Communication is one of the most critical components of effective teams, especially with many workplaces currently looking to have their teams work remotely. We often take it for granted, but when you don’t have in-person interactions and body language to help inform you, its difficult to understand another person’s state or mood, their motivation levels or simply whether they’re at their desk and available or not! Without some structure and guidelines to support communication between team members working remotely, its easy for performance to drop and people to become frustrated, stressed or disengaged.
How can you improve communication in remote teams?
With many employers having to move their teams to remote working arrangements, there will be a whole multitude of factors to consider. Employees working in a traditional office or workplace generally have easy access to information when needed, supervisors can get updates as needed and generally people will have more readily accessible support to help overcome any minor or major obstacles to getting their work completed.
Regular, clear and effective communication can help to maintain a culture of productivity, while providing flexibility and new opportunities to understand the individuals in your team. Below are some of our top tips for communicating in remote teams.
Regular Video Calls
Many remote workers will feel socially isolated, when not working in the office and will potentially miss the informal interactions that they would otherwise have with fellow workers. For the benefit of providing opportunities to interact and share important information, schedule regular meetings by video through Zoom, or Skype or similar services. This could be daily for some team or a formal weekly meeting with catch ups throughout the week. The tone of a chat message or the formality of an email can be easily misinterpreted so, when working remotely its important to check in via video calls. Connecting by video allows teams to communicate with visual cues, and this exchange of body language in addition to verbal communication helps to establish better rapport, promote better understanding and build trust.
Make room for human connection
When working remotely people don’t have that same opportunity to check in and share weekend activities or what’s been going on outside of work like they would if in an office or other communal workplace environment. If your team meetings are 100% work focussed, people won’t easily develop a sense of their teammates and can be easily disengaged from others in the team, which can lead to disengagement with the business and their role. If leading a meeting, factor in some time to ask others about something that interests them or a challenge they’re facing. If you have a weekly team meeting for example, you could build in an agenda item where each team member shares a piece of wisdom, inspiration or act of kindness that they witnessed that week. Bringing something personal to these meetings helps people feel more engaged and develops trust in the team.
Ensure consistent communication platforms
With so many messaging apps available it is natural for some people to gravitate to their preferred platform, using messenger over WeChat or Skype instead of Zoom. The problem is this creates inefficiencies in information sharing and risks important information being shared on platforms that aren’t secure or suitable for your business. Make it clear to employees which platforms are to be used for work communications for better collaboration.
Everyone will have a different approach to communicating different information so to make sure that people are not losing important information in long chat threads, or filling up email inboxes with short chat-style emails, provide your team with clear guidelines around what kind of information should be shared by chat, email or phone call, and provide relevant examples.
Providing opportunities for collaboration is important to help remote teams overcome the challenges of perceived “distance” between each other. If working remote there will of course be physical distance and perhaps time differences that add to that separation between team members. If there is not enough collaboration teams can become quickly disconnected as the distance between them grows in terms of skill level, operational knowledge, trust and values alignment. Remote collaboration can be further supported with apps such as
Communicate availability and status
Without the context provided by seeing someone in person, its easy to jump to conclusions based on a short one word response (if someone is on the run) or no immediate response (if someone is in a meeting), and so its important that remote workers share their status with the team. Depending on the size of your team this might be a quick message in a team chat that says “I’m heading out to meet a client and will be back online at 2pm” or in bigger teams a Skype status update might work better. Whatever you decide is appropriate, make sure the whole team is consistent in sharing their status in the same way.
Following on a similar theme, it’s hard to know whether someone is in in the middle of a task and completely focussed, and you may assume that their lack of response to your email or message is due to their lack of interest. Instead, they may simply have other priorities in that moment but because you don’t have any visual cue, you won’t know unless you ask or they tell you. It’s important then that people on your team feel comfortable to tell each other when they just need to focus, and equally it’s important to let the people know when you can get back to them. If you’re on the run, and all you can manage is a short one word reply, then adding “on the run, get back to you soon” will help that person understand why. That little bit of extra communication could make the world of difference in maintaining harmonious relationships in remote teams.
Acknowledge different styles
While it’s important to communicate those extra details when working remote to compensate for the lack of information otherwise afforded by being in the same physical space, its also worth noting the communication preferences of your colleagues. Some people may find text messages inappropriate or brief emails insufficient, while others find overly lengthy and detailed emails unnecessary. If you’re managing a team, understanding what helps each person be their most productive while working remotely is important.
Whether working remotely or in a traditional workplace setting, effective communication is critical to achieving the best outcomes for employees and achieving business goals. If you’re transitioning your team to working remotely and need support to establish effective communication strategies, get in touch with our team today.