to exchange information are daily meetings. In these meetings it is briefly discussed who currently has what tasks and who may have questions or need support. In this way, team members can react to challenges at short notice and know what is happening with the others. A Daily should be limited to 15 minutes, as it is not about discussing content issues or delving deeper into individual projects. Separate dates should be chosen for this type of voting. The documentation of the results from the meetings can be done in parallel in a central system such as Trello, OneNote or todoist. This creates maximum transparency, but also maximum commitment.

Examples of formal meetings with a more emotional character are check-in and check-out. In these formats, team members share their current personal state of mind and things that are on their minds or what they have taken away from the day.

Informal meetings

In terms of content, informal meetings are more about casual exchange, social contacts and interactions. In the virtual environment, messenger communication in appropriate channels or in a 1:1 communication is particularly suitable for this communication. Of course, informal video meetings can also be implemented, but this takes place rather rarely – nevertheless, a virtual team can also meet for a “video coffee” or a “video lunch”.

Personal engagement with the topic

For many people, working in a virtual team is something new, so it is helpful to deal with the topic on different levels. On the one hand, it can be about dealing with new working methods and techniques, on the other hand it also helps to reflect the emotional aspects of the situation. In my opinion, tools for Scrum/agile project management can help here – originally designed especially for the above mentioned meeting formats. Furthermore, especially in the remote work context it is very helpful to deal with productivity approaches like Getting Things Done (GTD) and to adopt principles from this area for oneself personally, but also for the cooperation in a team.

In this context, it is also advisable to use technical aids that can simplify or accelerate collaboration. For example, there should be a tool that makes video conferencing simple, stable and of good quality. Zoom, Skype and, among others, have proven their worth here. Furthermore, good digital collaboration benefits from workshop/whiteboard, note-taking, project management and task tools. There are different good tools for all of this, some of which can be integrated very well together or function as singular solutions.

Putting together tools according to specific needs

All in all, this sounds like a great variety, which is also true. Here it is important to carefully consider which tools are necessary for the work of the respective team and how they are used. Therefore, a team should first of all be clear about the types of work it does, the requirements it has to meet and the goals it is pursuing. On this basis, the tools can then be selected and assembled.

If parts of the tools are not available, with a bit of inventiveness, you can also get by with quite simple means like OneNote, Outlook, Skype and SharePoint or a good shared folder system.

A decisive success factor is the concrete added value. Only if the tools really help the team, they will be used. And only if they are used comprehensively and meaningfully can the tools develop their full effect and really move a team forward.


Stefan Ritter

Stefan Ritter

Innovation Facilitator

Stefan Ritter has been working as an innovation facilitator in the area of innovation and digitization since September 2018. He is a Design Thinking Coach, in this role he supports project teams and trains colleagues. In addition, he is an expert for new, agile, self-leading forms of work and organization. With his knowledge and experience from different environments he supports cultural change, the implementation of new working approaches in projects and programmes. He is also heavily involved with digital tools – always keeping the impact and work behind the tool in mind. In addition to these activities – which for him are more of a vocation than a profession – he likes to be creative in his own kitchen or on the balcony, or he enjoys walking or running with his dog.

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