Communication Secrets of Effective Remote Teams
Updated: Apr 22, 2021
More than a year ago, many teams went to work remotely out of necessity. Today, it is clear that remote work is here to stay. There are clear benefits, including the elimination of stressful commutes, and the ability to build global teams. However, there are challenges as well. If remote teams want to be successful, those must be solved. One of the primary issues that remote teams face is maintaining effective communication.
The most effective teams have figured out how to maintain communication that is productive, inclusive, and generates great outcomes. Here are some of the actions they are taking to make this happen.
Help Team Members Connect on a Personal Level
Remote teams don’t meet after work for happy hour or hang out in the break room talking about the latest binge-worthy show on Netflix. Because of it, leaders have to take the initiative to help members connect, find shared interests, and become invested in one another enough to be supportive team members.
There are a few things that team leaders can do to accomplish this:
Get remote teams together for virtual team-building games.
Encourage team members to share interests and inspiration.
Assign new team members to a mentor for introducing them to team members, and help them make connections.
Create channels for a casual chat and other communication through Slack / Discord or similar platforms.
Create Guidelines For Appropriate Communication
This is less about sending inappropriate messages, although that’s important to address, and more about setting guidelines regarding which communications methods are appropriate in any given situation. For example, a text message is a great way to send standalone messages, but not to engage in an important exchange with multiple team members. Zoom meetings are great for group discussions and collaboration, but there’s too much overhead involved for brief discussions that can be handled over email.
Remote team managers who want to be sure they catch any problems may fall into the trap of micromanaging. This is counterproductive and frustrating, as it creates one more layer of necessary communication to slow things down.
Start by making goals and objectives clear, as mentioned above. Then, ensure that every worker on the team has been appropriately onboarded. Revisit onboarding processing that may have worked for on-site teams but not necessarily for remote teams. Any new, remote employee should not be considered to be onboarded until they feel comfortable working independently.
Include Live Meetings
Much of digital communication relies solely on the written word. That’s efficient, but it doesn’t do much to build trust. Body language and facial expressions contextualize things. This is why it’s significant to schedule live meetings regularly via video conferencing.
More importantly, use video meetings when teams are first forming. This is when essential connections are made, and workers begin to build relationships with one another.
Find The Right Messaging Technologies
When remote teams are left to cobble together technologies, which are meant for social communication, not project management and collaboration, things suffer. They need mobile tools that are specifically designed for work purposes.
Further, when team members and managers are all using different communication channels, messages tend to get lost. People end up feeling as if they are out of the loop. Worse, there’s no way to ensure that the information being transmitted is secure.
Encourage The Development of Written Communication Skills
Remote team members will almost surely find that they must rely on written communication more than ever. Unfortunately, some may find that their skills in this area are lacking. That’s okay! There are tools available to help employees develop their capabilities. Teams can also use writing and designing tools such as Grammarly and Canva to ensure writing is error-free, and communicate using visuals.
Clarify The Sense of Purpose
Teams that don’t feel a unifying sense of purpose often work against one another. That’s the kind of competitiveness that isn’t productive. That’s why it’s crucial to clarify the team’s purpose for existing, and the mission they are trying to accomplish.
Then, ensure that every team member understands their role and how they contribute to the overall mission. Avoid treating workers like commodities, and tear down information silos. Encourage them to shadow one another, and to communicate about their challenges as they relate to the current project.
Don’t Assume And Over Communicate Where Possible
Anyone who uses social media has experienced having their words misinterpreted, and the hurt feelings that result. Most of us have also done the misinterpreting. That’s one of the shortcomings of digital communication. For example, someone may provide a one-word answer to a question. From their perspective, they are busy but want to answer quickly. To that other party, they come off as terse and dismissive. Successful teams find a way to add contextualization to these conversations. Then, when things do go off rails, they can communicate in ways that create peace and maintain cooperation.
Communication must be robust and constant. It removes the risk of making bad assumptions. However, until this becomes the norm, this kind of communication may seem like overkill. In reality, it is simply necessary to fill in the blanks that could be overtaken with assumptions instead. It also requires emotionally honest communication to include being clear when team members are frustrated or offended.
Communicate One on One
Team leaders face new challenges when running remote teams. It can be difficult to face those and stay on top, meeting the individual needs of team members. Unfortunately, that kind of leadership is still needed. Leaders must make it a priority to carve out time to engage with team members individually.
Take time to call or schedule one on one Zoom meetings weekly with each team member. This is the perfect time to thank them for their contributions, check in with them about their career goals, and ensure they have the resources they need. It's a great way to ensure that needs are met before things become an issue.
Keep in mind that for so many people, working in a remote team is still ‘new’. Communication mishaps will happen. However, as long as team managers develop a strong plan, emphasize clarity, encourage empathy, and provide the right technology infrastructure, teams can thrive.
Written by: Bridgette Hernandez is a well-respected writer in the business communications and marketing niche. She regularly contributes blog posts and other content to a variety of educational platforms and websites such as https://subjecto.com/. Her passion is helping emerging leaders. When Bridgette isn’t writing, she enjoys attending art shows and CrossFit.