Collaborating remotely

Collaborating remotely


  • Understand the challenges of distance collaboration;
  • Know the conditions for remote collaboration and the main tools;
  • Understand what is remote collaboration and what is best done face-to-face.


To begin with, collaboration is not easy even in a face-to-face setting: it requires maturity (self-knowledge and self-management), an ability to create and maintain relationships over time, a commitment to discussion and debate and the acceptance of disagreement. In the same place, self-confidence, effective communication and managing power relations are necessary conditions when everyone shares the same reality and can express themselves based on it.

What difference does physical distance make?

There is no longer access to the same facts (other than those communicated) and fewer opportunities to communicate spontaneously, it is more difficult to understand situations in the moment (the interplay of actors and the stakes perceptible via non-verbal reactions), even though exchanges via tools limit the quality of communication and they are often misused.

So what can be done to recreate the conditions for remote collaboration?

It is a question of building a common framework for collaboration, communicating even more effectively and developing more efficient relationships.

Collaboration, cooperation, what are we talking about?

Collaborating (working together towards a common goal) is different from cooperating (doing together towards a common goal).

For Olivier Zara, collaboration and cooperation refer to helping each other to achieve a common goal.

Ne pas aider
Chercher de l’aide
Posture  collaborative/coopérative
Ne pas chercher de l’aide

Adapted from Olivier Zara, managing collective intelligence

The collaborative posture involves helping and seeking help. It is based on the values of sharing, commitment, membership, responsibility and respect.

Insofar as the moments when we are all together in the same place are counted, it is a question of identifying the activities that require or benefit from the physical presence of all and those that can be carried out at a distance.

We will therefore distinguish between :

  • Collaborate, which refers more to an intellectual dimension and to

Communication (exchanging objectives, strategy, ideas, knowledge, etc.)

  • Cooperating is more about concrete activity (resources, space, etc.)

Face-to-face meetings are to be preferred when :

  • We want to cooperate, i.e. do something together: make an object, film an operation...
  • Or if you want to collaborate on complex subjects which require a fine perception of others (the positions, games and stakes of each), a quality of interactions, confrontations and exchanges of information and a common experience: elaboration of a strategy, resolution of conflicts, regulations.


1. Establish a framework for collaboration

In order to engage in collaboration, it is necessary to understand what is expected (the vision which gives meaning to the work of each person) but also to know the applicable rules of life (the charter).

  1. the vision is presented by the leader and must be accepted (often used in a crisis situation or if there are major transformations to come)
  2. the leader's vision is argued and discussed until it is accepted and committed by the people involved
  3. the vision is debated and can be modified according to the reactions of those involved
  4. before developing the vision, there is consultation with the people involved to collect their suggestions and ideas.
  5. a common vision is co-constructed from the personal vision of each person.

Whatever the process of sharing the vision, it is developed by asking questions; examples of questions to ask: What is our vision? What does it mean?  How do we want to achieve it?

To create and maintain a climate of trust, the collaborative charter makes it possible to co-develop the values and behavioural norms (rules of life) of the group wishing to collaborate.

2. Communicate more effectively

In synchrony

Beyond active listening, productive conversations and meetings, it is a matter of sharing in greater depth the elements and modes of reasoning that are at the basis of our decisions, opinions or actions by using the Inference Scale.

As a sender of a message, this tool invites us to share with our interlocutor not only our conclusions and decisions but also the facts on which we base our reasoning. In this way, the reality we take into account and our representations become more visible. This allows the person we are talking to to better understand the facts on which we base ourselves, and to identify our analytical frameworks and interpretations. They can then ask more relevant questions, point out the flaws in our reasoning or add to our information.

He can also facilitate "the descent of the scale of inference" by practising active listening: silence, attention to one's own feelings, questions, rephrasing, attention to non-verbal cues, beliefs. A real conversation can then take place, with each person in turn being receiver and sender.

This tool also enables the reconstruction of a common reality, the assembly of facts and experiences on which each person can express themselves in order to problematise, develop strategies and build a vision.

In asynchronous

This involves setting up collaborative spaces to get organised, to have spontaneous exchanges by theme or at random, to share and organise resources such as a shared calendar, applications that allow people to write together (google doc, collaborative whiteboard...), exchange spaces (slack...).

3. Develop effective relationships

  • The first thing to do is to work on self-awareness and self-management: indeed, others impact us, provoking reactions in us that we are more or less able to control: at a distance, the pace of work being often higher, without a break, being present to one's reactions can be more difficult due to greater stress which prevents access to one's feelings. Getting into the habit of revisiting one's day or week, regularly asking oneself the question "how do I feel now?
  • The second thing is to develop dynamic and lively relationships with others: this implies a fair distance so as not to instrumentalise the other or minimise differences in order to be able to confront and debate in a healthy way. In short, it is necessary to find the right relationship with the other, respectful of the limits and integrity of each person, and to constantly invent the adjustments necessary to maintain a quality relationship during the meeting. At a distance, it is therefore a question of multiplying the opportunities to discuss not only the work and the way of doing it, but also more personal subjects, the relationships that one has, their qualities and shortcomings, in short to develop a meta position on the ways of interacting and being in relationship. The development of a culture of feedback by all for all and the implementation of a "facilitation plan" are part of the practices on this subject.
  • Even if it is not specific to distance but to what collaboration requires, it is necessary to develop skills in negotiation and conflict management, and to know how to counteract the toxins of communication.