Working in a team is an important part of your degree, even when you’re working remotely. There is no one right way to approach group work - it may take time and trial and error to find out what works for your group, so be prepared for this. Here are some tips for group work when you can't meet face to face.
Group work tips
Get to know each other
If you’ve not worked together before, try some remote team-building activities to help you get to know each other, e.g. icebreakers, virtual coffee/lunch, quizzes or video games. Be sensitive to others and try to find something which everyone enjoys.
Switch on your video
Using video is important as it lets you see others’ facial expressions and body language (e.g. if someone wants to ask a question or agrees/does not agree with something that has been said).
Let others speak
If you’re leading the discussion, bear in mind that once everyone has spoken once in a meeting, they are more likely to speak again. If you include everyone and use everyone’s skills then your team will get better results. If it's a big meeting remember to keep an eye on the chat - some people prefer to type their comments.
Multiple screens can help
If you have access to two screens, it can be helpful to use one for video and the other for chat, a whiteboard or to see shared documents.
When you’re working remotely, it is easy to hide behind a screen and not talk to peers or get involved in discussion – try not to do this. Contribute and ask questions as this maintains the sense of working together as a group. It may be difficult at first, but when you have contributed once, you'll become more confident.
Do you need a meeting?
Make sure that there is actually a point to meeting. If you want to deliver a presentation, this could be recorded and then shared with other members of the group in advance; you could then discuss in a chat. Not everything necessarily needs a meeting.
Keep meetings short
If an online meeting is needed, try to keep it short as it can be easy to get distracted when you are not all in the same room – 45 minutes is perfect but if you need longer, consider scheduling a break. Set targets at the start of each meeting to ensure that you don’t go off track.
Work 'Out Loud'
Make sure your team knows what you are actually doing. With remote working, it Is easy to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’, so try to keep your work visible to your peers (e.g. use a discussion board or a whiteboard to talk about what you are working on and report back in any group meetings).
The above is based on a presentation ‘How To…Work Together Anywhere’ by Lisette Sutherland, Author and Director, Collaboration Superpowers
Here are some more top tips for effective group work:
Tips for effective teamwork
Working in a team
- Take responsibility - The most important part of working as a team is taking responsibility for your role. If you don't deliver what you have been asked, the whole group will suffer.
- Encourage others - Some people may need encouragement to participate. And they might even have the best ideas. And some people may need to be reminded to give others a turn.
- Be diplomatic - You will usually be expected to work out your group roles, such as whether you need to appoint a leader, and what their role should be.
- Give everyone equal opportunities - When chairing a group discussion, give an equal chance to all members and help them to focus on the discussion/project/exercise.
- Be open to suggestions - Ensure all ideas are welcomed and considered, and what doesn't seem like a good idea at the time might lead to even better ideas.
Strengths and weaknesses
When you're involved in group work, it can be useful to think about your strengths and weaknesses as a team member so that you can improve your skills and contribution. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you talk about yourself most of the time instead of asking about others?
- Do you change the subject of the conversation and avoid talking about things that you might need to learn about?
- Do you try to advise other people, or do you help them come up with their own answers?
- Do you acknowledge others’ feelings, or do you correct them and assume that they must feel the same way you do?
- Do you allow silences? Some people need time to speak their thoughts.
- Do you encourage other speakers to elaborate by letting them know you are listening?
If you know you have a tendency to ‘jump in’, try to give yourself thinking time before speaking in order to let other people finish what they are saying.
Disagreement is fine, but to provide a measured response you must listen to the ‘opposing’ viewpoint first. Otherwise, you may find that other people don’t take you seriously and may be less inclined to listen to you.