Remote work is the way of the future. During its recent surge in popularity, remote employees saw increased productivity at startlingly high levels–in some cases, an entire added day of labor.
But for all its power and potential, remote work comes with its share of challenges. Communication is more crucial than ever to help a remote team succeed. Here are a few essential best practices to lay the groundwork for clear communication channels and work in sync across any distance.
How to improve communication in a remote team
Communication is a fundamental pillar in every aspect of business, and how a remote team communicates will be different than a co-located team. As you build a cohesive remote team, keep these tips in mind.
1. Be patient during the learning curve
If some of your team members aren’t familiar with remote work, you may need to train them on new communication habits. Even workers accustomed to working remotely will have to learn new tools and systems.
Be patient and supportive during this time, but also be firm with your reminders. Try to make yourself available to meet with employees and answer questions. Even though everyone is physically far apart, they should feel like part of a team.
2. Create a culture of transparency
Transparency builds trust, trust builds relationships, and relationships build teamwork. And with teamwork, your company can achieve any goal you set your mind to.
From the start, promote honesty and transparency. Be clear about what you want from your team members and what you’re willing to offer in exchange for their work. This means that you need to openly share all the details about your business with your remote workers—your goals, vision, budget, and deadlines—so that they know exactly what they’re working for and what they should expect from you in return.
If there are issues along the way, a culture of transparency encourages team members to speak openly and share without fear of reprisal. Invite your team to share their honest thoughts so you can catch and fix potential snags early on in a project.
As part of this, encourage your team to ask questions. Asking questions is vital in a remote team setting, but it can be intimidating if you don’t know the person well or are unsure how they will respond. Asking questions and getting answers helps everyone learn and grow, especially those newer to the team.
3. Show trust in your team
Trust and transparency go hand in hand. Another way to build a culture of openness and honesty is to show that you trust your team.
Unlike co-located teams, a manager can’t look over an employee’s shoulder to make sure they’re working. One common mistake that remote managers make is micromanaging or monitoring every moment of their team’s day to make up for that.
No one likes to be micromanaged. Micromanaging demonstrates a lack of trust in the team, hurting team morale and making employees feel less invested in the company. Over time, it will lead to costly turnover.
Trust is a crucial aspect of remote work. While your employees need to complete their tasks, focus on the work completed rather than the precise number of minutes they sat at their desks.
4. Add fun to your communication channels
One of the most common reasons companies hesitate to adopt a remote workforce is the concern that it will affect company culture. While it’s true that you can’t bump into co-workers in the hall for a quick, friendly chat, you can still build relationships in a remote team.
Try to adopt some fun into your team’s digital communication. Fun transforms something ordinary into something fascinating. It transforms fear into enthusiasm. It helps us get to know our co-workers beyond a name and profile picture.
Here are a few ideas to try out:
- Create a channel in Slack or Teams for everyone to share photos of their pets.
- Organize a book club.
- Host a virtual Friday hang-out for people to join and chat about their weekend plans. Schedule it during the workday, so your team gets a break to relax without eating into their personal time.
- Schedule team-building time with an online group game, such as the drawing game Skribbl.io. If your team uses Slack, you can try free game extensions like Wordsgame.
5. Check in regularly with your team members
Don’t let “out of sight, out of mind” be authentic with your team.
Regularly check in with your team members to ensure they’re on track with their tasks, answer questions, and provide feedback. Many managers do this with a weekly 15-minute 1:1 meeting. These meetings ensure that everyone is on the same page and keeps your business running smoothly.
Make sure your team has everything they need to stay in sync with their co-workers, no matter the distance. Some standard tools include:
- Instant messaging – Many teams use an online communication platform like Slack or Microsoft Teams. These are great for quick questions or group collaboration, especially since long email chains can get confusing.
- Task management software – Asana, Todoist, Wunderlist, and Trello are a few options that let you create projects and assign tasks.
- Simultaneous collaboration – Tools like Google Docs and Google Sheets allow multiple users to work and edit a document simultaneously.
- Screenshot apps – Screenshot apps like CloudApp are great for remote team collaboration. Send a screenshot of a bug, record your screen to explain a complex situation, and share it with your team in seconds.
- Office equipment – Even though your team is remote, they still might need specific tools and supplies to maximize their efficiency. This could include an ergonomic office chair and a work laptop.
Want to go above and beyond in supporting your employee’s health and happiness? Offer to comp employee gym memberships, public transportation cards, or co-working space fees.
7. Plan meetings with care
Meetings are essential for a remote team, but they can waste time. Below are a few tips to ensure that your meetings are efficient:
- Hold regular meetings – Regular meetings keep everyone on the same page and up-to-date with company happenings. They also allow employees to ask questions, collaborate, and clear up miscommunications. Remember that employees can’t complete tasks while they’re in meetings. Too many meetings can be overwhelming and affect productivity.
- Set a plan ahead of time and stick to it – All too often, meetings tangent into topics that aren’t on the agenda. This leads to long, inefficient meetings that distract attendees from the main issue. Create an agenda ahead of time, and don’t be afraid to cut in and redirect the conversation when necessary. While you might stumble upon an idea or issue that deserves more discussion, pin it as a topic for another meeting.
- When possible, eliminate unnecessary attendees from meetings – Too many meetings take away valuable production time. Think critically about your invite list and cut attendees when you can.
- Don’t schedule meetings in the middle of the day – If possible, avoid scheduling meetings in the middle of the day. Many workers are deep into their work at this time, and a meeting could drag them out of their flow. Instead, try to schedule meetings for later in the afternoon or even an hour before leaving work. This is especially useful in brainstorming meetings, as it gives employees time to continue pondering the topic during their drive home.
- Use video chat and screen sharing when needed – Video chat is great for in-depth discussions and screen-sharing. Instead of simply explaining a complex situation, you can display it on your screen for everyone to see. Skype, Google Meet, and Zoom are a few popular options for video chatting.
- Keep track of time zones – Does your remote team span across other parts of the world? Keep time zones in mind when scheduling meetings. Otherwise, you may set a time in the middle of someone’s night. Make sure you know where everyone is located and what time it is where they are. Scheduling around time zones may require some compromise, so rotate the meeting times, so the burden of an undesirable meeting time doesn’t fall on a single person.
- Create meeting summaries afterward – It can be challenging to remember everything said or decided during a meeting. While the discussion is fresh in your mind, jot down a summary of decisions and action points from the meeting. Share it with attendees so everyone can reference and remember what was decided.
8. Improve your asynchronous communication
With busy schedules and time zone differences, sometimes coordinating a time to meet up remotely is simply too difficult. Ask yourself if a synchronous meeting is necessary. Sometimes it may be, but other times it may be best to rely on asynchronous communication.
You’re already familiar with email as a form of asynchronous communication. Often when you send an email, you’ll receive a reply hours or days later. Communication between you and your recipient isn’t happening at the same time.
Instead of explaining a problem or introducing a concept in real-time, you can record your screen and voice to capture it in a video using a tool like CloudApp. From there, simply share the link with your team so they can review the video in their own time.
This lets them access the information when it’s most convenient or relevant to them, collect their ideas, and put together a thought-out response. It also gives everyone a shared resource if they need to refer back to the instructions or issue introduced in the video.