By now, you have probably heard enough of remote work and distributed teams. After 2020 tumultuous events, everyone has stories about remote communication. For someone are the annoying Zoom meetings. For other is that late delivery because your boss didn’t read an email.
Yet, remote work is here to stay, even after this pandemic. According to an Owl Labs survey, 81% of respondents believe their employer will continue to support remote work after COVID-19. And 59% of respondents said they would be more likely to choose remote work compared to on-site positions.
However, we see large and small businesses struggling to make this switch to remote models. Leaders often assume that if they can’t constantly control their employees, the work will not get done.
The real question is not how to make virtual team members more efficient, but how to ensure effective remote communications. In virtual teams, transparency and trust work better than any tracking time software. Without transparency, issues boil down to turn into discussions. And, the only way to fix a trust issue is with excellent communication.
What is remote communication?
By definition, remote communication means discussing a project via electronic tools. Virtual communication is a substitute for physical communications, but it’s never that easy as it sounds. In remote companies, communication is more than sharing information. Team members work in different places and time zones. It’s important to establish when and where to share information and ask questions.
Types of online communication
Online communication and collaboration software come under one of three headings. They are:
- Asynchronous communication
These are the methods where you’d do the equivalent of leaving a post-it note on someone’s desk. It doesn’t matter if they’re currently working or not, the message will get delivered and they can reply when they’re ready. Email is the most obvious option here, but Slack chat and similar, Trello and Skype are other examples.
2. Synchronous communication
Here, you talk in real-time. It could be that you’re teleconferencing at an agreed time, or you’re all logged in to a GoToMeeting or Zoom video chat. The plus side of this is getting an immediate response; the downside of synchronous is that it can be hard to arrange if you have employees working in different time zones.
3. Face to face meetings
If you can get the team together, it can do wonders for team bonding. You could invite your remote team to the company picnic, organize an away day or hold a meeting in the office for #throwbackthursday.
The staple of remote working is asynchronous communication. It works well, most of the time, but if your team aren’t all working at the same time, then you might be waiting a while for a reply. For vital communication, synchronous tools are your best bet.
9 Tips For Effective Communications With Remote Teams
At DistantJob, we are obsessed with communication. As a remote recruitment agency, we have found remote communications rules to make it work. Our team synchronizes from opposite sides of the globe and we learned that speaking the same language isn’t enough sometimes.
How can you improve communication in remote working? Follow these 9 tips.
1. Be Clear About the Methods
Or, communicate about your communication. Make sure that each channel has a clear purpose, and that your virtual workers know which they should use and when. Non-urgent project updates? Leave a comment on the Trello card for the job. Urgent? Skype me. Zombocalypse? Call me on my cell phone.
If you don’t do this, then you risk your team using the wrong method, and a vital message not getting across. On the other end of the spectrum, a small thing that doesn’t need an immediate response can tie up everyone’s time if it’s aired on a group channel rather than directed.
2. Know When People are Available
Here at DistantJob, we advocate that distributed team members work the same hours as company HQ. We think it makes things simpler because it means that communication is clearer. If you don’t choose to follow our expert advice, then you’ll want to look for a tool that will let you see at a glance what the time is for each of your employees.
That will help you to schedule meetings for times that will work for everyone. You’ll be sure that you won’t ring one of your digital nomads when they’re sound asleep or out on a date. Tools like World Time Buddy are great for knowing when work hours overlap.
3. Morning Check-In
Many companies, particularly in the software development industry, are changing their business model to reflect an agile approach. Whether you take part in the agile methodology or prescribe to the traditional waterfall method, daily checkings always help.
If you have a team of remote workers, you’d never get anything done with micromanaging or constant updates. But, you can check in with leaders and administrators via Zoom on a daily basis and they can communicate your message to their teams.
A morning check-in reassures you that your team is working because it holds them accountable. For your team, it ensures everyone is on the same page. Most importantly, everyone’s valuable time isn’t being wasted.
4. Read Twice, Reply Once
There is some difference in opinion about how much of communication is non-verbal. Whatever the number, visual cues are an essential part of how we understand each other. When you’re communicating primarily through text, they get lost. This loss can lead to ambiguity and even to people taking offense where the speaker meant none.
If you’ve received a message which makes your hackles rise, use Hanlan’s Razor. Don’t assume that the person is out to get you, or is offended, or any other harmful response. Ask for clarification, if you need to. Alternatively, work through a few different scenarios of what they might have meant to help you see more clearly.
5. Watch your words
When you’re using only the written word to get your message across, you have to be extra careful that what you’ve written is what you meant to say. If you have team members from different parts of the world, they may not understand common idioms. When you’ve written your message, read it through at least once. Put yourself in the shoes of the person receiving your words. Will they understand what you’ve meant to say? If not, revise.
Some communication experts advocate using emoji to make your meaning clearer. For some people that might feel unprofessional. It’s true, though, that using an emoji or a gif can give a message a visual context that helps to make it clear. If you’re communicating with generation Z? They’re going to have grown up with this stuff. Consider your audience, and emote appropriately.
6. Gathering Place
One of the many benefits of working with a remote team is fewer distractions. Though this contributes to an increase in productivity, the need for human interaction will never go away.
This is why it is essential to have a virtual gathering place or a “ water cooler” available for every team member. I’m talking about programs like Slack. Create channels specifically for personal topics like kids and sports. Take time at the end of conference calls to let everyone chat about their weekends.
This type of camaraderie contribute to your company’s culture and make for delighted employees. Above all, it allows you to see who is working on what throughout the workday across all levels.
7. Emails Aren’t Urgent
Sending an email for a work-related emergency is like deciding to walk to the hospital after a car accident. It doesn’t make any sense!
Remote team members aren’t and shouldn’t be expected to check their inboxes every 30 seconds. Neither should you, for that matter. This sudden shift towards remote work shows how unproductive checking emails can be. For effective remote communications, a combination of Zoom calls and chat platforms like Slack is a better option than mail and phone calls.
8. Hours, Overtime, and Vacation
How many times have you called your receptionist on a Saturday because you can’t find the client profile you’re looking for? Assuming your company runs during regular business hours, your answer is (hopefully) never.
It is important to establish and respect the same boundaries when working with a virtual team. If they don’t work weekends, don’t contact them on weekends. If they are on vacation, let them enjoy it.
Everyone’s working hours (these may vary from person to person) need to be communicated upon employment. When they are off work, you can’t expect them to respond to emails, calls, slack messages, etc.
These types of boundaries go both ways. You should respect your team’s limits to ensure their work-life balance is in good standing. On the other hand, they are responsible for informing you of upcoming changes to their availability. Just like the traditional workplace, ample notice must be given for extended absences.
9. End of Day Reports
For some leaders and business models, this is overkill. For companies just getting started in working with remote contractors, this is a great way to build trust and develop structure.
The end-of-day report is especially helpful if it doesn’t make sense to do a daily call with your team. Requiring everyone to send a quick message in Slack or even an email can give you peace of mind and help you plan the next day.
Time To Build Your Virtual Team
As we mentioned, remote work isn’t going anywhere and the workforce is rapidly transforming following the pandemic evolution. Effective communication is one of the pillars to build a great remote company, alongside a strong company culture.
With solid remote communication strategies, your team will make you proud – and get stuff done faster than you would believe. What’s the best way to get awesome IT employees that work remotely? We might know a guy… Just kidding, that’s us! Get in touch and knock on our virtual door!