Teamwork makes the dream work.
It’s the night before your final project is due. You’ve finished your portion of the assignment, and you open up your team’s Google Slides document to add your notes. You notice the slideshow is empty except for your work. You message the group chat to check in with the other members, and no one replies for an hour. Then, finally, your phone buzzes.
“What class is this for again?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Starting it now, lol.”
“I actually switched programs. Sorry for not telling anyone!”
You immediately order a coffee on Uber Eats. It’s going to be a long night.
Group work is difficult at the best of times. With classes now being conducted online, it poses an additional challenge: distance.
The thought of completing all your final group assignments remotely might be really daunting. I get it. But, there are ways to get it done smoothly and efficiently—without losing your mind in the process.
It all comes down to three main principles: communication, organization and co-operation.
The key to long-distance group work (and to any group work, really) is effective and consistent communication. While physical separation poses somewhat of a greater challenge in this area, there are still a number of ways to ensure your and your teammates are on the same page:
Before you do anything else, conduct a virtual meeting with your group members. Use your preferred video-calling tool—be it WhatsApp, Group FaceTime, Zoom or Skype—but ensure that all subsequent meetings take place over the same platform. That way, you won’t have to waste time organizing future calls on different networks.
At your first meeting, discuss your plan for the project in depth. Since you won’t be able to physically work together, it’s a good idea to define specific tasks for each group member to complete on their own. For example, you might have one team member in charge of research, one in charge of creating PowerPoint slides, and another responsible for writing a report.
If there are details you can’t complete individually, decide on a time to do them together over a video call. Without a regular class schedule, you and your classmates may be working more irregularly; so, pre-planning a time to collaborate will prevent scheduling conflicts in the future.
Once your group has divvied up individual responsibilities, set mini due dates for each one. Again, since you don’t have regular schedules, this will assure you stay on task and productive for the duration of your assignment.
Finally, plan some future digital meetings so you and your teammates can update each other on your progress. Aim to check in with each other at major milestones, like after important sections are completed and right before your submission.
You don’t need to fully stick to your plans. In fact, it’s almost inevitable your strategies will change as your assignment develops. But, going into things with a clear structure will leave you far better equipped to handle curveballs.
Slack it up
When completing group work remotely, it’s important to set ground rules for when and how to communicate.
Try to keep all your project-related communications in a single space, so you don’t have to go searching through dozens of text threads, emails and DMs to find that one note your partner sent you last week.
Designating a single communication channel for your group work also helps you keep your school and personal lives separate—which is especially useful if you’re working with friends. Without boundaries, you might find yourself sending memes instead of memos and getting nothing done.
“Gee,” I hear you wondering, “If only there were a place designed for professional communication, where I can connect to my team as a whole, message individual members, create mini-group chats, send files, organize video calls and post the occasional Drake gif!”
I’m impressed with the specificity of your wishes. And, lucky for you, that exists! It’s called Slack, and it’s available on desktop and as an app.
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Slack has gotten me through countless group projects; it’s an incredibly versatile tool that allows for all your messages and files to live in the same place.
Plus, you can integrate your Google Calendar, so you’ll never miss one of your mini due dates!
Regular communication is key when working from far away. If your plans change, you make a mistake or you run into difficulty, notify your team members as soon as possible.
You might feel like you’re being overzealous by sending out messages so frequently, but it’s better to be in touch and informed than isolated and ignorant.
Without the ability to meet in-person, maintaining structure is all the more important. Here’s how to get your ducks in a row from a distance:
Clock in, clock out
It’s easy to become nocturnal when you don’t have to be anywhere during the day. It’s even easier to rationalize an irregular schedule by telling yourself you’re still getting work done, just at 1 a.m. instead of 1 p.m. Believe me, I’ve been there.
Individuals who stick to a normal sleep-wake schedule have optimized cognitive functions and less risk of developing mood disorders, such as bipolar and depression, according to a 2018 study in The Lancet Psychiatry. In other words, being awake and working at regular hours will improve your productivity and your mood.
Both are necessary to churn out quality group work, so make yourself a schedule and stick to it.
Hop on Trello
While Slack is a great go-to for group communication, Trello helps you organize projects like a pro. Essentially, it displays a project board comprised of customizable lists, so you can easily see what you’ve done, what you’re doing and what you still need to accomplish.
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Create cards within your lists representing individual tasks. Assign a specific team member to that card based on the jobs you allocated during your video meeting. Then, break down each task further by adding a due date and a checklist. Once a task is completed, drag and drop it into a list of completed items and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
With Trello, you also have the ability to create different boards for different teams, so you can manage projects for multiple classes all at once.
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While you’re at it, create a board for yourself—individual assignments need structure, too!
Take time off
For some people, the absence of a regular class schedule means it’s easy to fall behind. But, if you’re like me, you have the opposite problem. Without designated time to focus on school, you forget self-care is a thing and work around the clock.
The solution? Hold yourself accountable. If you’re normally in class for six hours a day, work from home for six hours and then cut yourself off. Some days you might find yourself working a little more, but, in any case, it’s not healthy to hit the books from sunrise to sunset.
Plan something for your evening that requires you to put the pen down. Do a home workout. Cook. Dance. Bake. Journal.
Whatever it is, just make sure it isn’t work.
Just because you and your group members aren’t in the same room doesn’t mean you aren’t on the same team. If one person falls behind, the rest of the group often has to clean up the mess. And, it’s even harder to stay on track if members aren’t being kept in the loop.
Once you’ve established mini due dates for your projects, stick to them. If plans change, send an update. It’s as simple as that.
Communication, organization, co-operation. These are the keys to grinding your way through group work. Remember them, and you’ll have no problem tackling your online classes.
As a classic American masterpiece once said:
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